Speaking of energy levels, here’s something you probably didn’t know: having a high energy level feels very similar in all of us—it’s the sufficient strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity. Low energy levels, on the other hand, have a broader range: we each feel fatigued in our own way, whether it’s not being able to get up in the morning or being blindsided when an afternoon stupor rolls in.
Best to pay attention to what your energy levels may be asking for. If you can nip low energy in the bud, you can prevent it from devolving into full-blown fatigue.
Why are energy levels important?
Energy levels are connected to—and can have serious implications for—a host of conditions. When they get out of whack, they can lead to weight gain, chronic stress, poor sleep, forgetfulness, low sex drive, mood swings, hormone imbalances, and constant fatigue. (1) No one typically complains about having too much energy, but fatigue can actually be an illness, and it’s becoming the new normal for a growing number of Americans. A survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2013 found that 15 percent of women and 10 percent of men said they were “very tired or exhausted” most days or every day of the week. (2)
Sometimes, flagging energy levels can express something more severe than the need to simply catch up on sleep. For several medical conditions, fatigue is the number one symptom. Anemia, celiac disease, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, Type 2 diabetes and some kinds of heart diseases can all present as extreme tiredness, so if you suspect any of these medical explanations may apply to you, please consult with your healthcare provider. (3)
How do you know if your energy levels could use a boost?
Energy levels depend on a variety of lifestyle choices to run at optimal levels. If your energy levels have recently gotten lower—or you feel tired a majority of the time, see if any of these symptoms ring a bell.
Feeling fuzzy headed due to allergies
Allergies leave you feeling sluggish most of the time (congestion can get in the way of adequate sleep). (4)
Feeling tired first thing in the morning
You feel exhausted, even after a full night’s sleep (sleep apnea could be the culprit). (5)
Social media overload
If you find yourself using social media frequently, it may be slowly robbing you of energy. Several studies link more pervasive social media use with a higher risk for depression. (7)
If you don’t have the energy to exercise, your body may be trying to tell you exercise is exactly what you need! Many studies suggest a link between moderate exercise and higher energy levels. (8)
Chronic low energy could be linked to a protein-deficient diet. (9) Vegetarians and vegans are particularly susceptible to skimping on protein, so be sure your protein intake is adequate. These days plant protein has evolved to rival the taste of meat, so do your body a favor and integrate plant-based options into your meals—it helps foster a healthy microbiome, another key to boosting energy levels naturally. (10)
What’s the difference between tiredness, fatigue, and exhaustion?
If you do experience one or several of the above symptoms, it can be difficult to distinguish where you are on the energy spectrum—they all represent various points on the energy continuum. It’s important to identify the severity of your experience, however, because that determines the appropriate approach to resolution. If you are exhausted, for example, exercise can exacerbate your symptoms and lead to a decreased ability to function. (12)
Tiredness happens—to everyone. It’s the expected, normal outcome after a sequence of events or at the end of the day. You still have energy in reserve, albeit a modicum of stamina. You may feel weak, foggy and impatient, all of which is alleviated by rest.
Fatigue is defined, medically, as a decreased capacity for physical and mental work at the usual level. Your body feels too tired to move and your brain is too tired to think. Hallmarks of fatigue are difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. (13)
Exhaustion is a question of degrees: it’s marked by the state of being used up completely, as in totally spent. It manifests as impaired decision making, slowed responses, a state of confusion that resembles delirium, lack of motivation, sudden loss of appetite, difficulty in staying awake as well as in sleeping, and social withdrawal. (14)
Natural ways to boost energy
If you suspect your low energy levels are caused by bad habits, rather than medical triggers, thankfully there are plenty of ways to raise the bar. Here are six things you can do to cultivate all-day-energy.
Stress-induced emotions can rob you of vitality. Find ways to manage your stress such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, being in nature, sports or therapy, all of which can encourage you to unwind. (15)
Eat smart and often
Nourish your brain with a steady supply of nutrients by eating small meals and snacks every two to three hours. Eat food with protein, or with a low glycemic index, to help avoid the sugar crash that follows consuming quickly absorbed sugars or refined carbohydrates. (16)
Establish a healthy sleep regime
Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, at least seven hours, and try to keep to a consistent routine. If you have trouble sleeping, or feel sleep deprived, avoid napping—as counterintuitive as it sounds. (17) Create a relaxing bedtime routine to help you transition to sleep more seamlessly.
Add consistent exercise to the mix
Daily exercise is one of the few things that guarantee you will get a better shut-eye. It also releases hormones that can help you feel more energized. One study found that six weeks of regular exercise had a beneficial effect on fatigue for 36 healthy young people who had reported persistent fatigue. (18) Even a single 15-minute walk can make a world of difference to your vim and vigor. (18)
Have more sex
Prolactin, a hormone that relaxes you, is also released after an orgasm. The combination of prolactin and all the rest of the “feel-good” hormones are why most people sleep better after sex. (19) Sex can also have an invigorating, energizing effect akin to exercise—especially if you start your day with it. (20)
Honor your cycle
Since hormones have a big effect on fatigue, PMS can hijack your energy if you don’t prepare wisely. To minimize tiredness, be sure to eat well, exercise and manage stress with adaptogenic herbs or mindfulness practices. (21)
The bottom line
If none of these strategies work and you just can’t shake the feeling of tiredness, discuss your symptoms with a trusted healthcare provider. Your body is asking for relief and rejuvenation—with the help of your provider, you can figure out the best way to provide supportive solutions. You can also take a look at your lifestyle and assess whether it provides the right support for vibrant energy. Diet, exercise, and sleep are the three keys to sustained energy throughout the day. See what healthy changes you can make and how even the smallest adjustment can have a big effect on your energy reserves.
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