Feeling rundown and foggy on the job? Does the prospect of an afternoon’s worth of housework seem unspeakably grim? It’s time for a break to refresh and boost your energy.
Although you may not be able to take the afternoon off, you can surely afford 10 minutes to recharge yourself, no matter how hectic your life might be. And although a 10-minute break might not be quite as reinvigorating as 10 days on a Caribbean beach, it can boost energy and mood.
By Hilda Hutcherson, M.D.
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So how can you do it? How can you use a 10-minute break for something more energizing than aimless web surfing or yet another game of Minesweeper? To find out, WebMD turned to experts from different fields -- therapists, dietitians, and integrative medicine specialists. Here are their 21 tips for quick ways to boost energy.
Get some sunshine. If you’re toiling beneath artificial light all day, use your 10 minutes to get some sun. First, getting outside can be refreshing. Second, a few minutes of sunlight has concrete benefits. It helps the body produce vitamin D, which is important for good health. Sun exposure also boosts serotonin levels, which can improve mood and help you sleep better at night.
Take the stairs. Going up (and down) stairs for 10 minutes is a great way to get your heart pumping, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. If you’re in an office building, she recommends trying the stairwell. Because they’re usually deserted -- everyone uses the elevator -- you might be able to get 10 minutes alone to trot up and down and boost energy.
Have a coffee break. It’s no secret that coffee will perk you up. But David Leopold, MD, recommends espresso specifically. “Brewing espresso extracts all of the coffee flavor and also has the strongest antioxidant properties,” says Leopold, director of Integrative Medical Education at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego. “It also doesn’t break down the volatile oils, meaning that the espresso is less likely to cause adverse effects like GERD.”
Do a crossword. When you’re feeling burned out, focusing on a different sort of mental task for a few minutes can help boost energy. Get a collection of crossword puzzles and find a difficulty level that you can usually complete in about 10 minutes. Plenty of Web sites have free crosswords, and some newspapers offer cheap monthly subscriptions for online versions of their puzzles.
Stretch yourself. Feeling stiff after sitting at your desk all morning? “Stretching helps fatigued muscles that have been stuck in one position,” says Tanya Edwards, MD, medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “It may also increase energy by decreasing muscle discomfort.” If you can, sneak off to the break room. But you can also stretch at your desk without attracting too much attention. A few suggestions. Repeatedly sit down in your chair and stand up without holding the arms. Shrug your shoulders up to your ears and hold them for a few seconds. Hug your body, with your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand on your right shoulder.
Make a smoothie. Beware the smoothie stand: Gerbstadt says that they tend to serve drinks that are packed with sugar. But if you’re at home, take 10 minutes to make yourself one. What’s Gerbstadt’s recipe? 8 ounces of skim milk or soy milk, a bit of fruit, and some crushed ice to thicken it up. She also adds some fiber and a little healthy fat with one or two tablespoons of wheat germ or ground flax seed.
Try guided imagery. To boost energy, take a virtual vacation while sitting at your desk. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Then imagine a peaceful place. It could be someplace you’ve been before -- the beach or the mountains. Try to fill it out with detail. What does it smell like? Is there a breeze blowing on your face? Imagine you’re walking along a path; the farther you go, the more relaxed you get. Once you feel fully relaxed, gradually ease yourself back into the present. Count to three and open your eyes.
Read a poem. Reading is a great way to get a quick break from your humdrum day. Novels might not be ideal for a quick break though -- working through Moby Dick in 10-minute daily installments will take ages. So focus on poetry. Keep a good anthology at your desk. Read one or two and mull them over during your 10-minute break.
Walk. “There’s nothing like a brisk walk to give you some energy,” Gerbstadt says. The health benefits really add up too. Experts recommend a minimum of half an hour of exercise a day. So all you need to do is take a few more 10-minute walking breaks and you’re done. As you walk more, you’ll get faster. You can use a pedometer to keep track of your progress.
Avoid the vending machine. Although sweets and carbs might give you a temporary energy boost, it won’t last. Choose a snack with some protein, which will give you longer-lasting energy. Just add some peanut butter to that apple or some low-fat cheese to your crackers, Gerbstadt says.
Write in a journal. If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve started and abandoned (and restarted and re-abandoned) a diary before. But begin a new one with the intention to write in it only 10 minutes a day. It might feel more doable if you’re not trying to record everything. You might find that keeping a journal – and the self-reflection it requires – gives you a better perspective on your life and job.
Laugh. Does laughing have health benefits? It might, although the evidence isn’t clear yet. Either way, there’s no denying that laughing can make you feel better. So during your 10-minute break, deliberately seek out something that you know will make you laugh -- watching a few clips on YouTube or reading a favorite blog. If you can, involve a friend: Studies show that people laugh more when they’re laughing with others.
Use cold water. The Romans used to invigorate themselves by plunging into the frigidarium, a cold water pool. Without being quite so drastic, you can get a quick energy boost by just splashing cold water on your face in the bathroom.
Go for green tea. Good old black tea is fine too, but green tea has some specific benefits, says Leopold. It has the highest levels of antioxidants -- like EGCG -- that might support health, possibly lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. It’s also got caffeine, but not too much. So green tea can be a good choice if you find coffee or black tea makes you jittery.
Try aromatherapy. Some people believe that the smells of certain essential oils -- like peppermint, lime, and grapefruit -- can boost energy. So take 10 minutes to close your eyes and breathe in the scent from the bottle. Or use a spray to spritz the room. Of course, check with your officemates before you start scenting up the place.
Consider a supplement. Sure, there are lots of energy-boosting herbal stimulants out there, but Leopold recommends a different approach. “I like herbs like ashwaganda, panax ginseng, or rhodiola,” he tells WebMD. “They’re not stimulants, but they can help the body deal with stress, which can cause fatigue.” Of course, check with a doctor before you start using a supplement – especially if you have a health condition or take any daily medications.
Listen to music. The right music can really change your mood, and doing some prep work can help. Come up with a list of the songs that always seem to psych you up, and then make a mix or playlist of three on your computer or MP3 player. Then you’ve got about 10 minutes worth of invigorating music ready to go when you need it.
Have some chocolate. Chocolate is itself a mild stimulant, and it has lots of other possible health benefits too – from boosting memory to lowering cardiovascular risks. Gerbstadt recommends a cup of unsweetened cocoa powder with some artificial sweetener added. “It can satisfy that craving for chocolate without the calories,” she says. Mixed with skim milk and you’ve got some protein too.
Unleash some feng shui on your desk. Admittedly, organizing your desk might not sound like an energy booster. But really, working on a surface that’s cluttered with paperwork, sandwich crumbs, and empty coffee cups can really sap your spiritual strength. Taking 10 minutes to organize things now might allow you to work more efficiently and energetically for the rest of the day.
Eat breakfast. Too busy to eat breakfast? Baloney. Pouring milk on a high fiber cereal just isn’t that time consuming. Neither is smearing cream cheese on whole wheat bread. The benefits are real. After eight or 10 (or more) hours without food, your body needs fuel to get going. Eating breakfast has long-term benefits too: Studies show that people who skip it have a higher risk of gaining excess weight. So if you’ve arrived at work without breakfast, take 10 minutes out and have it now.
Breathe deeply. Deep breathing can relieve stress when you’re feeling burned out. Leopold likes the method developed by integrative medicine expert Andrew Weil, MD. Sit down, keeping your back straight. Inhale through the nose while you count to four. Hold your breath while you count to seven. Then exhale deeply through the mouth, counting to eight. Repeat the cycle.