Welcome to the third and final installment in this series on energy. In the first blog, we examined the possible causes of tiredness and lack of energy, and then went on in the second to examine what emotional blocks you may be creating that are preventing you from feeling your best. Today, I’m going to bring it all together with some “quick wins” – easy, practical strategies that you can start using in your life today and, if you follow them consistently, are guaranteed to improve the way you look and feel
1. Physical activity
Please note that I’m not saying “exercise” – for some, the word conjures up negative associations of PE classes at school or something that feels like a chore. The key is finding something you love doing and learning how to integrate it into your life. Little and often is better than getting into a fad then ditching it after a month when you’re feeling broke/ exhausted/ bored. There’s a guy called BJ Fogg who did research into “tiny habits”, and has written extensively about how the best way to achieve lasting behavioural change is to start really, really small. It might seem extreme at first, but it helps to hardwire the changes into your mind, and your life. One of his suggestions is – rather than committing to running every day, maybe just start with putting your trainers on. That’s all. Just do that for a week. Then the next week all you have to do is go to your front gate. And so on. Before you know it you’re putting on your trainers without thinking and your body and mind are totally used to this new way of being. Check out tinyhabits.com for more information on this approach.
Also try not to get too hung up on the aerobic, anaerobic, weight bearing, etc., aspect of the exercise. What is most important is that you are moving your body in a way you enjoy. Ideally you’ll be moving about out of doors so you get the benefits of the fresh air and vitamin D and sense of being connected to something bigger. Cycling and walking are good if you don’t fancy running or anything else that feels like “hard work”. A walk can be made all the more enjoyable by listening to a podcast or some music you love.
But if you don’t fancy the al fresco option at this time of year, get yourself into a pilates or yoga or zumba class. Or combine physical activity with learning something new, such as a martial art. But as the good folks at Nike would say, it doesn’t matter what it is. Just do it.
- Eating well
I’m not going to claim to be an expert on diet and nutrition. But I do know, both from my own experience and by working closely with nutritionists over the course of my career, that what we eat has a direct impact on our energy levels. My general approach to eating is simple: if it grows, eat it. Add to that lots of lean protein, including chicken and fish if you’re not vegetarian. Drink plenty of water. Avoid too much sugar, especially refined sugar. Even if you’re busy, try and avoid relying on prepackaged ready meals. One a week won’t hurt you, but they are packed full of sugar and salt and preservatives in the main. The same goes for takeaways, which can be even higher in salt and sugar and often MSG (monosodium glutamate), which can trigger headaches in some people.
If you’re out and about, try snacking on nuts and vegetables, or foods that release carbs slowly like oatcakes. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but beware of too much fructose. Big fruit smoothies and juices may have seemed like the “healthy option” in the past, but they have very high levels of (albeit naturally occurring) sugar. Drink juice in moderation, let it down with water, or try a vegetable “green juice“ instead. They’re tastier than they look!
Also be wary of diet drinks, which may well be sweetened artificially with aspartame or other chemical sweeteners. They’re fine to have as an occasional treat, but a lot of us have a tendency to reach for a chilled cola or diet version for a pick me up when it’s actually far healthier to have a cup of tea or coffee.
- Alternative treatments
Some people are sceptical about alternative therapies – others absolutely swear by them for increasing their energy levels as well as healing specific medical conditions. The point about them is that they are complementary to, rather than replacing, a healthy lifestyle.
I’m not personally endorsing or guaranteeing any of the following treatments, but, as I say, they do work for some people. Quite often, natural therapy places offer money off a first treatment or a taster session, so you don’t need to shell out a small fortune just to try it out.
You could always investigate:
– Craniosacral therapy
– Herbal remedies
This is so obvious, and yet completely overlooked by people with busy lifestyles who try to fit too much into their 24 daily hours. It’s also one of the quickest wins in terms of achieving higher energy levels. No amount of religiously following these other steps can take the place of regular sleep. As parents of young children well know, disturbed sleep is a major cause of stress, irritability, lack of energy and depression. If you’re scrimping on sleep, why not try going to bed 20 mins earlier one night, and then increasing it to 30 mins the following week, and so on. If you struggle getting to sleep, or staying asleep, examine your habits. Are you eating or drinking too close to bedtime? Alcohol and nicotine can enormously affect sleep. What about caffeine? Are you feeling anxious? Try and tick off as many things from the list of possible causes as you can. Have your last cup of tea or coffee before 3pm. Have a warm bath before bed. Try listening to a relaxation or meditation CD. Flower remedies. Herbal sleeping pills. Whatever it is, experiment until you find something that helps you get more shut eye. You’ll be so glad you did.
- Everything else that works!
Massage is great as it soothes the knots in the muscles created by Cortisol. These are gristly bumps just below the skin often around the shoulders and back – massage is great for these although do ask the Masseur to be gentle if you’re sore at first. Something to look forward to is great as it introduces dopamine to the system when you think about it. This too has the effect of changing your energy levels for the better. A break, a change and a re-boot: a break is what it sounds like, usually during a busy day and it gives you a bit of time out during which it’s a good idea to do something different such as take a walk in the winter sun, read a magazine, check out Twitter for 20 minutes or just look at a few photographs of great places to visit for holiday. A change is a planned weekend away in which you go somewhere you’d really like to try, whether that’s a castle in Scotland, a fabulous Pub in Ireland or a great view from your local hills – it really doesn’t matter as long as it’s a total change from where you live. A re-boot is simple; turn the phone off for most of the day, and follow the rules: 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 between rest, gentle exercise (walking, golf, yoga, tai chi), and being with people you care about (friends, family, your kids, your partner).
All these options will have the effect of re-energizing you and helping with mood.
Good luck and enjoy!