You wake up exhausted, guzzle a cup of coffee to help you power through a mile-long to-do list and hit the vending machine for some chocolate during the afternoon slump. After work, you order takeout and scroll through social media feeds because you cannot muster the energy to make a healthy meal or hit the gym.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
One National Safety Council survey found that more than three quarters of Americans felt tired at work, with 43% admitting to feeling too exhausted to make good decisions and be productive on the job.
Instead of skipping out on your favorite activities and letting healthy behaviors slide because you don’t have the stamina, visit your practitioner to make sure there aren’t any medical reasons for your funk. If everything looks OK, try these tricks for an instant energy boost.
Savor a Stretch
Before your feet hit the floor in the morning, spend a few minutes stretching in bed.
“Stretching releases tightness and constriction in your muscles, which then allows more blood flow,” says Kate Hanley, yoga teacher and author of Stress Less (Adams Media). “A few simple stretches can loosen tense muscles and help you feel more alert.”
If you feel your energy levels flagging during the day, stop to stretch. Place both hands on the wall, shoulder-width apart, and step back until your torso is at a 45° angle from the floor. Hold the pose for 60 seconds to stretch your back, shoulders and hamstrings.
Eat a Protein-Packed Breakfast
Your morning meal plays a huge role in how you feel throughout the day. Sweet foods like muffins or sugary cereals may give you a quick energy spike, but the following drop in blood sugar can leave you feeling wiped out.
However, choosing whole foods that are chock full of protein—think eggs, oatmeal, Greek yogurt and pumpkin seeds—can help rev up your energy levels, according to registered dietitian Vicki Shanta Retelny, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies (For Dummies).
“Protein is made of amino acids, which provides fuel for your muscle cells, and has a slightly higher thermic effect, meaning that it takes more calories to metabolize protein than fat and carbohydrates,” Retelny explains. “Protein-rich foods take a bit longer to digest, too, which appeases your appetite longer.”
If your mornings are a frenzied rush, protein powders from sources such as sunflower, pumpkin seed, almond and pea make breakfast a snap—throw them in a blender with some water or plant-based milk and add some berries for a fast smoothie. Be sure to find powders that are organic and certified non-GMO, and look for products that are enhanced with natural enzyme blends.
Stock Up on Snacks
Eating healthy snacks—such as nuts, cheese, fruit or yogurt—throughout the day will help keep your blood sugar levels even, enabling you to avoid extreme energy peaks and valleys.
“You’ll experience fewer energy slumps if you fuel your body every three to four hours,” Retelny says.
Steer clear of foods that are high in fat and sugar, and choose healthier snacks with a combination of nutrients. Think plain yogurt with fruit and nuts; an apple with cheese or peanut butter; or a whole-grain English muffin topped with scrambled eggs and veggies.
Strike a Pose
Yoga might be a calming practice but it also has a big impact on energy. Research published in the journal Mindfulness found that a 25-minute Hatha yoga session increased energy levels.
“A yoga practice improves flexibility and promotes strength, which wards off the aches and pains that can zap your desire to get up and go,” Hanley says. “A long-term yoga practice, where you adapt the poses to how you are feeling that particular day, helps keep you on an even energetic keel: You get relaxation when you are tired and strength-building when you are feeling strong.”
Back extensions, where the chest lifts up and the spine comes in to some level of a backward arch, are heralded for their ability to raise energy because they compress and massage the kidneys and the adrenal glands, which tend to get overtaxed in our busy, stressful lives, Hanley adds. She suggests poses like Sphinx and Locust to provide a jolt of energy.
Break a Sweat
Instead of using a lack of energy as an excuse to not move, use it as motivation to get out there. Low-intensity exercise helped boost energy levels and decreased feelings of fatigue up to 65%, according to one study.
Scott Collier, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Appalachian State University, believes that exercise clears stress hormones that can zap your energy levels.
“A well-rounded training program that you can complete to meet your goals is best,” Collier says. His team found that walking briskly about 30 to 50 minutes most days, combined with two to three days of resistance training each week, is best for whole-body fitness.
Remember that any amount of exercise is better than none at all. Research published in the BMJ found that short bursts of intense exercise might actually be more effective for losing weight than longer workouts, which can help boost energy. Additional research found that as obese women lost weight, they reported less fatigue and increased their energy levels.
The next time you’re dragging, walk around the block, go for a short bike ride or swim a few laps
in the pool.
Soak Up the Sun (Within Reason)
Fatigue is a hallmark symptom of vitamin D deficiency. The fat-soluble vitamin, which is found in foods like salmon, tuna fish, fortified orange juice and milk, and eggs, is called “the sunshine vitamin” because exposure to sunlight helps boost vitamin D levels.
Studies show that an estimated 42% of American adults are deficient in vitamin D—and correcting those deficiencies helps reduce fatigue and improve energy. Spending time outdoors can help you soak up some much-needed sunshine vitamin; aim for five to 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least twice a week. (After that, slap on the sunscreen.) Vitamin D supplements can also help.
Stand Up Straight
Mom was right—again—when she told you to stand up straight. Bad posture can slowly sap your energy: Slouching requires your muscles to work harder to hold up your body, and that can lead to fatigue. Sitting up straight has been linked to less anxiety and increased alertness, and walking tall helps improve outlook and energy levels.
The next time you need a little extra energy, check your posture. The simple act of squaring your shoulders, lengthening your spine and sitting (or walking) without slouching could provide all the energy you need to power through that afternoon slump.
Take a Deep Breath
The next time you’re overwhelmed by demands at work, dealing with a needy friend or just feeling stressed about the state of the world, take a deep breath. Stress can sap your energy but pausing to breathe can help restore it.
“Breath delivers oxygen to your cells; because we need oxygen to survive, the more you breathe, the more alive you feel,” Hanley says.
She suggests the “skull-shining breath” for a boost of energy. Inhale about two-thirds of the way full, draw your belly button in as you forcefully exhale through your nose, then release the belly and let the air flow in naturally to the vacuum that release creates. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
Get Enough Sleep
You know that getting enough sleep is important, but how often do you sacrifice a few hours of shut-eye in favor of crossing one more thing off your to-do list?
A lack of sleep might make it harder to get things done, according to 46% of Americans who reported poor sleep habits in the annual National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America poll.
Despite its impact on energy and overall health, one-third of Americans log too little time between the sheets.
“Poor sleep increases feelings of fatigue and no one wants to feel tired all the time,” says Mohan Dutt, MD, clinical assistant professor of sleep medicine at the University of Michigan and co-host of the White Noise Podcast.
Just like proper diet and exercise, sleep is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle contributing to improved energy, alertness, mental attitude and coordination. You should aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health.
Consider Natural Energy Aids
Stress, rushed meals and the aging process can all lead to you not getting all the nutrition you need to stay stoked. A high-quality multivitamin, one based on whole foods, can help. The B vitamins are crucial to energy production, especially B12; older people can lose their ability to absorb B12 properly because their stomachs may produce less of a substance called intrinsic factor.
Some people find adaptogens—herbs that help you adapt to physical and mental challenges—useful. Two of the better known adaptogens are red or Korean ginseng, long used in Chinese medicine to boost vitality, and rhodiola, a Siberian herb that has shown an ability to promote greater work capacity; other adaptogens include eleuthero and American ginseng. And a Brazilian herb called catuaba is another time-honored fatigue fighter that has shown anti-depressant and brain-protective effects in studies.
You don’t need to guzzle caffeine, pop pills or take multiple power naps to alleviate feelings of fatigue and pump up your energy levels. A few simple strategies will have you feeling more energetic than ever.