Been feeling tired and drained by the time late afternoon rolls around? We get it. With the winter season comes the urge to hibernate, and while daylight hours may be shorter, the days themselves aren’t. Here, we offer ways to help you reclaim your summer vitality and find the stamina you need to push through. And just think: Spring will be here before we know it.
When you don’t drink enough water, dehydration causes energy levels to plummet. It also adversely affects brain function and cellular health.
“Dehydration can lead to impaired concentration, affect your mood, increase your chances of getting headaches and contribute to feelings of anxiety and fatigue,” says Jennifer C. Katz, RDN, LDN, CC, a culinary registered dietitian who operates Fresh Balance Nutrition, serving clients in Delaware and Maryland. “Your brain needs to be hydrated in order to function properly. In addition, staying hydrated will boost your energy levels because it helps control your body temperature, prevents fatigue during exercise and protects sensitive tissue in the body.”
While the Mayo Clinic recommends consuming eight glasses of water each day, you may need more depending on activities. Feeling sluggish? Opt for water rather than caffeinated or highly sweetened beverages. Adding some lemon, cucumber or citrus slices can help you guzzle more of this life source.
Intermittent fasting (a cycle of fasting and eating) may also provide an energy boost. Common intermittent fasting methods include daily 16-hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours twice a week.
“If somebody is a good candidate for it, they don’t have any eating disorders and are not terribly underweight, then they could benefit from intermittent fasting,” Katz says. “Your body becomes more efficient in a fasting state at using your energy stores, which can increase your overall energy and improve your mood. It also reduces insulin resistance, which can be beneficial for people who are having trouble managing blood sugar levels and thus improve energy levels.” This way of eating, she points out, has also been found to decrease brain fog and reduce the chronic stress that leads to a higher risk of disease.
If you’re feeling tired throughout the day, you’re probably not getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling lethargic, moody and unproductive. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, although the amount of sleep you need largely depends on your own body and lifestyle.
“Sleep is the crux of all things related to energy, and the hallmark of maintaining momentum throughout the day,” says Bradley Sandella, D.O., director of sports medicine at ChristianaCare in Wilmington. “Sleep allows the body to recover from the events of the day and restores our energy levels.”
Have trouble falling asleep at night? Try winding down with a warm bath, reading a book or going to bed a little earlier. Relaxation techniques such as meditation or mindfulness practices to calm your mind can also help. And avoid using cell phones or other electronic devices before bedtime, as they can have a stimulating effect.
When you get a good night’s sleep, you awake feeling rested and refreshed, which enables you to be more active and have more energy throughout the day.
You’ve heard the phrase “lethargy breeds lethargy”? Well, regular exercise does the opposite, plus reduces your risk of developing a chronic illness (diabetes, heart disease and obesity, to name a few).
“Exercise affects how the heart is pumping and circulates oxygen to the brain,” says ChristianaCare’s Sandella. “Participating in a regular exercise program is one of the most important things you can do to take care of your body and ensure that you have bountiful energy throughout the course of the day.”
If you find yourself short on time, a quick high-intensity workout, a half-hour of yoga or a brisk walk outdoors can also help clear your head and give you the boost you need.
“Find [a fitness routine] you enjoy so you’ll stick with it,” advises Rob Lundgren, owner of Shift Fit, a personal training studio in Newark. “Try something new and get out of your comfort zone to keep yourself motivated.” Since most of us are surrounded by technology all day, it’s especially beneficial to get some fresh air and get moving afterward, he points out. “It makes you feel more energized and leads to better overall health.”
Stress can take a serious toll on both your physical and mental health, leaving you fatigued and overwhelmed to the point of feeling completely wiped out.
“Managing stress is critical to maintaining energy levels,” explains Sandella. “The emotional toll stress takes on our bodies places quite a burden on our energy. Focusing on mindfulness, meditation or yoga can help reduce feelings of anxiety and help you to recharge.”
Jennifer Sweigart, owner of Sadhana Yoga in Wilmington, adds, “When you’re able to slow down, create stillness and connect your breath with movement, peace and calm are created, which carries into your everyday life. We relate our yoga practice to energizing our bodies, as well as developing and maintaining good health. Ultimately, if you feel good, you’ll have more energy to make it through the day.”
Although the brain accounts for just 2 percent of your body weight, it uses as much as 20 percent of your energy reserves, adds Diana Hoscheit, founder of Harmony Yoga Therapy in Wilmington. “So, it’s easy to see how unmanaged stress can deplete your energy. When you pay attention to your body and breath during a yoga practice, you get a reprieve from stressful thinking while promoting balance of body and mind.” The balance and ease of mind you cultivate during your practice, doesn’t just vanish the moment you step off your mat, Hoscheit points out. “You take it forward with you into your day.”
Taking your yoga practice or any activity you love outdoors can also be a huge boost to your energy, she says. “When you are surrounded in nature, your heart rate tends to decrease, your blood pressure lowers and muscle tension begins to melt away. Your nervous system shifts from the stress response to relaxation and rejuvenation. Soaking in the warmth of the sun or feeling the energy of the wind can add to your feeling more vibrant and connected to the world around you.”
Processed foods—especially those with a lot of sugar—slow… you…down. Too much sugar can make blood sugar levels spike; as a result, your body releases large amounts of insulin to reduce these blood sugar levels, which can make you feel tired and sluggish.
“Low glycemic or low sugar foods, such as nutrient-dense carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats keep our insulin and blood sugar levels steadier, which results in a good energy level,” says Katz. “With a low glycemic diet, you won’t have crashes where you’re feeling slow and foggy or bogged down and bloated.”
For a steadier flow of energy throughout the day, choose healthy snacks like unsalted nuts, carrot sticks, hummus, grapes, Greek yogurt, apple slices, cheese or peanut butter.
While caffeine gives you a temporary boost, it ultimately sets you up for a crash if not consumed in moderation.
“Caffeine is a stimulant that can give your body a shot of energy, but afterwards you may feel increased fatigue,” Sandella points out. “While it can be helpful in short bursts, if you consume caffeine later in the day it can disrupt your sleep, which in turn leads to decreased energy.”
Caffeine can also lead to poor food choices. “You may feel jittery and anxious after consuming caffeine because it affects your blood sugar levels,” Katz explains. This can affect your appetite, leaving you craving the wrong type of foods. That’s no good for your energy or your waistline.
“Caffeine is a stimulant that can give your body a shot of energy, but afterwards you may feel increased fatigue.”
Supplements may occasionally help with your wellness routine and can help some people who are struggling with maintaining their energy levels, but it’s always recommended that you talk with your healthcare provider to determine the best course of action.
“I always encourage people to look at their diet and lifestyle first before taking supplements,” says Katz. “It’s important to look at what you’re eating, how you’re sleeping, how you’re handling stress, whether you’re exercising…before jumping straight to supplements.”
Certainly more common vitamins, like B-12, can help the body convert the food you eat into glucose, which can give you more energy, or CoQ10, an antioxidant necessary for proper cell function and energy production, may be helpful if your body is deficient in these areas.
A positive mindset can also boost your energy levels. Your mental attitude and how you react to stress can play a significant role over the long term.
“A positive perspective, not burdened by the worries of the world, helps to reduce stress,” says Sweigart of Sadhana Yoga. “When you’re relaxed and participating in a practice like yoga, it releases endorphins into the brain that make us feel better and more energized. When you’re able to tap into your energy, you can build strength, stamina and flexibility, stay healthy and feel good about yourself.”
The key to maintaining your energy levels and feeling good each day is to take care of your body, mind and soul. If you’re eating right, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, finding time to relax and leading a fulfilled life, your energy levels should be plentiful.
Eating a nutritious diet not only staves away disease—it also significantly impacts energy levels.
“Having a well-balanced diet is key to getting all the nutrients you need to stay healthy and keep your body energized,” says Brooke Jacob, MS, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian at ChristianaCare. “A well-balanced diet should provide all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients your body needs. An easy way to eat healthy is to put a rainbow of colors on your plate.
“A good rule of thumb is to fill your plate with one-quarter vegetables, one-quarter complex carbohydrates and one-half protein,” she adds. “Healthy calories provide fuel for your body that can be converted into building blocks to give you more energy.”
Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein can help keep you healthy, fit and energized.
“Eating three regular meals throughout the day with light snacks in between, combining carbs and protein like low-fat cheese and wholegrain crackers or peanut butter, will provide your body with the fuel it needs to keep going and help you feel full longer,” Jacob says.