How to get all-day energy: a day at the office doesn’t have to drain you. With these fast-acting tips, you’ll have plenty of energy for work and for play – Cover Story
Maria Noel Mandile
IS LOW ENERGY CAUSING you to drag all day and retire to the couch after 5 p.m.? Feeling peppy takes less effort than you may think. “We don’t have to quit our jobs or put our kids up for adoption to get the energy that we need,” says Pamela Smith, R.D., a registered dietitian in Orlando, Fla., and author of The Energy Edge (Harper Resource, 2000). Any of the following changes should make you feel more energized in just one day. The more you do, the more you’ll notice the lift. Make them into habits and we promise that you’ll cruise through your workday and stay off that sofa.
Get Your Bs
A minor deficiency in B vitamins is a common cause of sluggishness, says Smith. So take a B-50 complex daily with breakfast. You should notice a subtle increase in energy that lasts throughout the day. B vitamins enhance the activity of neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that help you stay relaxed and think clearly when work demands pile up, says Smith. B vitamins also help you metabolize carbohydrates, your brain’s main source of energy, says Paul Saunders, N.D., Ph.D., naturopath, herbalist, and chair of Materia Medica at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.
Work Smart at Your Desk
If you work at a desk all day, make sure you’re not sitting improperly or straining to read. Both can drain your energy, says Marvin Dainoff, Ph.D., director of the Center for Ergonomic Research at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. When at the computer, check that your feet are flat on the floor, your back is straight, and you don’t have to tilt your head to look at your monitor. If you need to, adjust your chair and the angle of your monitor. Additionally, you shouldn’t have to reach down or up to type or use your mouse. Rather, your hands should rest comfortably on the keyboard with your elbows bent at 90 degrees. To prevent eyestrain, increase your computer’s font size and prop up books or other reading material so that you can read while looking straight ahead. (For more ways to relieve eyestrain, see “Soothe Tired Eyes,” Ask the Experts, page 40.)
Try This Energy Herb from Russia
Russians have relied on rhodiola root (Rhodiola rosea) to reduce fatigue and manage stress for more than 200 years. Research on the herb, which grows in Siberia, is promising, says Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, night-shift physicians who took rhodiola for two weeks felt 50 percent less fatigued than those who took a placebo. The study was published in 2000 in Phytomedicine. For same-day relief of acute stress or fatigue, take 600 mg of root extract capsules, divided into three doses, with meals. To continue the boost, take 200 mg a day on a cycle of four months on, two weeks off. Rhodiola has few side effects; however, it may raise blood pressure and could interact with blood thinning medications like Coumadin (warfarin). Do not take it if you’re pregnant or nursing.
Green Your Office
Feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement, holds that living plants have an energy that can invigorate people, says David Kennedy, a feng shui practitioner in Berkeley, Calif., and author of Feng Shui for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, 2000). In just one day, office plants helped people working at computers feel 10 percent more attentive than people working in a plant-free office (it also helped them work 12 percent faster on their computers), according to research done at Washington State University in Pullman in 1996. Plants that thrive indoors include Boston ferns, Chinese evergreens, and peace lilies. Vibrant, hardy cut flowers like gerber daisies and tulips also perk up office workers, according to studies.
Take a Whiff
Studies show that inhaling peppermint essential oil (Mentha piperita) throughout the day whenever your energy flags clears thinking and boosts productivity. Other revitalizing essential oils include lemon (Citrus limon), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), juniper (Juniperus communis), orange (Citrus sinensis), and spearmint (Mentha spicata), says Kennedy. Keep a bottle by your desk, uncap, and sniff as needed. To sustain your energy after work, plug a car diffuser sprinkled with an essential oil into your car’s cigarette lighter, or place a few drops on your defrost vents and turn on the fan.
Eat to Your Advantage
Your body needs more than just calories to keep going. Nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and essential fats help provide energy over the course of a day, says Nelda Mercer, R.D., registered dietitian in Ann Arbor, Mich., and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
At all meals, divide your plate into imaginary thirds, and fill each third with one of the following nutrient-rich foods: (1) whole grains like brown rice, oats, and whole-wheat bread; (2) colorful fruits and vegetables like berries, cantaloupe, leafy greens, and red peppers; and (3) proteins like chicken, cottage cheese, eggs, tofu, or tuna. (To make sure you don’t overeat, which can cause drowsiness, Mercer recommends using an 8-inch plate or limiting your grain portion to the size of a balled fist and your protein portion to that of a deck of cards.) Then add some healthy fats by drizzling about a tablespoon of flaxseed oil or olive oil on your food or choosing a fatty fish like salmon as your protein.
The fiber in grains, fruits, and vegetables helps ensure a steady supply of energy because it slows your body’s absorption of carbohydrates, a key energy source. Colorful fruits and vegetables provide energy-producing vitamins and minerals. Lean protein and healthy fats satiate you so you’re not weak with hunger, and the omega-3 fats found in flaxseed oil and fatty fish help keep your brain humming. All these foods work together to give you pep, adds dietitian Smith, so don’t ditch any of them.
Exercise energizes you, says Smith. And you don’t need to do much to reap the benefits. In a 2001 study in Health Psychology, people who pedaled a stationary bike for 10 minutes felt more clear-headed, less fatigued, and in a better mood than those who did nothing. If you’re a morning person, waking up an extra 15 minutes early to exercise can help you power through your day. Or, if you prefer, be active when you get home from work: Bike, dance like mad to a few songs on the radio, in-line skate, jump rope, or walk around the block.
Plan for Fun
Work can make you forget some of life’s joys, and feeling down can drain your energy. To remind yourself that there really is fun to be had, create and keep handy a list of 20 pleasurable activities you could do in less than 15 minutes, recommends Ann McGee-Cooper, Ed.D., a Dallas-based corporate consultant and author of You Don’t Have to Go Home from Work Exhausted (Bantam, 1992). Whenever you feel run-down, do something from your list. For example, walk through a park, write a letter, or simply step out to feel sunlight on your skin. Or ask a friend to dinner or register for a fun class at your gym or local community college. Looking forward to pleasure boosts your energy, says McGee-Cooper, because anticipation can be as much fun as reality.
Catch Some Zs
In just a short time, you can be refreshed by a healthy snooze, says Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., professor of environmental physiology at the University of Texas at Houston School of Public Health and co-author of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health (Henry Holt, 2000).
A 10-minute nap erased fatigue and increased productivity for 12 healthy young adults, according to a study published in Sleep in 2001. You can nod off during the workday–and not risk getting in trouble–if you choose the right time and place. Snooze during your lunch break in your car or at your desk. If you use your desk, tell a supervisor and office-mates what you’re doing. For an evening lift, nap on the train or bus home or right after you walk in the door. Just make sure not to oversleep–set an alarm to wake you–because more than 20 minutes of napping can induce grogginess.
Slight dehydration will tire you and cloud your concentration, says a t999 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
When you’re thirsty, reach for hydrating, sugar-free beverages like water and herbal tea, recommends Mercer. (Sugary beverages can cause your blood sugar to spike and then dip, which will deplete your energy.) Aim for six to eight 8-ounce glasses a day, she says. Avoid drinking coffee or tea in the afternoon, because the caffeine can disrupt sleep, which will make you feel tired the following day.
Don’t Forget to Stretch
Sitting in the same position all day tires muscles and saps energy. Every hour, get up and stretch for one minute, recommends Dainoff. It doesn’t matter what you do–just move. Reach to the ceiling, turn your head from side to side, roll your shoulders, arch your back, stand on tip. toe, or touch your toes. If stretching at your desk might raise a few eyebrows, retreat to a bathroom stall. If you can’t remember to stretch regularly, set a timer.
Let Music Revive Your Mood
On the way home from work, don’t tune in to the news. Instead, move that dial to your favorite music station, or pop a CD into your Walkman or car stereo. Listening to music rebuilds your energy instantly, says McGee-Cooper, because it’s pleasurable. It can be any type of music, from classical to jazz to rock-and-roll, as long as you enjoy it, she says.
RELATED ARTICLE: How I became an after-5 dynamo.
PUTTING IT TO THE BEST
I knew something was wrong when the staff at my busy local pizza parlor began to recognize me. Cooking is my favorite hobby, but I was coming home from work so exhausted that I was opting for takeout (or breakfast cereal) instead of making my usual hearty, healthy dinners.
To restore my energy levels after work, I decided to follow several of the tips in this article, I started with the “Plan for Fun” tip, I picked four delicious-sounding dinner recipes, slotted the menus for four weeknights, and bought all the ingredients I needed on Sunday. I arranged a different kind of fun for Monday night: meeting a friend for dinner. I dislike Mondays, but looking forward to a night out kept my energy high all day.
On Tuesday I followed the advice of “Let Music Revive Your Mood.” I brought a portable CD player to wear during my commute home. That day, a grueling multihour meeting delayed my departure from the office. But the music made me feel bouncy. Instead of catching a bus and slumping in my seat, I walked home. Then I kept the tunes going on my stereo as I made one of my dinner recipes. Wednesday, I followed the “Move Yourself” tip and ran for 20 minutes in the morning, which boosted my energy all day. I even had enough oomph left over to make one of the more complicated (but delicious) recipes I had chosen.
For the rest of the week, I either worked out in the morning, wore my portable CO player during my commute, or made fun after-work plans. I felt (and ate) much better, and I plan to continue these habits. I’m only a little sorry that the pizza shop will be losing some business.
–Daphna Caperonis Cox, 30 Natural Health Senior Editor
Maria Noel Mandile is a freelance writer in southern New Hampshire who used to nap in the park during office lunch breaks.
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