Just imagine how you would feel if you had more energy (without three large cold brews).
We’ve all dealt with bouts of low energy at one point or another. Maybe because of a long, grueling work week, a stretch of sleepless nights, or feeling unwell when motivation was low. While occasional low energy is normal and to be expected in today’s busy world, persistent low energy that begins to affect your daily life can have a number of unwanted health side effects, including impaired judgment, decreased coordination, and increased irritability. Chronic fatigue and low energy can also be a sign of more serious health conditions, such as an overactive thyroid or heart disease, or be a symptom of a mental health problem, such as depression.
But it’s more likely that your low energy is due to lifestyle or environmental factors, so hitting the vending machine for an energy drink or Starbucks for a Venti cold brew isn’t the best or most sustainable way to refresh yourself. Instead, we’ve gathered expert-recommended tips for safe and natural strategies to boost your energy levels. Here’s how to get more energy fast and how to get more energy long term, according to doctors.
Why you have low energy
Low energy can stem from any number (or combination) of factors, including exercising too little or too much, insufficient sleep, certain medications, depression or anxiety, stress and burnout, certain foods and eating habits, and even drinking too much alcohol. So many people suffer from low energy that “having more energy” is an extremely common health goal for adults who are tired, overworked, overslept, or lack energy for no reason they can explain. A 2020 National Sleep Foundation poll found that 57 percent of all American adults without reported sleep problems said they felt sleepy an average of 2.4 days per week. So why are they so low energy?
Research from the past several years has proven that the COVID-19 pandemic (among other major, concurrent stressors) continues to sap Americans of their energy, with three out of five Americans surveyed in 2021 reporting that they felt feeling more tired than they had ever felt in their lives.
But beyond these types of timely, extraordinary circumstances, Sony Sherpa, MD, a holistic physician with Nature’s Rise, says low energy that isn’t caused by medication or chronic conditions is often due to three culprits: not getting enough sleep, poor eating habits, and psychological stress.
“Not getting enough sleep is one of the most common factors behind feeling low on energy,” she says. “Sleep is restorative physically and mentally – it’s your body’s way of recovering from all the stress it’s experienced [during] the day.”
Not eating the right balance of foods.
Nutrition – both the actual food we eat and our eating plans and habits – is so closely linked to our energy levels. After all, food is fuel. But not all food offers the ideal kind of energy: the kind that lasts and won’t leave you with an even lower energy dip later; the kind that empowers our many internal systems to thrive in the long term.
“Eating habits, such as skipping meals or simply consuming unhealthy foods, can also strain your system and prevent you from feeling energetic,” says Dr. Sherpa. Not eating when you’re hungry is not a good plan for energy. But when we consistently consume overly processed foods with high added sugar, for example, they may be tasty, convenient and a temporary energy boost – but the bad news is that they end up raising our blood sugar levels, which in turn leads to crashes. them, “resulting in feeling drained and sluggish,” she explains. This spike-and-dip roller coaster is harmful to our health and can leave you in a chronic cycle of low energy.
Finally, being stressed too much and too often is a surefire way to feel completely drained of energy. “When your mind is always in overdrive, it’s hard for your body to catch a break and generate energy,” says Dr. Sherpa. When you’re in a state of stress, your entire system uses what little energy it has just to keep you up and running at the most basic levels and to cope with the situation at hand – leaving you with no energy to think and plan ahead, be productive and active, feeling happy and hopeful, and all the things that make life great.
The telltale signs of low energy
Besides just feeling tired, low energy can present itself in the body in several ways both physically and mentally. “Common signs and symptoms of low energy include constant lethargy or exhaustion, decreased willingness to engage in social situations, and a general feeling of being unwell, especially if the condition is chronic,” says Dr. Sherpa. “You may also have trouble sleeping, increased irritability and anxiety, and problems with concentration.” It’s important to recognize these markers early, she adds, so you can make the right healthy changes and prevent more serious health problems.
How to get more energy (that lasts)
If you’re desperate for more energy that’s steady, effective, and more holistic than your quick-fix afternoon cappuccino, consider these healthy lifestyle tips and habit changes that will give you long-term energy.
Eat for energy.
Diet can play a big role in your energy levels, especially if you eat too much sugar and processed foods. While you don’t necessarily need to revamp or completely restrict your entire diet, says Dr. Sherpa that starting by paying attention to what you eat can go a long way. “That means paying attention to the nutritional value of the foods you eat and making sure you’re getting the right balance of nutrients,” she says. Eat foods that are nutrient dense, meaning they pack impressive amounts of macronutrients and micronutrients into every time you eat them—the definition of bang for your buck.
Don’t think about what you “can’t” eat or need less of; think about what you are going to eat more of: add vegetables, fruits, whole (unprocessed) grains, plus protein (mostly fish and lean meat), legumes and healthy fats (olive oil, fatty fish, avocado). In other words, you are not “not allowed” to eat pasta! Instead, add a vegetable or two and protein to your pasta dish, or start with a crisp green salad so that the meal contains protein and fiber as well as carbohydrates to fill you up and keep you satisfied for a long time. Craving bacon and eggs? Toss some spinach into your scramble, put some avocado toast underneath, or whip up a superfood smoothie to sip on the side.
Get regular exercise.
When your energy is lacking, exercise is probably the last thing you feel like doing. but physical activity is perhaps counterintuitively essential to combating low energy. But it’s no secret that being active can help delay up to 40 chronic conditions, but it can also increase your stamina, or how much energy you have. Still, you don’t have to hit the gym every day to boost your energy levels.
“Even if you’re not able to hit the gym or go for a run every day, there are still plenty of ways to get exercise,” says Dr. Sherpa. “Going for a brisk walk around your neighborhood is a great way to get some fresh air and get your heart rate up. Regular exercise is important for maintaining a healthy weight, reducing your risk of chronic disease, and improving your overall mood and energy levels.” Exercise not only has a direct impact on energy, but its benefits also affect other factors that affect energy: mood, sleep, stress, brain health, immunity, metabolism, and more.
Make exercise a non-negotiable part of your day for more energy. Dance in your room to your favorite music and your headphones on for 15 minutes. Make 50 jumping jacks while you’re on the team with the power company. Get out the vacuum cleaner and clean the living room.
Learn how to manage your stress level.
Stress is an essential mechanism for survival – but at a certain point, being in a constant state of stress (called chronic stress) can have detrimental effects on your health and well-being. In addition to its effects on your heart, blood pressure, and sleep, stress can cause your energy to plummet, even if you’re sleeping and eating well (although being so stressed often affects sleep and appetite, too). This is why it is so important to learn how to manage and mitigate your stress levels to keep your energy balance in check. There is no universal way to deal with stress. Different things trigger stress for different people, and certain stress-relieving techniques work for some but not others, depending on interests, lifestyle and hobbies.
“Some stress-relieving activities include yoga, meditation, and spending time in nature,” suggests Dr. Sherpa. “You can also try to avoid stressful situations whenever possible and learn to deal with stress in a healthy way.”
Always remember that you can turn to others for support. “Talk to a friend or relative, join a support group, or see a psychotherapist,” says Stella Bard, MD, board-certified rheumatologist. “You can also use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and tai chi. You can also reduce stress by streamlining your to-do list and addressing your priorities first.”
Stay properly hydrated.
Drinking enough water every day is the most important thing you can do for your body – and it can also have a big impact on your energy. Studies show that people who replace sugary drinks with water actually consume fewer calories or expend less energy throughout the day, helping to maintain and balance their energy expenditure. The highest water drinkers also saw the greatest benefits for energy. “Dehydration is one of the most common causes of feeling tired,” explains Dr. Bard. So sip regularly throughout the day, eat hydrating foods (fruits and vegetables are excellent) and beverages (including tea, coffee, and milk), and listen to obvious body signals, such as thirst and urine color (your pee should be pale, almost – clear yellow ).
Cut your coffee intake.
Many people turn to a cup of coffee or other sources of caffeine for a quick energy boost, but Dr. Bard explains that coffee is less useful for energy than people think. While moderate coffee consumption (think: one to three cups a day) is associated with some major short- and long-term health benefits, including direct and indirect increases in energy, too much can actually rob you of energy.
“Caffeine increases the release of stress hormones, which raise blood pressure and can make one feel stressed [and less energized]. Caffeine can too [disrupt sleep] when it is consumed after 2 p.m.,” she says. “This leads to a vicious cycle, so avoid excessive caffeine use.” After your second or third cup of joe, consider switching to decaffeinated coffee, low-caffeine or herbal tea, or a simple glass of water.
When to call the doctor
If you give these efforts a solid try for two wholes without noticing any improvement, suggests Dr. Be sure to see a doctor to rule out any underlying conditions. However, she recommends seeing a healthcare professional immediately if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, feel like you are passing out or have severe pain in your body in addition to low energy.
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