Imagine your body as a sleek sports car. If you put premium gasoline in the tank, you would expect it to drive beautifully. Yet what would happen if you left the headlights on all night? Never let the engine run more than once a month or two? Didn't change your oil? Surely, the four-wheeled machine would not run as powerfully as it could with proper maintenance.
Now think of your body in the same light. Even if you fueled your tank with nutritious food, you could still feel exhausted with little sleep, little exercise, and a lot of stress. One or a combination of these elements could drain energy reserves. Add any illnesses or medications that can cause fatigue to the mix, and it seems the world is involved in one big heist to steal your engine.
On my last day of vacation in Italy, a chatty café owner in Rome introduced me to a tall, charming Italian man. He was a local artist, I learned; his name was Marco. Just a day earlier, my friend Lynn and I had sat in a piazza in Florence talking about how hard it is to meet nice guys. It had been two years since my last relationship, and, admittedly, I'd grown a little standoffish with the opposite sex. Lynn and I agreed that I could open up a little more. So when I met Marco, I figured...
There is hope. You can rejuvenate your system by following tried-and-true advice from health experts. A lot of their recommendations may seem commonsense. They offer no new, easy, or magical formulas for vigor. Then why follow their suggestions? Perhaps a closer look at four energy thieves can best give the answer.
Energy Thief No. 1: Inactivity
According to Newton's laws of motion, an object at rest tends to remain at rest, and an object in motion tends to remain in motion, unless acted on by an outside force. This is an important concept in energy production, says Sal Fichera, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and owner of Forza Fitness in New York City.
"The body was designed to be in motion," he explains. "When we're not in motion, everything slows down: circulatory systems, energy production. The body, when it's in motion, has to produce energy through various metabolic processes. If we're not in motion, those processes simply slow down to an extreme case where a person just dies and it stops."
Some people are so sedentary that they walk around as if half-dead, with each step an effort, says Fichera. The more active folks, on the other hand, reach a point where movement feels natural.
Don't blame yourself too much if you belong in the first group. The structure and conveniences of today's society make it easy to sit in front of a desk all day, order in meals, groceries and videos, watch hundreds of television shows at any given time, and phone or email people instead of visiting them in person.
Going against the grain may seem daunting, but it really isn't as difficult or as time-consuming as people think. All it takes is a walk, a breath, or a stretch to infuse energy into an inactive body. Then you can work your way to a regular workout routine, which, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, should be 30 minutes of moderate exercise for adults on most days of the week. The workout minutes could be broken up into 10- to 15-minute segments throughout the day.
Since many of us hardly have the time to incorporate exercise into our busy schedules, Fichera offers the following tips:
Just do it. People tend to create reasons and excuses why they cannot work out. It may include not finding the time, waiting until they apply for membership at the gym, or not knowing which exercises to do. "Just make it simple," says Fichera. "Go out and walk."
Get the blood pumping. When you are stuck at a desk, get up once in a while to go to the bathroom, visit a co-worker, or take a sip at the water cooler (This also relieves dehydration, another energy drainer). Even the slightest movement will increase blood circulation, bringing oxygen and vital nutrients to the body and mind. Often lack of mental alertness can cause exhaustion.
Stretch and stir it up. There are lots of quick ways to pump energy into your system, and all you need is your body. Reach for the ceiling. Put your hands behind your head and do a gentle twist from left to right. Circle your head. Move your eyes around to relieve eye fatigue. March in place. At a break, do a quick set of pushups, sit ups, or jumping jacks.
Don't wait for weights. Strength conditioning is another energy enhancer, but you don't have to wait until you go to the gym to work out your muscles. Have an elastic exercise band in your pocket or a pair of dumbbells at your desk for handy toning.
Inhale. Exhale. "People on the trading floor should just stop and do some breathing exercises. I swear the economy would do a lot better," jokes Fichera. On a serious note, he says breathing exercises can make people more productive, more creative, and less likely to make mistakes from fatigue.