How to boost energy
One of the number one ailments GPs hear from patients is that they feel ‘tired all the time’. In fact, they hear it so much, it has its own acronym—TATT. And it can be caused by a number of factors: stress, hormones, eating too much sugar, not getting enough quality sleep and the mental overload that comes with managing daily life.
With a few small and achievable changes to your routine, it’s possible to experience less fatigue and find a renewed pep in your step. We asked the experts for their best and freshest tips when it comes to food, movement, mindset and sleep habits that can help us all make the best choices on our wellness journey.
Start the evening before
To set yourself up for a day of sustained energy, start the night before with the best sleep you can manage. “Sleep’s important role is the restoration and rebalancing of everything including our metabolism, immune system and hormones, and so much more,” says Professor Dorothy Bruck, chair of the Sleep Health Foundation. “It essentially cleans up our system after the day that’s been, and helps to reset our bodies so they’re best able to function the following day.”
Professor Bruck advises to think about how much sleep your body tends to need each night, then calculate the best time to go to bed. She also recommends an hour of good sleep habits before bedtime. “Give yourself that buffer zone so your body has time to settle down,” she says. It’s not so much about banning yourself from screen time. “It’s more about rewarding yourself with some well-earned time to relax and unwind after a long day.”
Create morning habits
You might think the end of the day is the best time to prime our bodies for sound sleep, but what you do in the morning matters, too. “Exposure to sunlight first thing in the morning can help regulate sleep cycles by causing your body to release more of the sleep hormone melatonin later that evening,” says exercise physiologist Jennifer Smallridge. “It’s the perfect reason to get outdoors early in the day.” While it’s easy to reach for your phone upon waking, check the time, take a quick look at your favourite apps and browse through overnight emails, refraining is much more rewarding. “A short bout of movement or meditation in the morning can help us feel a bit more ready for the day,” says exercise physiologist Jena Buchan. “Let the body’s internal systems work their magic first.”
Now is the time to fuel your body and set yourself up for the day with a breakfast that features low-glycemic foods; the slow-burners that provide a steady release of energy. Low-GI foods include wholegrains, nuts, dairy foods, high-fibre vegetables, some fruits, legumes, and seeds. Try something like wholegrain toast with baked beans and a boiled egg, or warming porridge topped with fruit and nuts.
Override the afternoon slump
Finding time to exercise during the day is often easier said than done, but there are small ways to fit activity around your responsibilities at work or home. “When we sit still for too long, enzymes involved in key metabolic pathways, including the ones which break down fat, switch off,” says Smallridge. No wonder they call it the 3pm slump. “However, small bursts of physical activity promote blood flow to the brain and bring a sense of alertness, so movement can literally give us more sustainable energy by turning those enzymes back on.” Try going for a short walk around the block if you can, or take the stairs whenever possible for an easy burst of high-intensity activity.
A smart snack may also help your body and brain to continue functioning well and avoid a dip in energy in the late afternoon. “A sugar hit is tempting when you’re tired or stressed, but it runs like a feedback loop and you’ll experience that typical drop an hour later,” says Professor Bruck. Poor concentration or feeling lethargic can also be signs of dehydration. “Get up and walk around a little, and have some water.” If you are peckish, reach for something high in fibre and protein to help sustain your energy levels until dinnertime. Try 99% fat-free plain yoghurt with fruit, or banana topped with a little nut butter.
5 Quick ways to boost energy
1. Give HIIPA a go
You’ve likely heard of HIIT—high-intensity interval training—but what about HIIPA? A paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests high-intensity incidental physical activity may be excellent for helping us to sustain energy throughout the day. “Even just a few minutes of activity regularly can have massive benefits,” says Buchan. HIIPA covers any kind of task that requires a short burst of activity and gets the heart rate going—think carrying groceries from the car to the house, walking up a hill or playing with your children.
2. Try the ‘pomodoro technique’
“Commit to 25 minutes of deep work, followed by a five-minute break from your desk or task,” says Smallridge. Think going for a walk, doing some stretches, making a cup of tea, phoning a friend or preparing a healthy snack, such as vegetable sticks with hummus.
3. Choose your anchor time
“Keeping a routine in the morning is just as important as having one at night,” says Professor Bruck. If you have to wake up at a certain time on weekdays, don’t vary it on weekends-. Your body clock can shift thanks to Saturday and Sunday’s lie-ins. You’re less likely to struggle to get up on Monday morning if you set your alarm for the exact same time seven days a week.
4. Do one thing at a time
Focus on one thing at a time. “When you’re eating, just eat. When you’re walking, just walk,” suggests Buchan. “Let yourself just be in whatever you’re doing, not 100 different places.”
5. Take a deep breath
“Try deep diaphragmatic breathing,” says Buchan. “Not only does it help us recharge by shifting out of our sympathetic nervous system and ‘fight or flight’ response, it also increases oxygen availability and circulation, and helps circulate lymph fluid, a key part of our immune system.”
*While it’s normal to feel tired or lacking in energy from time to time, if you find you’re constantly fatigued for an ongoing period, book an appointment and have a chat with your GP.