With summer in full swing, we’re all trying to find ways to pack more activities into the long days and enjoy our time together. The Arizona heat, however, can zap your energy and leave you feeling rundown and unable to keep up. There are 3 specific steps you can take to improve your energy and get you feeling like your old (young) self again.
Step 1: Exercise
At first thought, this might seem counterintuitive. I often hear my patients ask, “How can I exercise if I’m feeling tired? Won’t it make me more tired by burning what little energy I have left?” Unless you’ve been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, exercise will have the opposite effect and in fact improve your energy.
You might have noticed that Dr. C and I commute to work most every day on our bicycles, despite the crazy looks our wives give us each morning as we head out into the summer heat. In addition, I’ve recently started working out with a personal trainer in hopes of shaving off some considerable time during the Tour de Tucson bicycle race later this year. I usually ride my bike to the gym, then to the office. Of course our bicycle commuting has a great environmental impact by taking a couple more cars off our congested roads, but I have a more selfish reason and there are plenty of studies to substantiate it: I have increased energy.
Since the 1960s, there have been plenty of studies that demonstrate the positive connection with exercise and improved energy levels. Years before that, scientists were putting poor little mice through a battery of wheel and labyrinth tests that suggested the same thing. Unlike those poor little mice, exercise for you doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. Simply find an activity you enjoy and get moving! If you need encouragement or moral support to get or keep you going, you can join an online fitness forum or start an online training log, which is like a diary of all your training routines. People will chime in, give some pointers and cheer you on when you need it most.
And as an interesting side note if you spend a fair amount of time exercising indoors during the summer months, an Israeli study earlier this year found that music and dim light during exercise not only improves overall exercise performance, but also made the experience more enjoyable.
Parents recognize the importance that exercise plays in their children’s lives. Most kids don’t need more energy (they’re little fountains of energy!), but it turns out that daily exercise will ultimately help them sleep better. A recent study out of New Zealand found that school-aged kids who are physically active during the day fall asleep faster than their sedentary peers. The interesting part of the study stated that for every hour a child was sedentary, it increased their sleep latency — or falling asleep time — by 3.1 minutes. So, for those kids who watch 2-3 hours of TV a day, after sitting at school for 6-8 hours can up to a half an hour of extra time trying to fall asleep. Which leads me to the next step….
Step 2: Get Quality Sleep
Have you ever woken up one morning only to feel like you never slept a wink? What was it about the previous night’s sleep that makes you feel like it “didn’t happen?” Sleep is quite a complicated phenomenon; it has been studied for as long as people have been around. There are hundreds of theories of why we sleep and all the physiological changes that occur as a result of both good and unfortunately, poor sleep.
There are two major types of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) and non rapid eye movement, which is further subdivided into N1, N2 and N3 that we cycle throughout the night. When we accomplish normal sleeping patterns, we follow this sequence of events: N ~> N2 ~> N3 ~>N2 ~> REM, with REM occurring later in the night. It is during this REM sleep that most people have memorable dreams while the N3 stage is the so-called “deep sleep” stage that you strive for but, unfortunately, don’t always accomplish. Most studies suggest that on those mornings when you awake not feeling rested is when you never reached the N3 or true REM stages of sleep and therefore truly did not get restful sleep.
Luckily there are steps you can take to make sure your body reaches N3 and REM stages. Avoid alcohol! This is an important first step. Alcohol tickles a part of the brain that allows you to reach the N1 and N2 stages more easily, but later there is a rebound effect that prevents the brain from truly reaching the deeper stages. Also, avoid stimulating compounds such as caffeine and sugar, which simply keep the brain stimulated and prevent it from reaching even the N1 stage. Melatonin can be helpful both to help folks fall asleep, and stay asleep. An interesting fact about melatonin is that external sources of melatonin (i.e. – pills) have their greatest effect 2-5 hours after taking it. In other words, if you are trying to use melatonin to induce sleep, take it 2-5 hours before you want to go to sleep.
Step 3: Good Nutrition
The importance of good nutrition cannot be overemphasized. Everyday in my practice I see the benefit of a healthy diet as well as the dangers of an unhealthy one. Give your body the resources it needs to produce energy, and you will feel significantly better simply by adding the following to your diet.
First, drink more water. It has zero calories, is perfectly natural and is vitally important to every single function in the body. Without it, we’re toast, and most studies suggest that nearly 80% of the U.S. population doesn’t drink enough water. To know how much you should drink every day, take your weight and divide it in half. This will give you the number of ounces you should drink. So, a 160-pound man should drink 80 ounces of water a day or 2.5 quarts or 2.3 liters or 10 cups. Remember, when you are in the sun and exercising, add more water to your daily intake.
Take a baggie of almonds with you to work. A handful of almonds for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack packs 83 calories, 3 g carbs, 3 g protein, and 7 g fat, which all help the body create more fuel for the brain to run more efficiently while at the same time keeping blood sugar levels stabilized.
Finally, I can’t say this enough; eat as many colorful foods as you can! This doesn’t include Blue Mist Gatorade or Orange nacho cheese dip. Think of all the beautiful veggies at your local grocery store or better yet, check out the farmers markets around town HERE. In general, the more colorful your foods are, the greater amounts of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that they’ll carry.
Although you’ve probably heard these three simple steps before, sometimes a little reinforcement can be helpful. Through regular, enjoyable exercise, effective sleep and a nutritious diet, you’ll have all the energy you need to enjoy the rest of your summer days and beyond.
In good health,
Phil Wazny, NMD