Must. Stay. Awake. Yes, it's the 3 o'clock mantra. And who hasn't mumbled it while fighting off midday yawns and drooping eyes?
Meditating or working out in three-minute breaks can replenish you and give a much needed energy boost.
Fatigue and flagging energy seem to be epidemics, especially among women who burn the candle at both ends (and who doesn't?). Instead of moping, pump up your mojo with these 10 strategies from experts in sleep, fitness, nutrition, psychology, and alternative medicine.
1. See the light
Get the right light, and you'll have lots more energy. But that can be a challenge, given the poorly lit offices we sit in and the scant doses of daily sunlight (which contains brain-activating short-wavelength blue light) we get. "Our circadian rhythms are more sensitive to blue light than any other kind," says Mariana Figueiro, assistant professor at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.
To take advantage of that energizing blue boost, lift your shades the minute you get up or take a 30-minute walk first thing in the morning. And go outside as often as you can during the day (especially right before you need to be extra-alert), says Scott Campbell, Ph.D., director of the Human Chronobiology Laboratory at New York--Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Westchester, New York. To up your blue light at work, use lamps with "natural" lightbulbs -- try Sylvania's Daylight Extra bulbs, an Ott-Lite, or a light box that uses blue-light technology.
2. Get pumped with protein
Unless you plan to run a marathon, carbo-loading for energy is out. Instead, eat protein to increase mental alertness and energy, says Debra Hollon, M.S., R.D., a clinical nutritionist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Protein contains tyrosine, an amino acid that elevates the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. It increases satiety, too. And when you feel fuller, you're not apt to overdo the breads and sweets that induce rollercoaster highs and lows.
Eat plant- and animal-based protein throughout the day -- an egg or high-protein cereal for breakfast, 10 almonds midmorning, a cup of low-sugar yogurt in the afternoon -- and your stamina should stabilize. Health.com: Get pumped with protein -- reconsider the egg
3. Lend a hand
Research shows that you get a "helper's high," a rush of endorphins that lasts for hours, when you volunteer, says Kimberly Kingsley, author of "The Energy Cure: How to Recharge Your Life 30 Seconds at a Time." You don't have to look far to help out, she says. "There may be a single mom in your family who needs a babysitter or a lonely neighbor who'd love to chat."
Judith Orloff, M.D., a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist and author of "Positive Energy: 10 Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress, and Fear," agrees, and she often folds anonymous good deeds into her day. During her morning coffee run, she sometimes buys an extra cup of joe for a homeless person. "When you make someone happy, you feel filled up again," Orloff says. You can find volunteer opportunities that suit you at www.idealist.org.
4. Breathe hard -- more often
That post-workout rush of energy you feel is well-documented: Movement sends oxygen through the bloodstream to invigorate cells. That's why Gerald K. Endress, fitness director at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, suggests that you break up your workouts to maximize your oxygen intake. Health.com: Best new ways to boost your metabolism
Lift weights, roll out the exercise ball, or do five minutes of yoga in the morning. Climb a few flights of stairs at lunch and jog after dinner. To add an extra kick to your workout, breathe deeply for your first one or two minutes of cardio, Endress says: Inhale from your belly; then breathe out slowly, imagining you're pulling your navel toward your spine. Health.com: The fast new way to walk off weight
5. Bag a new brew
Boost your energy with white tea, which has a delicate flavor that requires little sweetening. "Of all the teas, white tea goes through the least processing," says Iman Hakim, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a leading researcher on the benefits of tea. As a result, white tea has the highest concentration of L-theanine, an amino acid that, according to recent research, stimulates alpha brain waves to boost alertness while producing a calming effect. And because a cup of white tea contains less caffeine (15 milligrams) than other teas (up to 50 mg) and coffee (120 mg), it's more hydrating, another key for sustaining energy.
6. Tackle the blahs in bursts
Shake up your routine for 15 minutes at a time to get an energy boost. Change your walking route, sample a new food, garden for a few minutes, or pick up a pencil and draw. "It's all about taking baby steps to replenish yourself," Orloff says.
Start small; tackling a really big new project may just pile on more stress. And think of your mini-task as a chance to renew, not another thing on your to-do list.
7. Get hands-on help
Could your energy be blocked? Hands-on therapies such as acupuncture and Reiki (pronounced ray-key), a Japanese massage technique, may help, says Eva Selhub, M.D., senior staff physician at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. "These therapies may remove the blocks that create emotional and physical problems in our bodies," she says. "When the resistance is gone, energy flows." In fact, a recent British study published in New Scientist says acupuncture can relieve fatigue in cancer patients.
Don't have time for a 30-plus-minute session? Try self-acupressure. According to a recent finding by Richard E. Harris, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the University of Michigan Medical Center's Department of Internal Medicine in Ann Arbor, Michigan, there's a positive correlation between acupressure and increased alertness. His trick: Rub the muscle between your thumb and your forefinger for three to five minutes; you should feel a little ache there and then an overall sense of ahh. Health.com: Which massage is best for you?
8. Take a tech-free break
Being at the mercy of electronic devices keeps us in "fight-or-flight mode," Kingsley says. You get an adrenaline zap every time the cell phone rings or an e-mail comes in. Over time, living off adrenaline exhausts you. Cell phones, in particular, put increased stress on women, research shows.
Even though both men and women say that their cell phones allow job worries to affect their home lives, only women experience the opposite effect -- the spillover of home concerns into work. The solution: "Set boundaries at work and home," Kingsley suggests, "so your attention isn't always divided." Give yourself at least an hour a day when you completely unplug from electronic devices. That chance to check in and connect with yourself will re-energize you, she says.
9. Meditate for a minute
Time-crunched? Great news: You can reap the benefits of meditation -- a hike in alertness and attention -- in three-minute minibreaks. "They're like little tune-ups," Orloff says.
She recommends an a.m. session before you start your day and a noon meditation before that typical 3 o'clock crash hits. Find a quiet place (even if it's the bathroom) and mentally focus on an image that brings you pleasure: the ocean, a flower, the sun, your cat; continue to keep the image in your mind's eye as you breathe deeply (roughly 10 seconds for each inhale and exhale). With a little practice, Orloff says, you'll become more skilled at maintaining focus and can add more short meditations to your day, whenever you need revitalizing.
10. Clean up your sleep
The buzzword in sleep science these days is "sleep hygiene," and it's about more than clean sheets -- it helps you create an atmosphere that's restful, so you'll sleep well and wake up energized without the need for sleeping pills, Campbell says. Health.com: 3 secrets to a good night's sleep
Sleep hygiene usually includes three areas: fully darkening your bedroom (turn your alarm clock away from you if the display gives off too much light), regulating room temperature to a moderate coolness (too hot or too cold, and you'll wake up), and using white noise (a fan or quiet music) to help induce sleepiness. E-mail to a friend
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Copyright Health Magazine 2009