We expect to feel run down when battling a virus or after an especially draining week, but sometimes fatigue sticks around a little too long. Medical conditions are one cause, but a lack of energy can often be attributed to lifestyle.
Thankfully, fatigue isn’t something we have to take lying down. Here are 15 ways experts say we can boost our energy:
Clean up your sleep routine
It’s normal to feel sluggish after a restless night, but a lack of regular sleep can lead to ongoing fatigue. It may sound like an obvious place to start, but try some helpful sleep habits like going to bed and waking up at the same time and avoiding exercise and alcohol in the hours before bed. (See Wanted: more sleep for additional tips.)
Take a catnap
Even if you’re sitting at a desk, information overload can wear down your brain and body. Here’s the good news if you can’t wait until night for a refresher: studies have found that napping boosts brainpower. Even as little as 20-30 minutes can give you some benefit, though it won’t make up for a night of missed sleep.
Do the words “get more exercise” seem daunting? It’s hard to workout when your energy is lagging but regular exercise does boost energy. Experts therefore recommend a compromise: try small bouts of exercise such as a short walk. Just ten minutes of activity can get you started — and you may find you’ll keep going.
Aim for a healthful diet
Our bodies don’t appreciate dramatic highs and lows in our blood sugar levels. (Ideally, we want our blood sugar levels to stay within the normal range.) Bad habits like skipping meals or drastically cutting calories can impact our energy levels.
Of course, we want the right fuel too. We don’t have to be perfect all of the time, but a balanced diet with healthy fats, lean sources of protein, fibre, fruits and vegetables gives us the vitamins and minerals we need to keep our energy levels up.
Give your power snack a makeover
It’s tempting to reach for a sugary snack when the munchies strike. However, foods high in added sugars and refined carbohydrates can cause blood sugar levels to spike and then plummet. For snacks with more staying power, experts recommend looking at protein and fibre — like whole grain crackers with cheese or fruit with nut butter. Both protein and fibre help us feel satisfied longer and dodge that “sugar rush”.
Cut down on caffeine
Many of us look for a caffeine fix when our reserves are dwindling, but too much of this stimulant can raise both heart rate and blood pressure and make us feel jittery. A steady stream of caffeine can actually cause fatigue.
However, you won’t want to go cold turkey with coffee, chocolate and tea — experts say to gradually cut back instead or withdrawal could lead to further fatigue.
Top up your water bottle
Did you know dehydration can zap energy? Experts warn that sometimes we feel tired before we feel thirsty. Not sure if you’re getting enough fluids? One telling sign is the colour of your urine: dark yellow means you may need more while light yellow means you’re on track.
Meditate for a few minutes
Who says you need a block of time and a big cushion? Experts note that even a quick mental break provides some benefits. You can try a short meditation break just about anywhere — even when you’re taking the bus to work or catching up on housework.
Find a way to reduce stress
Maybe meditation isn’t your thing, but experts repeatedly warn we need to deal with stress and anger – both of which can be a big energy drain. Our bodies aren’t meant to live with a constant level of “fight or flight” from work or family pressures. Laugh, talk to a friend, exercise or write in a journal. Just find a technique that works for you and use it on a regular basis.
Escape from your desk
Studies say we’re more productive and energetic at work if we pause periodically for a break — especially if that break lets us move around and see some sun. Natural light and a little activity can give our spirits a boost and help relieve some of that workplace stress. Ideally, experts advise taking a 10 minute break each hour from repetitive tasks or sitting at a computer.
Switch up your to-do list
You can still take a mental break even if you can’t get away from your desk. Repetitive or sustained tasks can wear us down, so try switching to another task. For example, take a break from staring at a computer screen and do five minutes of tidying up or filing. Make a phone call, meet with a co-worker or pick up your mail in the mailroom.
Give your eyes a break too
Staring at a screen for hours on end can be hard on the eyes and body — and lead to blurry vision, dry eyes, headaches and fatigue. (The condition has a name: computer vision syndrome.) Experts recommend a 20-20-20 break to give your eyes some respite: Every 20 minutes focus on something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Use some common scents
Certain smells such as lemon, orange, grapefruit and peppermint can be energizing. Some experts say the best way to enjoy them is to use a couple of drops of essential oil in an oil diffuser rather than perfumed products.
Experts warn all that screen time we’re getting can take its toll — like that recent study which warns mobile devices enable us to pile up hours of overtime checking emails and working off hours. Screen time before bed is especially risky because it could disrupt melatonin levels (that’s the hormone that promotes sleep.) More research is needed, but for now experts recommend turning off TVs, smart phones, computers and tablets in the hour before bedtime.
When to talk to your doctor
Healthy habits can only take us so far. Experts warn that you should talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing persistent fatigue — especially if it’s disrupting your usual activities. Fatigue may seem like a minor symptom, but it can be a warning sign of conditions including cancer, diabetes, heart problems, depression, thyroid problems or a urinary tract infection.
Don’t be alarmed — fatigue can also be a sign of less serious issues such as a food allergy or intolerance, or it could be a side effect of a medication you’re taking. Another common cause is a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Your body could be telling you that you need more iron, potassium or magnesium, for example.
Regardless, you’ll want to talk to a professional to help pinpoint the problem. Simple blood tests can help get at the root of your fatigue.