If I were to make a bet, I would bet that most of you wouldn’t mind having more energy. And possibly more stable energy. It’s no fun feeling like we are moving through our days operating consistently at about 70 percent of what we know ourselves to be capable of. Here are six solid tips to boost your energy and move yourself closer to 100 percent.
1. Relax about food
By “relax,” I don’t mean go into a food free-for-all. What I do mean is taking steps to become less obsessed about:
- What you ate at your last meal (and whether you should have)
- What you are eating right now (and whether you should be given what you ate at your last meal)
- What you will eat later (and whether it’s “OK” to eat certain foods based on what you’re eating right now)
- Which foods are “good” and which foods are “bad”
- How you can compensate if you eat a “bad” food
- Whether eating a “bad” food makes it a “bad” food day, meaning that other “bad” foods are allowed in that same day, since the day is “ruined” anyway
- Whether you’re destroying your health because you eat sugar
I’ve had many clients tell me how exhausted they are by obsessing over food choices past, present and future. They’re so tired of thinking about food, they know that obsessing about food has sucked the joy out of it, but they keep thinking and obsessing about it anyway.
Then, once they start to practice Intuitive Eating and find a little food peace, they tell me how much time, energy and mental bandwidth they gain.
To eat to boost energy, include a source of protein (chicken, fish, meat, eggs, dairy, soy), healthy fat (nuts, nut butter, avocado, olive oil) and complex carbs (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans) in your meal or snack. And, yes, some foods do double duty – beans provide protein and complex carbs, nuts and nut butter provide protein and healthy fat. Just aim for balance. When you have thoughts like, “But is this the BEST nut to have?” or “Is this the RIGHT vegetable?” take a deep breath and say, “Hello, food police, nobody called you.”
2. Make time to move
You may have heard the saying, “You have to spend energy to get energy.” That may seem absurd when you feel too tired to go for a walk, but it really is true.
When we’re physically active, we increase our levels of neurotransmitters in the brain that promote energy, including dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. If you’ve wondered why you often feel good after going for a walk or doing other types of movement, this is why.
When you exercise consistently, your muscles are stronger and work better, helping you conserve energy when you’re not exercising. This doesn’t take as much activity as you think – 20 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity activity three days a week may be enough if you really aren’t moving much at all right now.
It’s theorized that exercise triggers our bodies to make more mitochondria – the tiny organelles in our cells that serve as the cells’ “power plants” – but this is hard to directly study, so research isn’t conclusive on this point.
Choose types of activity you enjoy, because there’s no “right” type of exercise.
3. Improve your sleep game
I heard this straight from the mouth of a sleep doctor I once worked with: “Sleep is free energy.” We get physical energy from food, movement, and we sleep. (In case you’re wondering, those sources of energy are NOT interchangeable. However, if you’ve noticed you’re hungrier after a night of poor sleep, or a short walk perks you up a bit when you’re dragging, that’s because increasing one source of energy can temporarily compensate for lack of another. Emphasis on temporarily.)
This is old advice, but it’s true advice: Aim to go to bed and get out of bed close to the same time each day. Getting out of bed and taking a short walk in natural light can help you strengthen your internal clock (aka circadian clock, which synchronizes our circadian rhythms) which is set by the sun’s light/dark cycle. (Yes, this is not practical if you rise before dawn, which is why some people use sunlamps.)
Oh, and if you’re a woman between the ages of 40 and 60, and you feel like you don’t sleep as well as you used to, you’re not imagining things. You can thank your fluctuating hormones.
4. Remember that you deserve a break today
I admit, I’m guilty of not taking enough breaks. I can easily get into a groove working on an article or other project and not come up for air until I feel the urge to refill my water glass…or to pee. But I’m working on this, because we naturally experience a dip in mental energy every 90 minutes or so. Taking a break at that point helps our energy rebound naturally. Sort of a passive energy boost.
I find that going for a short walk up and down the road in front of my house (my version of walking around the block, since my neighborhood doesn’t have blocks) or wandering out to chat with my husband if he’s not in the middle of something let me fully detach from my work for a bit. (That total detachment is necessary for a proper break.) Or, I’ll watch whatever wildlife happens to be in my backyard – chipmunks, robins, quail, the pair of bald eagles who like to perch on an old tree snag at the back of the lot next door.
Soon, I’ll be able to take a break to putter in my vegetable garden (which doesn’t exist yet…we have to build raised beds and then plant stuff). I’m very excited about that!
Also, keep in mind that when you are working hard at a task, your brain uses a lot of glucose (blood sugar) and oxygen. So getting a snack if you’re hungry, or taking a short walk, doing some stretches or dancing to a few favorite songs, can help restore physical energy in order to support mental energy.
5. Break up with your multitasking habit
Are you a good multitasker? If you answered yes, I’ve got news for you…no one is. You might be used to doing it, but that doesn’t mean your brain likes it. Because your brain CAN’T do two things at once, it switches back and forth, and that switching is taxing. And draining your mental energy unnecessarily means you have to work harder to boost your energy.
If you have a lot of things on your to-do list, do them one at a time. If you do a lot of computer work (as I do), try to have as few browser windows or tabs open at a time as possible. I’ve read that the ideal is one window or tab, but if that feels impossible, at least winnow the number down. That’s another thing I’m actively working on! (Seriously…I just went and closed three unnecessary tabs as I was writing this.)
6. Incorporate mindfulness and gratitude
OK, I’ve covered physical and mental energy, but let’s not forget about emotional energy. Think about times when you’ve been happy, and times when you’ve been sad. I’m betting that you felt more energetic when you were happy. That’s because our emotions – or feelings, if you prefer – are tied to hormones in our brain. This includes the stress hormone cortisol, which comes into play when our emotions have triggered the fight-or-flight response. It also includes dopamine, aka the “happy” hormone.
Let’s look at dopamine a little more closely. You know what helps boost dopamine levels? Gratitude. Simply taking stock of what you’re grateful for in your life – the little things and the big things – on a regular basis can help you boost your mood and your energy. Practicing gratitude doesn’t dismiss any struggles or challenges in your life, but it can help you keep a more balanced view. I have a few clients who told me that having a daily gratitude practice has really helped them.
A mindfulness practice can help you tune into what you are feeling, so you can really savor the moment when you are experiencing a dopamine-boosting feeling, or do some self-caretaking when you are feeling sad, anxious, stressed or afraid.
When you can identify and name what you are feeling (“This is stress” or “I’m feeling anxious”) this takes some of the force out of the feeling because you are looking at it objectively rather than simply being immersed in it. You can then take action to reduce the intensity of the uncomfortable emotion you are experiencing.
- You can take some deep breaths (which sends more oxygen to the brain).
- You can call a friend or pet your dog or cat, which can boost dopamine.
- You can put on some favorite music or watch a favorite funny movie or show (again, dopamine boost).
- You can go for a short walk to get a change of scene and tap into a variety of feel-good hormones (and boost your oxygen levels).
- You can lose yourself in a good book, which serves as a distraction and can boost dopamine levels.
The bottom line
If you’re feeling a little blah, a little less-than-perky, I think these tips will help you boost your energy levels. However, if you are feeling deeply fatigued, whether due to chronic insomnia, depression or unknown factors, while these tips may still be useful, it’s worth talking to your doctor about causes and treatment options.
Carrie Dennett is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health.