With summer in full swing, we’re all trying to pack more activities into the long days and enjoy our time together. The Arizona heat, however, can zap your energy pretty quickly, leaving you feeling run down and unable to keep up with the rest of the family. Here are some steps you can take to improve your energy and get you feeling like your old (young) self again.
1. Exercise! At first thought, this might seem absurd. My patients often ask, “How can I exercise if I’m feeling so tired? Won’t burning what little energy I have make me feel more tired?” Unless you’ve been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, exercise will actually improve your energy.
You may have noticed Dr. C and I commute to work on our bicycles. While cycling has a great environmental impact by taking a couple more cars off our congested roads, I have more selfish reasons and there are plenty of studies to substantiate them: I have more energy AND significantly improved mental clarity from daily exercise. So simply find an activity you enjoy and get moving! If you need encouragement or moral support to keep you going, join an online fitness forum or start a training log, which is an online 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 for those who spend a fair amount of time exercising indoors during the summer months, a study earlier this year found that music and dim lighting not only improve overall performance during exercise, but also makes the experience more enjoyable.
2. Get Quality Sleep: We’ve all been there – we wake up feeling like we never slept! What was it about the previous night’s sleep that makes us feel like it “didn’t take?” Sleep is quite a complicated phenomenon and there are hundreds of theories of why we sleep and all the physiological changes that occur as a result of both good and poor sleep.
There are two major types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement, which is further divided into N1, N2, and N3 that our bodies cycle throughout the night. A normal sleep pattern follows this sequence of events: N1>N2>N3>N2>REM, with REM occurring later in the night. It’s during this REM sleep that most people have memorable dreams, while the N3 stage is the so-called “deep sleep” that we all strive for, but unfortunately don’t always accomplish. Those mornings when we wake not feeling rested is when we never reached the N3 or REM stages of sleep.
Luckily there are things you can do to make sure your body reaches the N3 stage and REM. Avoiding alcohol is an important first step. Alcohol tickles a part of the brain that allows us to reach the N1 and N2 stages more easily, but later there’s a rebound effect that prevents the brain from reaching the deeper stages. Also avoid stimulating compounds, such as caffeine and sugar, which keep the brain awake and prevents it from even reaching the N1 stage. Melatonin can be helpful for falling AND staying asleep. An interesting fact about melatonin supplements: they have their greatest effect 2-5 hours after taking them. In other words, if you are trying to use melatonin to induce sleep, consider taking it 2-5 hours before you want to fall asleep.
3. Good nutrition: The importance of good nutrition cannot be overemphasized. Every day in my practice I see the benefits of a healthy diet, as well as the dangers of an unhealthy one. By adding the following energy foods to your diet, you can feel significantly better.
First, drink plenty of water. Water has zero calories, is perfectly natural, and vitally important to every single function in the body. Without it, we’re toast. Nearly 80% of the U.S. population does not drink enough water. To know how much to drink, take your weight and divide it in half, which will give you the number of ounces you should drink each day. For instance, a 160-pound man should drink 80 ounces of water a day, or 10 cups.
Second, take a bag of almonds with you to work. A handful of almonds (approximately 10-12) for a mid-morning or afternoon snack packs a healthy 83 calories, 3 grams of good carbs, 3 grams of protein, and 7 grams of healthy fats. This helps the body create more fuel for the brain to run more efficiently while at the same time keeping blood sugar levels stabilized.
Finally, try to eat as many colorful foods as you can, a.k.a. fruits and vegetables. The more colorful the better – all the great antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that they carry pack a powerful nutritional punch. Check out the organic produce section at your local grocery store or scope out the farmers markets around town (www.arizonafarmersmarkets.com.)
Although you’ve heard these three simple steps before, they cannot be overstated. With regular, enjoyable exercise, effective sleep, and a nutritious diet you’ll have all the energy you need to enjoy the rest of the summer days and beyond.