Having low energy can be a serious barrier to exercising and eating properly. Fatigue, especially long-term fatigue, makes it harder for you to motivate yourself and to make the right decisions.
If you’re always tired, you’re much more likely to want to slump on the sofa after work and rely on pre-prepared food – perhaps a takeaway you’ve picked up on the way home – rather than cook for yourself. What’s more, you’ll probably just forget about your daily calorie intake and eat until you can’t eat anymore. In turn, this may make it harder for you to sleep properly, further reducing your energy and setting you up to continue living a sluggish bed-to-desk-to-sofa existence.
A recent prediction of what the average office worker will look like in 2050
More Energy: Better Quality of Life
As we’ve already seen in our series of articles of testosterone, bad choices can have a compounding effect, reinforcing themselves and making it harder to make the right decisions.
Weight gain, for instance, may first be brought on by hormonal imbalances caused by phytoestrogens and xenestrogens in your diet and environment. The fatty tissue added then sends out signals to produce more estrogen, leading to further weight gain, which has even more of an estrogenic effect – and so on and so on. This is the definition of a snowball effect or vicious cycle.
So what can you do to break the cycle? How can you increase your energy and with it your motivation to make the right decisions?
Here are five simple tips to help you do just that — and become higher energy than you ever imagined.
1. Get more sleep
We all wish we could sleep like the proverbial baby, and with good reason. Sleep feels good because it is good: it’s essential to maintain proper energy levels and a proper hormonal balance.
Among other things, sleep is essential to proper brain function, allowing the consolidation of memories and the maintenance of proper cognitive function. The body’s circadian rhythms, the so-called ‘internal clock’, are also bound to your sleeping patterns, and with then the natural production of various hormones, which include:
- Melatonin, to promote and aid sleep
- Growth hormone, to support bone and muscle development and metabolism
- Cortisol, which is used to control stress
- Leptin and ghrelin, which are used to control appetite
It’s estimated that as much as a fifth or even a third of people regularly don’t get enough sleep.
Poor sleep quality affects your body in all sorts of ways, and can make it much harder for you to lose weight. As has already been said, fatigue from lack of sleep may prevent you from exercising or make you head for a takeaway at the end of the day, rather than making the effort of cooking for yourself. If you binge on takeaway food after work, you may then have trouble sleeping – and what started as a lack of sleep may then become a vicious cycle.
Sleep deprivation also has profound hormonal effects which, in addition to behavioural changes as a result of fatigue, make it even easier to gain weight when you should be losing it. A lack of sleep disrupts the body’s appetite hormone, ghrelin, which can lead to increased feelings of hunger. Other neurotransmitters are also affected, and some studies indicate that these changes can cause you to crave and choose to eat high-calorie foods too [R] [R].
Sleep deprivation increases the hormone cortisol, which also affects the metabolism and can make it easier to gain weight, especially if sleep deprivation occurs over the long term. When stress and cortisol levels increase, the cells can become resistant to insulin, which in turn can lead to an increase in blood sugar, weight gain and ultimately Type 2 diabetes [R] [R].
Overweight people tend to feel more tired. This is probably because of low-grade chronic inflammation. Fat cells, especially abdominal fat, produce cytokines, immune compounds that promote sleepiness, among other effects. Depressed individuals also seem to suffer the same symptoms [R].
You should aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night. Set a consistent time to go to bed and for at least a few hours beforehand, try to wind down by engaging in relaxing behaviours, such as having a bath, reading a book, or getting into bed a little earlier.
Refraining from using electronic devices in the evening before bed is another way to prime yourself for sleep. Habitual screen use in the evening, whether computer, television or mobile phone, has been linked to poor sleep quality [R].
One reason for this is likely to be the colour of the light emitted by these devices (‘blue light’), which fools the body into thinking it is still day, rather than night. You can download blue-light apps for your computer and phone that reduce the blue light emitted, if you still need to use them in the evening.
If you find yourself the victim of an overactive mind, try meditation or mindfulness techniques to get yourself in the right frame of mind for bed.
2. Reduce your stress as much as possible
It’s worth saying again that cortisol affects the metabolism and can make it easier to gain weight. When stress and cortisol levels increase, the cells can become resistant to insulin, which in turn can lead to an increase in blood sugar, weight gain and ultimately Type 2 diabetes. Overweight people suffer from excessive tiredness due to chronic inflammation.
In the modern world, it’s impossible to eliminate all forms of stress. We cannot live like the hunter gatherers described by the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins who might expend a bit of energy and suffer the stress of catching an animal, but then spend the rest of the day lounging and joking around.
We can, however, minimise stress. Improving your sleep will undoubtedly improve your stress levels. During the day, you can try to schedule walks or short bouts of exercise to lower your cortisol (more on exercise in a moment). You can also practice meditation and mindfulness techniques to reduce your stress.
3. Do some exercise
I’m often greeted with incredulity when I explain to low-energy people that doing exercise will increase their energy levels. Huh? But if I’ve not got much energy, and then I spend some energy on exercise, won’t I have even less energy?
The truth is that regular exercise – and it doesn’t have to be of the back-breaking variety – will increase your energy levels and your feeling of vitality. Guaranteed.
An analysis of 70 controlled trials showed that ‘sedentary people who completed a regular exercise program reported improved fatigue compared to groups that did not exercise’.
One reason for this is probably the increase that exercise causes ‘in the levels of energy-promoting and mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in the brains of animals that are placed in regular exercise conditions’ [R] [R].
As we say, it doesn’t have to be back-breaking exercise. One study showed that bouts of low-intensity cycling can reduce feelings of tiredness by 65% [R].
Even a ten-minute walk will have more of a ‘pick me up’ effect than having a snack [R].
There are various ways you can make yourself more active during the day, even if you’re busy. Walk or cycle to work if you can. Take a walk during your lunch break. Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. Use a pedometer to track the number of steps you take each day and try to increase your steps, week on week.
If you increase your general activity levels, you will have more energy, which in turn will make you more susceptible to a dedicated programme of exercise. And that’s an upward, rather than a downward spiral.
4. Avoid eating sugary food
By giving men a 75g dose of refined sugar every day, researchers at Oxford University were able to reduce their testosterone by 25% with almost immediate effect. The effects took place within a very short period of time and testosterone remained suppressed two hours after administration of the sugar dose.
To put it in perspective, a single can of Coca Cola contains about 40g of refined sugar, so it wouldn’t be difficult to consume more than the dose administered by the Oxford University researchers.
Similarly, the inevitable rush of energy brought on by consumption of a can of Coke will just as inevitably be followed by a slump soon after. This is caused by the sudden rise and then fall of blood sugar, as large amounts of insulin are released to bring the blood sugar levels back down [R] [R].
Studies have shown, for instance, that subjects eating a sugar-heavy cereal for breakfast rated themselves as having lower energy levels than subjects eating a complex – i.e. slow-release energy – carbohydrate breakfast [R].
People who consume refined sugar regularly are, as you might expect, more likely to be overweight, something we’ve already seen results in low-level chronic inflammation and, as a result, constant fatigue [R] [R].
Our advice: avoid sugary foods full stop. If you need a quick energy pick-me-up, try caffeine instead. Because the half-life of caffeine – the time it takes for half the substance to be eliminated from your body – can range from two to ten hours, it’s generally not a good idea to drink caffeine in the afternoon if you want to sleep properly. We’d suggested stopping drinking caffeine drinks by 2pm.
5. Drink more water
Proper hydration is important for a variety of reasons. Water is essential to good health and almost every process in the body requires water to function, from digestion, to temperature maintenance and lubrication of the joints. In fact, up to 60% of the adult human body is water, with the brain composed of 73% water and the lungs even more, at 83% water.
Among the main effects of dehydration are dizziness, confusion and fatigue. In one study, men who lost around 1.5% of their fluid exhibited deterioration in their working memory and reported increased feelings of anxiety and fatigue [R].
There are various other indicators that you may be dehydrated. Your urine colour is a good indicator, which you can pay attention to throughout the day. If it’s colourless or a very light yellow, you’re properly hydrated. If it’s a darker colour, you are probably dehydrated; likewise if you’re passing very little water, that’s another potential indicator. Others, apart from the aforementioned dizziness, confusion and fatigue, include dry mouth, a strong feeling of thirst (duh!) and headaches.
If you are performing strenuous exercises that makes you sweat, it is essential for you to drink more. Even people who don’t exercise strenuously may be dehydrated, however, especially if they regularly consume alcohol, which has a dehydrating effect.
Our recommendation is three litres of water a day at least for men, especially if you’re exercising, and two for women.
To help you achieve this, you can fill a large bottle (either one or two litres) with water at the beginning of the day and try to make sure you drink all of it. Drink when you wake up, with every meal and when you are exercising (before, during (if you can) and after). Drinking water with meals can also help you to feel full, reducing the risk of overeating.
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