Instant Energy
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Instant Energy

10 simple strategies that will put more pep in your step.

Easy Energy Boosters

Who isn't looking for more energy these days? Here's how to get it:

1. Take 15. The energy shortage most women feel is usually a consequence of hectic schedules: You're forced to respond to a call from your child's school and a new demand from your boss -- often simultaneously. The body responds by producing a brief, energizing fight-or-flight hormone called cortisol. Your heart rate and blood pressure soar, and as a result, your immune system takes a hit. So, if you're constantly stressed, you're more likely to get the flu or have serious medical problems. Take at least fifteen minutes to recharge every day -- go for a walk, call a friend or meditate.

2. Uncover hidden energy zappers. Make sure you're not a victim of these silent saboteurs:

  • Low iron levels. About 12 percent of American women have an iron deficiency, which leaves them feeling drained. Vegetarians, dieters and active women are at an increased risk. Iron-rich foods such as meat, beans and cereals can keep iron levels high. Fruit or juice high in vitamin C can improve absorption.
  • Unrecognized allergies. "Lots of people who complain about a lack of energy don't realize they could have allergies," says Heather Holmstrom, M.D., a clinical instructor at the UCLA Medical Group. Histamines and other chemicals released by an allergic reaction can make people feel tired, she explains. Allergies can also interfere with breathing, depriving your muscles of oxygen.
  • Low blood sugar. Just before your usual wake-up time, your body releases a burst of energy to get you going. If you don't refuel by eating breakfast, your energy level plummets. Noshing on a doughnut will give you a temporary jolt, but eating protein and fiber can help you go for the long haul.
  • Medications. Many drugs, including blood-pressure medication and some birth control pills, can affect energy. If you suspect that a medication is sapping your stamina, check with your doctor about making a switch.
  • Poor sleep. The quality of your sleep can have as much of an impact as the quantity. "A woman may be spending eight hours in bed, but if she's not getting uninterrupted sleep, she'll be tired the next day," says Amy Stine, M.D., an integrative medicine physician at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Complementary Medicine. One of the best ways to zonk out at night is to exercise regularly during the day. In studies at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California, 30 to 40 minutes of moderate aerobic activity in the early evening helped people sleep more deeply than those who didn't exercise.
  • Depression. Even mild forms of depression and anxiety are associated with low levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that can affect energy and mood. Serotonin-increasing drugs, such as Prozac, can help many patients feel significantly better; new research has also shown that regular exercise may provide a similar lift.

Frame of mind, genes and time changes

3. Change your frame of mind. Not surprisingly, optimists are more energetic than pessimists. "The happier and more optimistic you feel, the higher your energy and the lower your tension," says Robert Thayer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at California State University at Long Beach. When energy climbs and tension falls, you're also more productive because you can concentrate, learn and remember more. Tense energy, the revved-up feeling you get when a deadline looms or disaster strikes, Thayer says, can bring the same results, but only temporarily. To become an optimist, focus on solutions rather than problems -- instead of complaining about your boss, for example, target what you can do to improve your career and keep pursuing those goals. Even small changes can help, such as using upbeat language -- don't say you're "tired," say you're "recharging."

4. Don't blame your genes. "People may be born with a certain amount of energy, but your energy level involves a lot more than genes," says Stine. Lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet and adding exercise, have more impact than any genetic energy setpoint. For example, children who exercise regularly tend to grow up to be more active and energetic than those who were couch potatoes.

5. Tune in to time changes. Mental energy and alertness are typically highest in mid-morning. And many aspects of physical energy, such as muscle strength and lung and heart efficiency, peak in the late afternoon. "It's important to pay attention to your own rhythms," says Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health and co-author of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health (Henry Holt, 2000). For instance, if your get-up-and-go attitude doesn't appear until late morning, avoid working breakfasts or early staff meetings. If your energy peters out by 3:00 p.m., use that time for the most routine parts of your job.

Monthly schedule, sunshine and journaling

6. Check your monthly schedule. A woman's energy also shifts with her menstrual cycle. "There's an oscillation in mood and in quality of sleep," Smolensky says. Typically, PMS makes women feel more sluggish; energy rises after menstruation and before ovulation.

7. Get some sunshine. Spring tends to be the most energizing time of year, while winter is the least. About 10 percent of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression characterized by lack of energy, carbohydrate cravings and the blues. A daily 30-minute dose of outdoor light, preferably in the morning, can help keep your spirits high.

8. Keep a journal. If you still can't figure out why you feel exhausted, start a daily log. Jot down what you eat, how well you sleep, your menstrual cycle and exercise habits, paying close attention to the times you're raring to go and when you're worn out. After two weeks, you may identify an unhealthy pattern of overscheduling, skipping meals or late nights that produce energy lulls the next day. Also, think about what's changed in your life: Did you take on an extra assignment? Has a child been sick? These may cause a temporary overload until you can get back to your normal routine.

Positive people and family balance

9. Get help from positive people. The energy of busy and successful women can be contagious. And you can steal their secrets for handling stressful days. For example, Deborah Kwolek, a 38-year-old mother of four and a physician in Lexington, Kentucky, keeps her engines revved up by not scheduling events back-to-back. That ensures she's not overbooked and has some time -- and energy -- to spare. Kathy Posner, 46, president of a public-relations agency in Chicago, loves her job. "I do lots of pro bono work with charities," she says. "I'm energized by the passion I feel for causes."

10. Find family balance. Research suggests that couples whose energy cycles are in sync talk more, argue less, spend more time together and have sex more often. But a few compromises can make a couple with mismatched energy levels just as happy. Start by recognizing your differences, and try not to force your habits on your spouse. If your energy peaks in the morning, for example, and your husband's peaks at night, find a time that works for both of you for important discussions about finances or the family vacation. Instead of keeping sex a nights-only event, have romantic moments at other times of the day when you both hit an energy peak. You can also use the differences to your advantage: your husband can get the kids ready for bed; you can handle the morning routine.