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Energy zapped? Try these tips to help you pick up the pace

By Judith Zimmer
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Tired of being tired? Jessica Postigo was. After switching careers, going from on-the-go film producer to the more-sedentary role of screenwriter, the 36-year-old from Los Angeles began to feel lethargic. "I knew I needed to do something," she says. "I wanted my energy back."

That kind of funk probably sounds familiar, whether you're moving in slow-mo or frazzled from juggling work, family, and friends. And, with the energy-sapping holidays ahead, your fatigue-and-crankiness quotient is bound to go up.

Yes, it's true: Feeling tired not only robs you of productivity and pleasure, it also can make you a real ... well, let's just say the word rhymes with witch. And it's no wonder women seem more likely than men to crash and get cranky: studies show that they sleep less, stress more, and do more multitasking than men (surprise, surprise).

Want to fight the funk and fatigue? We've gathered some twists on those tried-and-true ways to put pep back in your step (like exercising, eating right, and stressing less) along with some tips that might surprise you (like taking a shower or bath before bedtime for a deeper, healthier sleep). So arm yourself for the holidays and beyond with these simple strategies for instant energy. In no time flat, you'll be catching your second wind -- and then some.

Eat Smart

Eating five or six small meals a day can help your blood-sugar level and give you the constant fuel you need. After Pamela Alexander, a 36-year-old massage therapist in Portland, Oregon, went to a nutritionist for energy advice, she began eating more-regular meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two small snacks) to give her body the right mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. "There were no highs or lows anymore," she says. "I felt balanced."

This style of eating might seem contrary to all the dieting strategies you've probably heard and tried. But noshing on minimeals can actually be a good thing if you limit your calories (for many women, 1,800 a day will maintain weight; 1,300 a day will help drop about a pound a week). Be careful with those snacks, though: A slice of low-fat cheese and a few whole grain crackers or a handful of almonds and an apple are just enough.

Taking vitamin B also can give you a boost. Many of the eight B's help convert the food you eat into energy, says Cindy Moore, M.S., R.D., the Cleveland Clinic's director of nutrition therapy. "It's like oil in a car. If your body doesn't have the oil -- the B vitamins that do the conversions -- it doesn't run well." Get your B's from lean beef, pork, poultry, or fish, as well as from bananas, nuts, whole grains, and seeds. In a pinch, use a multivitamin with B's, which, while they help with energy conversion, lack the disease-fighting antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids found in so many foods.

Drink Up

Downing lots of water and low-sugar drinks helps ensure that nutrients get where they need to go in your body. Watching the color of your urine can tell you if you're getting enough liquids. "Light or pale urine should be the goal," Moore says. "Anything darker means you're not getting enough fluids," the stuff you need to stay hydrated and healthy.

Try some VitaminWater. It's low in calories (50 per 8 ounces, with 2.5 servings in a bottle), and its Energy flavors have 42 milligrams of caffeine (about half that of a cup of regular coffee). Or try green tea, which has potent antioxidants. Caveat: A little caffeine is fine to jump-start your nervous system, but too much causes jitters and can interfere with sleep.

Sleep Deep

Getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep at the same time every night will keep you rested and alert. And don't think about cheating your-self through the week, because you can't make up for it on the weekends, says Arthur Spielman, Ph.D., a psychology professor at The City College of the City University of New York and co-author with Paul Glovinsky, Ph.D., of "The Insomnia Answer."

One trick you may not have thought of: Hit the shower. A shower can help you snooze. Taking a hot bath or shower before you hit the hay has long been thought to provide deeper, more restful sleep (and is certainly worth a try). But new studies with animals show that just the opposite -- cooling the brain -- results in a deep REM sleep. Cold shower, anyone?

Also, try a power nap. Researchers have found that, like nighttime sleep, naps can enhance information-processing and learning. While experts debate about which type of siesta is more beneficial (a 20-minute catnap or an hour-long doze) they do know that resting for about 30 minutes to an hour before midafternoon (so you can fall asleep at night) provides a boost on days when you're sleep-deprived. But don't make napping a habit: If you do it too often, it can interfere with your regular sleep patterns, Spielman says.

Stop the Stress

Overworking your mind can leave you just as frazzled and tired as overworking your body can, says Jon Gordon, author of "The 10-Minute Energy Solution."

Making time to take care of the inner you will give you energy-boosting benefits. Even a mere 10 minutes of down time will help recharge you, Gordon explains. Don't think of it as doing nothing, as many multitasking women are apt to believe. Sitting in silence, praying, meditating, connecting with nature -- all of these are powerful ways to tap into an incredible source of energy. Just turn off and tune out the noise. If you have an office, shut the door. Before you dash out of your car and into work, pause for a moment to collect your thoughts. Sit in the park. "The point is to quiet yourself and ... connect," Gordon says. "That's where all the potential is."

Move Your Body

Finally, stretching, bending, running, walking, and other heart-rate-boosting activities help release potent feel-good hormones like endorphins, which help boost energy even hours later. Jessica Postigo, the L.A.--based producer-turned-screenwriter, reaped those rewards once she started doing Pilates, which also improves strength and alignment. Plus, those natural-painkiller hormones can increase alertness and your ability to get the job done (whether it's playing the piano or flying a plane), explains Edward Laskowski, M.D., co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center.

Just thinking about your workout differently can have an impact on your energy level. John Bartholomew, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas at Austin, found that college-age women who were pleased with their aerobic exercise had a greater sense of vigor and energy after the workout than those who weren't. So the next time you're dragging your heels, find something that'll make you feel good when you move (new workout music, a different routine, great-looking exercise gear).

Take a brisk 10-minute walk -- or have sex. Whether you're feeling frisky or fried, love-making releases some of the same energy-boosting, feel-good hormones that your body releases during a workout, says Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., co-director of the New York Center for Women's Sexual Health at Columbia University Medical Center and author of Pleasure. Sex also makes you feel good about yourself and your body, Hutcherson says. "And if you feel good, you feel ready to get going."


Copyright 2006 HEALTH Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Heart-rate-boosting activities help release feel-good hormones, which help boost energy even hours later

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