Advance Magazine for Physical Therapists and PT Assistants
Vol. 17 •Issue 20 • Page 52
Well Rested- Discovering the (surprising) secrets to developing more energy
Energy is one of those magical things about life—it is a fundamental quality that every physical system possesses. Energy is often defined as the capacity for doing work. It can be stored (e.g., potential energy) and it can be found in an active state as well (e.g., kinetic energy).
The term “energy” may also describe variations in emotional and physical stamina and motivation, or the ability to cause matter to move or change. Human energy can come in different forms: thermal, radiant, mechanical, electrical and chemical—all imperative to optimal functioning, health and well-being.
Since energy is such a valuable resource, most people seem to want more of it. So what are the secrets to gaining more energy? They lie in understanding where energy comes from.
Secret 1—Energy does not come from stimulation
Chronically-tired, ill and/or low-energy people are always looking for something that will “give them energy.” They do this because they are confusing energy with stimulation. The result is that they often seek out a quick fix to help them feel better in the short run, but often pay the price of poor health in the long run.
For example, let’s take a look at caffeine—a potent drug that many Americans appear to be hooked on. The bottom line is that caffeine does not provide energy; it steals vital energy from your body. In other words, caffeine “stimulates.” It is not possible to scientifically measure any increase in energy when caffeine is consumed, but rather what can be measured are higher levels of stress as seen by an increase in the production of stress hormones (e.g., adrenaline) as well as an increase in blood pressure and heart rate.
It would be better said that caffeine allows you to “borrow energy,” which you must eventually pay back at the expense of your health. Despite societal acceptance, commercial brainwashing and research that has been paid for by the caffeine industry, unless you have a rare disorder called caffeine deficiency syndrome, caffeine is not the answer to improved energy levels.
The same principles apply for other stimulants as well, such as chocolate, nicotine, recreational drugs, artificial sweeteners, commercial energy drinks and even some “all-natural” herbs. Energy derived outside of your body is not true energy and should be avoided at all costs.
Secret 2—Energy does not just come from fuel
Another misconception about energy is that fuel (food) is the same as energy. This is probably due to the fact that food is often viewed in terms of calories, and calories are considered a measure of stored potential energy. Therefore, the logic goes: If we eat food, we will thus have more energy.
However, food doesn’t give us energy. Food provides fuel and other raw materials that the body then uses to create energy so it can function properly. Cellular energy in the body is measured in ATP (adenotriphosphate), not calories. It takes energy to digest food, especially if you overeat or eat foods that are unfit for your biological constitution. When digestion is taxed, large amounts of energy are wasted, not gained.
For example, the lethargy that follows a big meal or when junk foods are eaten are good indicators that your energy levels are being diminished, not improved. It is also important to realize that not all of the food that you eat becomes available to you for mechanical energy, since other forms of energy are also needed to allow for optimal functioning of your body.
It is important to consume a healthy diet full of ample essential nutrients to ensure you remain healthy.
However, if the fuel (food) that goes into your body is constantly draining your batteries (nervous system), you will always be lacking energy.
On the other hand, the digestion of healthy foods (e.g., fruit) takes very little energy to digest. The carbohydrates (sugars) in fruit start being absorbed under the tongue as soon as you take that first bite. Fruit is the ultimate “high-energy food”—not because it gives you energy, but because it supplies easy to digest essential nutrients, thus sparing energy.
If insufficient carbohydrates are consumed, then fats and even proteins can be converted to sugar and used as fuel. However, this inefficient conversion process requires the presence of carbohydrates, or the conversion process becomes even less efficient, often leading to a build-up of ketones that can significantly impair mind-body health and depleted energy levels.
Consuming sufficient amounts of water is also essential for maintaining high energy levels. If your diet is not rich in high-water content foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, then you will need to drink more water throughout the day.
Your body is made up of approximately 70 percent water. Water is an essential nutrient as you can only live days without it. All bodily actions are dependent upon water. If you choose to deprive your body of water, it will have to work much harder to maintain normal functioning and your energy levels will go way down.
Secret 3—Exercise is a give-and-take
Exercise should act as a stimulus that improves energy levels, not as a stimulant that depletes energy levels. You often hear the advice: “If you exercise more, you’ll have more energy.” This is also a big misunderstanding. How could physical exertion give you energy? It doesn’t—it takes energy!
After a long day of physical labor, you are more tired than when you just woke up. All that work took energy to do. Exercise is important, as it provides a stimulus that causes your body to adapt and get stronger so it can work more efficiently. Exercise increases your energy capacity. However, it is important to realize that your body gets stronger when it is resting and recovering, not when it is exercising. That is why it is never a good idea to exercise too much or when you are tired. Your body needs rest and sleep when you are tired, not exercise. Exercising when you are tired acts as a stimulant and should be avoided.
The illusion that exercise gives you energy may also occur because what you perceive of as feeling tired is really a feeling of stagnation. Your energy was “running low” because your body has not been moving enough. When you remain in one posture or position for prolonged periods of time, especially without breathing properly, your circulation will slow down and your oxygen levels will diminish, thus giving you a feeling of being tired. Exercising in this case would appear to give you more energy because it would provide for improved nutrient delivery and waste removal from the tissues of your body.
If you are suffering from a case of stagnation, then exercise may be what you need to improve your energy levels. However, keep in mind that one of the most important “exercises” you can do to improve your energy levels is to breathe correctly.
Secret 4—Rest and sleep are essential energy builders
Your car may have a full tank of gasoline, but if the battery is dead, it won’t start. The same is true for your body. In other words, you may eat right and exercise all you want, but in the end if you don’t sleep enough to recharge your batteries, you won’t have sufficient energy.
So how much sleep do you need? Although there seems to be many recommendations, there really is no set number of hours as each person’s requirements will be different. However, what you do need is enough sleep. The likelihood that you’re not getting enough sleep is probably high.
Many adults report that drowsiness in the daytime is a big problem. If you experience daytime sleepiness or drowsiness, or if you need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning, you are sleep deprived. If this has been going on for a long time, then you may have accumulated a large “sleep debt.”
The best solution is to pay off your debt and catch up on sleep. Your debt can be paid back by going to bed an hour earlier and taking naps in the middle of the day until you feel rested when you wake up in the morning and are no longer suffering from daytime
People who are physically active, as well as athletes, tend to need more sleep. Sleep requirements increase as training intensity increases. However, the good thing is that by being physically active you increase your levels of fitness, which will make an impact on your capacity to handle daily chores. In other words, you will have greater physical abilities to go through your day without getting tired as easily as a sedentary person.
The quality of your sleep will also improve, although you might need more of it. Fit people enjoy better digestion, improved sleep and will feel more awake during the day, as long as they get enough sleep to recover from their physical activities.
Secret 5—Removing energy drainers works
As simple as it sounds, if you want more energy, you must get rid of the numerous energy drainers around you—those things that tend to drain your physical and emotional energy, as well as things that decrease your motivation to take care of yourself.
Sometimes circumstances are going to happen that are not under your control. You cannot always control the events that will occur in your life, but you can control how you react to these events, and thus control how you choose to spend your energy on a daily basis.
Since your energy capacity has a limitation, it should be your goal to get rid of as many energy drainers as possible. Energy drainers may include negative relationships, stressful work environments, pessimistic friends and relatives, negative media influences, financial concerns, a polluted living environment, and overindulgences in exercise, sex, eating and so on.
If you are not sure what is draining your energy, just ask yourself what you get most stressed about. After you figure it out, make a plan to resolve the stressor, and then take action.
Once the major stressor has been removed, your energy levels will most likely go up.
Action Steps To Improve Energy Levels
- Catch up on sleep.
- Engage in a fitness program, but avoid exercising too much or when tired.
- Eat a healthy diet full of fruits and other foods that are easy to digest.
- Avoid the use of stimulants.
- Avoid energy draining influences as much as possible.
- Learn to breathe efficiently.
Maintain good posture. Maintain a positive attitude.
Stay properly hydrated with water.
Listen to your body and obey its commands.
Dr. Mielcarski is an expert in the field of rehabilitation. He is currently licensed as a physical therapist in both Georgia and Florida and has earned an advanced specialization in performance enhancement with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association.