By Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH
In my last article, I discussed some of the common medical causes of chronic fatigue, which may or may not apply to you. The truth is, many times, there isn’t just one single cause—rather, it’s often many different factors that wear you down and zap you of energy.
So what can you do about it? Fortunately, the answer is…a lot! Aside from ruling out or treating any medical conditions, there is a lot that you can do on a daily basis that can help improve your health and overall energy level, and I will discuss many of those things today. Keep in mind that because healthy living habits work together synergistically, the more you can incorporate into your day, the bigger the energy boost you will experience. So let’s get started!
– I –
Eating & Drinking for Energy
♦ Hydration equals energy:
Dehydration decreases mental alertness and concentration, as well as physical performance. Did you know that your body can be dehydrated and you might not even feel thirsty yet? Therefore, invest in a nice water bottle and aim to drink at least 64 ounces (about 2 liters, or half a gallon) of water a day (unless you have a medical condition where you are instructed not to, such as in congestive heart failure). Want the scoop on water? Take a glance at this article.
♦ Do not ‘Super Size’ it:
Large meals tend to drain your energy because of their effect on your insulin and blood sugar levels. If you currently eat 3 big meals a day, try breaking it down to 6 mini-meals. Bonus: This method also helps weight-loss efforts.
♦ No skipping allowed:
Do not skip meals, as this puts stress on your body’s metabolism, allows your blood sugar to dip, and makes it difficult for your body to maintain its energy level. Rather, snack on healthy foods throughout the day.
♦ Make healthy choices:
Incorporate more vegetables and whole grain foods into your days, and choose low fat dairy products and lean meats over full-fat dairy and high fat meats (unless you are on a special diet like the ketogenic diet). In either case, make efforts to cut down on sugary and salty foods, as both high-sugar and high-sodium foods can make your energy level drop.
♦ Caffeinate carefully:
It’s okay to drink 1 or 2 caffeinated drinks early on in the day to boost your energy and mental alertness, but any more than 5 or 6 of these drinks per day and the benefits will be outweighed by unwanted side effects, such as irritability and lower quality sleep.
♦ Drink wisely:
Alcohol has well-known depressant effects on the body. A glass of wine with dinner is fine, but if you are finding yourself in a cycle of downing coffee to get through the day and then drinking alcohol to wind down an over-caffeinated brain, your health and overall energy level will suffer in the long run.
– II –
Sleeping for Energy
♦ Create a sleep haven:
Set up your bedroom so that it is a relaxing oasis for rest. Take the TV out, and leave the phone outside (if you possibly can). Invest in some thick curtains and adjust the temperature to make it a little cool (warmer temperatures can worsen sleep quality). Consider using relaxing essential oils for a bit of aromatherapy. One of the best ways to combat chronic fatigue is to ensure that the sleep that you do get is optimally restful, and one of the best ways to do that is to make your bedroom a sleep- (and cuddle-) only place.
♦ Train your body to relax:
It is not uncommon for those with chronic fatigue to lie awake in bed worrying about the next day, which results in poorer sleep quality and more fatigue the next day. Instead, create a habit of doing your favorite relaxation technique right before bed. Check out these audio-guided relaxation experiences or pick your favorite quick relaxation technique. I encourage you to try each of them every day for at least a week to find out what works best for you.
♦ Just say “no” to sleeping pills:
Even if you have insomnia, I encourage you to develop healthier habits to help you sleep instead of depending on sleeping pills—especially over-the-counter anti-histamines (those with diphenhydramine and doxylamine as ingredients) and prescription pills such as Ambien and Restoril. Why? Most of them have effects that (even if it’s not noticeable) carry over into the next day, and many also cause your body to become dependent on them. They are also not designed for every day use and some of them can increase your risk of developing dementia later in life. Instead, relax the all-natural way with a warm bath and a cup of chamomile tea or a glass of warm milk.
– III –
Moving for Energy
♦ Get moving (a little at a time):
While the last thing you may want to do when you’re tired is to exercise, it’s true that physical activity improves energy. Therefore, try to make a conscious effort to watch the amount of time you spend sitting each day. This does not mean you need to immediately head to the gym (but if you can…great!), but just by getting out of your seat every hour and walking around the room for 5 to 10 minutes, you can get your circulation going and help improve your energy level.
– IV –
Supplementing for Energy
♦ Find out what you’re missing:
Many people are deficient in one or more vitamins and may not know it. Some people—such as those on a restrictive diet or those that do not get enough sunlight—are at a higher risk of being vitamin deficient. The most common nutrient deficiencies that can lead to low energy are that of iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and coenzyme Q10. If you think you may have a vitamin deficiency, it never hurts to have a talk with your doctor, who, with a simple blood test, can check for most vitamin deficiencies.
♦ Supplement for heart health:
Some doctors recommend certain supplements that help your heart on a cellular level and that can help boost your energy. Therefore, if your doctor gives you an okay, consider adding the following supplements to your day:
- CoQ10 – 100 mg in the softgel form (with breakfast)
- Magnesium – 200 mg one to two times daily (with food)
- Carnitine – 1 g on an empty stomach (for better absorption)
- D-ribose – 5 g dissolved in water or juice
I hope this information was helpful for you. Here’s to healthy living for an energetic life!
*This post is an excerpt out of Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions, by Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH.