So what’s up with that? Well, I have some thoughts. And on my Yummy Mummy Club blog I’ve broken down 10 über-common reasons for that feeling of fatigue.
You can read all about them, here, and see if one (or more) is the culprit for you. (If you can stay awake long enough, that is…)
In my first post on this topic, Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around the World, I talked about how (and why) other countries kick our butts all over the place in terms of staying trim & healthy. But there’s no need to despair–we can (shamelessly) steal those ideas, and use them for our own purposes, now can’t we? Below, some more international ideas…this time, not just for trimming down, but for overall health.
Norwegians have lower BMIs than North Americans and enjoy lower rates of heart disease. One reason? They eat a ton of fish. Norway is a country surrounded by ocean on three sides, so it stands to reason. They enjoy herring, sardines, trout, and arctic char. Salmon is a trademark dish for them, especially smoked salmon, which is one of my all-time favorite things to eat. So what do all these varieties have in common? They are all cold water, fatty fish. Which is the best dietary source of omega-3. Here’s why omega-3 is so awesome for us.
Here’s an interesting little tidbit: in the Netherlands, there are more bicycles (18 million) than people (16.5 million). As such, cycling is not just a form of exercise, it’s a way of life. Dutch people hop on their bicycles for daily activities like shopping, running errands, and going to work. Here’s why this is a good idea for you, too. Plus there are added benefits to using your bike (preferably an upright version with a basket) for all your in-town needs–namely: looking super-cute and European. Besides, it’s good for the environment, no?
A professor at Harvard, Dr. Normal Hollenberg, has devoted a big chunk of his professional career studying a particular indigenous population in Panama, with extremely low rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And he attributes this, at least in part, to their daily consumption of unprocessed, pure cocoa. And when I say daily, I’m talking 5 cups a day at least. Cocoa? Really? Well, it’s plausible…because cocoa is jam-packed with flavonoids (powerful antioxidants) that have been demonstrated to have a multitude of health benefits. (see my post, here, on why chocolate is good for you). After reading about this, I went out and bought a tin of high-quality cocoa…and now I’m on the hunt for a good recipe for homemade hot chocolate using that cocoa. Anyone?
The British, unfortunately, are working hard at catching up to North American obesity rates…but one thing they do right? Breakfast. A full English breakfast is a sight to behold, let me tell you. And a wonderful way to start the day. Why is breakfast a good thing? Here. Here. And here.
And speaking of breakfast…the Swiss have mastered the healthiest version of it: muesli. Muesli is a blend of oats, nuts and fruit, developed by a Swiss physician many years ago. It’s super-healthy, balanced, full of everything you need to kick-start your day…and just plain delish, besides. Particularly if you have it with yogurt (Greek being my preference), it’s hard to beat for health and toothsomeness. Yes. That’s a word.
Now, of course we can stay home and simply steal these ideas. But why not take things up a notch, and actually go to the aforementioned countries? Here’s why taking a vacation is good for you.
We’re all “busy”. But sometimes things get particularly frantic. And when that happens, what’s the first thing to suffer? Yep, your health. Are you guilty of the following health mistakes when the going gets tough? Let me flip things around for you, and show you a different way of thinking about each of these faux pas.
Too many things to do, not enough time? I’m in touch with that emotion. And many times, I’ve sacrificed sleep to get more done. But I should know better. Tasks done while sleep-deprived rarely end up being my best work. Do you fall into this pattern? Thing is, making time for sleep is an investment. A well-rested you will be more productive and efficient. Plus, skipping sleep means you’re flirting with a lot of long-term health consequences. And if you get truly sick…well, just think about how unproductive you’ll be then.
2. Not drinking enough water.
It seems like an easy thing to do–drink water–but many people neglect this one when they’re dashing to and fro between appointments. Trouble is, mild dehydration is a very common energy sapper–and one you wouldn’t necessarily recognize. When you’re busy, you need all the energy you can get. That mid-afternoon slump could be perked up quite nicely, thank you very much, with a tall, cool glass of water. How much water do you really need to drink? Read this.
3. Blowing off exercise.
“I’m so busy, there’s no WAY I have time for a workout”. Sound familiar? We’re all guilty of this one, I’m sure. Exercise is usually the first thing to go when your schedule crunches down. But…I think you know what I’m going to say here. Saving time by skipping workouts is a false economy. If you don’t make some time for exercise your energy lags, grumpiness grows, stress level goes up, productivity goes down. But I get it–how can you possibly carve out a full hour for a proper workout? Good news, people: you don’t have to! You can get your exercise in bite-size chunks of 10 minutes at a time, that you accumulate through the day. Read more about this approach here.
4. Depending on a glass of wine to relax.
Okay, I’m all for wine. But depending on it is a bad idea. I consider wine to be a healthy indulgence, it’s a very pleasurable ritual, and it’s a key part of the Mediterranean diet. There is plenty of research to show it’s a boon for heart health. But, clearly, you can overdo it. Liver disease springs to mind. Alcoholism is a pretty ugly thing. Plus, alcohol can mess with your sleep (see above). Bottom line? Enjoy your wine, but don’t medicate with it. There are many other ways to relax at the end of a busy, stressful day: yoga, a hot bath, a good book, a walk…
5. Eating too many meals that come from restaurants/takeout containers/frozen trays in the microwave.
Don’t get me wrong–I love restaurants; I’m a fan of take-out. Perhaps has something to do with the fact that washing dishes is the 6th layer of hell for me. But–there are good reasons to keep this sort of thing as an occasional treat only. If your weekly diet is heavy on the convenience food or takeout, you’ve relinquished control over what you’re eating. Restaurant and otherwise prepared food tends to be much higher in the unhealthies: fat, sodium, sugar. The portions are probably way bigger than you really need. And chances are, the choices will be a heavy in the meat-cheese-carb department and light in the fresh fruit & veggie department. It takes a little planning but simple, fresh food can be super-easy to prepare. It makes you feel better & look better. And if I can’t convince you on the health front, think of it this way: if you’re spending all your money in restaurants, how are you going to afford all the new pants you’re going to need to accommodate that muffin top you’ve grown, courtesy of all those meals out?
Wait a sec.
I do have a nickel for everyone who says that. And that’s because it’s one of the top reasons people visit their doctor.
Fatigue is ubiquitous, you guys. If I could bottle energy, I could retire right now and go live in some sun-soaked villa in Tuscany. Sipping wine, strolling through olive groves, reading novels, shopping for Italian shoes…
Um, what were we talking about?
Right–back to the issue at hand. We could all use a little more energy, couldn’t we? I’ve written about this before. In two previous posts (here and here), I recommend various ways to step it up a little.
But there are more.
Here you go:
1.Light it up.
Our circadian rhythms (otherwise known as our sleep-wake cycles) are hugely dependent on light cues. Give your brain a big hint that it’s bright-eyed/bushy-tailed time by sitting beside a sunny window, going for a walk outside, or even just turning on more lights inside.
2.Stretch it out.
In a pinch, a few stretches at your desk can give you a boost. But studies are increasingly showing the benefits of regular yoga practice–and one of those benefits is improving depression, stress, and anxiety–big-time energy zappers.
3.Take a cold shower.
A downward temperature change has been shown to give an energy jolt, in general. But in particular, a 3-minute cold shower has been shown to improve symptoms of chronic fatigue.
4.Try a little music medicine.
There’s a growing body of research to show the physical & mental benefits of music. Relaxing music has been shown to alleviate stress, but you can tailor it to your mood–more upbeat music can improve alertness.
This is one of my favorite research findings lately. Quite a number of studies have shown that chewing gum can improve mood, cognitive function, and alertness. Plus, calorie-free, and easy, right?
How many of us start the day running before our feet hit the floor? Are your mornings a frazzled mess? Instead of lurching into your waking hours and figuring things out as you go, maybe you need to consider a more…intentional approach.
Starting the day on the right foot has psychic repercussions that carry through the day. And by psychic I don’t mean palm-reading. I’m talking about what it does to your brain/soul/emotional center to begin your day the “right” way.
Now–to clarify–“right” will mean a different thing to everyone. The perfect a.m. routine, for you, honors your priorities for health and happiness. You want to initiate rituals that send a cue to your inner self that you are taking care of yourself. Nourishing yourself. You’ve rested, and now you’re beginning the day by turning on the lights in your brain, firing up the furnace, priming the pump. Even if it’s been a crappy night (the early years with a newborn spring to mind) you can still start each day fresh.
Your routine does not need to be lengthy. Few of us can devote a big chunk of time to drawn-out morning rituals (as much as we might like to!). But even a few minutes can make a big difference.
To get you thinking, some examples of things you might include in your morning routine:
You couldn’t include all these things, and they’re not all going to be your thing anyway. Which is okay. Choose your favorite 2-3 activities, then start crafting your own perfect morning ritual. Of course, you’re probably not always going to make them happen. Also okay.
So I’m wondering…what would you include in your perfect morning?
A lot of holiday stress has to do with over-commitment. Most of us have pretty full plates to begin with. Throw a bunch of extra stuff in there…where is that extra time supposed to come from?
There’s little doubt that stress affects our health. It weakens our immune systems, triggers inflammation, messes with our sleep, causes all manner of physical symptoms…and just downright sucks.
But do the holidays have to be synonymous with stress? Not if you take steps to cope.
Here are my suggestions.
Take “Me Time”. Schedule some quiet time for yourself. If necessary, sneak away to do it. It doesn’t have to be an entire day of indulgence…sometimes just a 15-minute breather will do it. Don’t feel guilty about this! You are no good to anyone else if you are totally burned out.
Let go of the need to be perfect. Our expectations are ridiculous this time of year. You do not need to channel Martha. You do not need to throw the perfect party, complete with handmade decorations and home-canned preserves for every guest…a person can only do so much. Make sure you know your true priorities, then focus on those. Quality time with loved-ones is probably a healthier goal than hand-crocheted doilies. But maybe that’s my bias coming out.
Have a strategy for healthy eating. Temptation is all over the place this season. Making good choices will help your energy level, your digestion, your sleep…and will also help you avoid the particular stress that occurs when struggling to zip up your pants. Of course…I also think you need to enjoy yourself. Lesley Beck, a prominent dietitian, has a terrific take on that. One of my strategies: be a total food snob. When there’s so much truly good food around, don’t waste calories on something that’s just ho-hum.
Exercise. Most people recognize that exercise is a big help with stress. But finding the time for said exercise? A cause of stress. Hm. Conundrum. My advice: nevermind if you can’t find the time for big workouts right now. Just squeeze little bits in here and there.
Just say no. Overcommitment will lead straight to overwhelm. Tune in to what you really need to do, and cut the fat on everything else. One way to do that? Check out Gretchen Rubin’s suggestion to think of yourself in the third person.
Re-frame the holidays. A quantum shift in perspective might be just what you need. Once upon a time, winter was a time of darkness, a time of seeking warmth and comfort and gathering indoors…not a time of nonstop cheer. It might help to respect the season, the darkness, and lower your expectations accordingly. Read Dr. Andrew Weil’s wonderful post on this aspect of our cultural history.
Breathe. Quick and easy (thus fitting nicely into a packed schedule), breathing exercises are a wonderful stress-reliever. Here’s my primer on that.
Listen to music. And no, not holiday tunes. I love Christmas music, make no mistake, but…sometimes you need to take a break from the nonstop jingle-belling. Read this to see why music is medicine.
Shop online. I can’t stand Christmas shopping at the mall. The parking, the checkout lineups…and don’t even get me started on the food court. I avoid it at all costs. But I’m no Grinch. I love to shop, and I admit to going a little crazy on the gift front.The internet, and UPS, offers the perfect solution.
Protect your sleep. A person needs to rest, there’s no way you can get through all the holiday festivities without it. Insufficient sleep makes you grumpy, irritable, and…wait for it: fat. (it’s true: lack of sleep increases your chances of becoming overweight). Do whatever it takes to keep a regular sleep schedule. Your body, and brain, will thank you.
Yeah, me too.
If a siesta isn’t exactly an option for you in the middle of the day (it certainly isn’t for me), what can you do? There’s always Starbucks of course. Or chocolate. But…know what might work better?
Yep, a recent study has shown this:
An interesting little type of brain cells, called orexin cells, secrete a stimulant that gives us energy. If the activity of these cells decreases, sleepiness results. In a study published in Neuron, researchers looked at the activity of orexin cells in mice. And they found that glucose blocks the function of orexin cells. In contrast…amino acids (the building blocks of protein) keep orexin cells active, and the mice alert.
Now, this is a preliminary study in this field, and was done on mice, not humans. However, while we’re waiting for more research to trickle in, it’s worth a try using protein to boost energy and alertness. Besides, we already know that protein is a great way to regulate blood sugar, stave off the munchies, and control your weight.
Here’s a handy list of quick and yummy protein snacks to keep you zipping through your day:
Have I mentioned how much I love yoga? I recommend yoga so often to patients, I’m almost getting tired of hearing myself gush about it. But really, if you’re looking to improve your health–physical, mental, or emotional–it’s hard to go wrong with yoga. Here’s my roundup of all the beautiful ways yoga can help you:
1. Chronic Back Pain. Studies have shown the benefits of yoga when it comes to the bothersome, and often debilitating, problem of chronic low back pain. A randomized study done recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that yoga was superior to regular care for treating chronic back pain. Hello, cat pose.
2. Depression. In 2010 The Journal of Psychiatric Practice published a review of all the research examining yoga as a treatment for depression. Here’s what they said:
Yoga may be an attractive alternative to or a good way to augment current depression treatment strategies. Second, aspects of yoga-including mindfulness promotion and exercise-are thought to be “active ingredients” of other successful treatments for depression. Third, there are plausible biological, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms by which yoga may have an impact on depression.
There are many reasons yoga is a wonderful adjunctive treatment to conventional treatment for depression, by helping with stress, insomnia, physical pain, etc. We’re only scratching the surface in terms of using yoga to treat depression, and I suspect many more studies will come.
3. Heart Health. Yoga has been shown to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. It’s helpful for stress. It just may reduce cholesterol. And there may be other physiologic benefits, like anti-oxidant activity and anti-inflammatory properties, that we’re starting to understand to be major factors in preventing heart disease. And who’s not interested in a healthier ticker?
4. Rheumatoid Arthritis. If you happen to suffer this autoimmune type of arthritis, yoga could be especially good for you, too. There have been some (typically small, early) studies (like this one, and this one) that have shown improvement in symptoms when patients participate in a yoga program. Psychological benefits (decreased stress and depression) as well as physical benefits (decreased pain and disability) were some of the outcomes.
5. Insomnia. Can’t sleep? Several studies have shown yoga to be beneficial in improving sleep–even for people with insomnia-ridden conditions like menopause and osteoarthritis. How yoga works, exactly, to improve sleep is not fully known, but it probably has a whole lot to do with the body’s stress reaction. Chronic stress and sleep are not good, um, bedfellows.
6. Menopause. Yoga appears to help with a whole bunch of the symptoms associated with menopause: insomnia, mood changes, and maybe even hot flashes. Nice, since hormone therapy is such a hornet’s nest of potential trouble these days, to have non-medication alternatives to these vexing symptoms.
7. Stress. This is probably the biggest reason I regularly “prescribe” yoga. There is plenty of evidence, both research-based and anecdotal, for the stress-fighting benefits of yoga. The meditative aspects of yoga, the fact that it incorporates breathing exercises, the relaxation and the physical movement…it all helps to explain why yoga is the bomb for stress.
So get your butt down to that yoga studio. A little downward dog, a few sun salutations…voila, you’ve worked your body and your psyche. Now that’s multitasking.
My oldest son drinks next to nothing. I swear, he’s a camel. I have to beg him to drink anything, and he’s always been like that. My second son, at 16 months, drinks water like it’s his job. And you know what? They’re both equally healthy.
So how much water do you need to drink, really? From the way some people talk about drinking water, you’d think you’re headed for imminent multi-organ failure if you’re getting less than 8 glasses a day. And then there’s the other camp, the people who like to refer to the 8-glasses-a-day guideline as a “myth”.
Hm. Where does the truth lie, here?
A recent article in the New York Times reviewed some new research showing that regular water intake benefits the kidneys and prevents kidney disease long-term. Swinging the pendulum back to the drink-8-glasses-for-optimum-health philosophy.
What’s my take? I personally think we should all be drinking plenty of water, all day long. Note the word “plenty”…it’s pretty vague. Which is intentional. I think we’re all different; our systems are individual. And we all vary in our eating habits, too–ie. how much fluid we take in through food (fruits are super high in water content, as an example, which is how I think my first son gets away with his water-shunning ways: he’s a fruit-aholic). I think the most important thing is making a habit of drinking water, and paying attention to your body and the symptoms related to inadequate water consumption.
And, for the record, I’m not talking about full-on dehydration, here. It’s not a black-and-white thing of either hydrated or dehydrated. It’s where you are on the spectrum. You may not be dehydrated enough to warrant IV fluids, but still not getting quite enough water on a daily basis. And suffering some pretty subtle symptoms as a result.
So how do you know if you’re not really getting enough fluids? Ask yourself:
How often am I peeing through the day? This is a good gauge of fluid intake. If you can go hours and hours without hitting the restroom, you’re probably not drinking enough.
Do I feel tired, without a good reason? Fatigue is the scourge of modern life, and there are many, many causes for it…but one of them is inadequate fluid intake. Worth considering.
Do I get frequent headaches? Again, headaches are multifactorial. But even mild dehydration can contribute.
Am I suffering constipation from time to time? Probably not a question you need to actually ask yourself, but still…it helps to know that a big cause for periodic constipation is inadequate water intake. Bump up your water quotient and see if that helps keep ya regular.
Is my skin looking dull and dry? No surprises here, a dry body on the inside can look dry on the outside. Water plumps up those tissues and gives a more vibrant appearance.
Drink up, darlings.
As promised, here’s another disco of energy-boosting ideas. (See here for my first 3 tips)
1. Drink Up
Mild dehydration can easily creep up on you. Trouble is, even slight dehydration can sap your vigor—your body has to work harder to pump a smaller blood volume around.
Using thirst to dictate your fluid intake? Not a good idea. Thirst is a poor indicator; by the time you’re craving that cool drink your body is already withering.
Instead, aim to sip throughout the day. Try drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning, just before bed, and with each meal. Or keep a water bottle on your desk, and refill it when you take breaks.
Eight glasses a day is a reasonable guideline, but everyone’s requirements are different. Ensure you drink enough so you’re going to the ladies’ room every two to four hours.
2. Eat for Energy
To fuel your body, you need food. But will any type of food do? Nope.
Despite the bad image carbs have received, they’re still you’re body’s first choice for energy. It’s complex carbohydrates that you want, however—like whole grains, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin and carrots. Unlike simple sugars that give you a burst of energy and then a dip, complex carbs are absorbed and digested slowly. This keeps your blood sugar level constant.
Fibre is also important for sustained blood sugar. Fibre causes the body to absorb carbs more slowly. So choose whole grains over white bread, rice, and pasta.
Protein is the other important food that will deliver a slow, steady burn of energy. Choose lean, unprocessed sources: chicken, fish, nuts and legumes.
3. Seek Balance
Women are master multitaskers. We have busy lives and competing priorities. But sometimes we simply spread ourselves too thin. If you’ve got too much going on, perhaps it’s time to make a change. If your va-va-voom is suffering, your body is telling you something. Listen to it.
Start by paring your priority list. Take that long put-off vacation. Make time for yourself. Soak in a bubble bath, stretch out in yoga class, indulge in a full spa massage, listen to music, rent a comedy and laugh your heart out.
4. Get Moving
Too tired to open a soup can? Why not go for a jog instead?
Yes it sounds illogical, but you’ll be surprised at the effect exercise can deliver. Physical activity gets your limbs moving, your blood flowing and your heart pumping. It’s invigorating. And, if you start exercising regularly, you’ll enjoy other energizing benefits. Like stress reduction and better sleep.
What’s more, I can almost guarantee that catching a glimpse in the mirror of a trimmer silhouette will perk up your day.
5. Lose weight
If you were forced to drag twenty-pound dumbbells around all day, you’d find yourself tiring easily, right? It’s the same when your body’s own frame is carrying that excess weight.
A fitter, leaner you will move confidently and rock it with way more energy.
Of course, losing weight is easier said than done. But the changes that will help you ditch those extra pounds—exercising more, eating a healthier diet—are things that will also give you pep in the short term. So, even before you notice that your pants aren’t quite so snug, you should be feeling uplifted.
Energizing bonus of weight loss? A fab excuse for a brand-new wardrobe.
Sometimes, the answer to our troubles is the simplest one. Tired throughout the day? Perhaps you need to get more sleep.
Think of your cell phone. If you don’t recharge it, it cuts out (well, after it does that incredibly annoying beeping thing). Your body works the same way. You’ve got to recharge. Superwoman you might be, but we all need sleep.
Research shows that people who are sleep-deprived have poor concentration, a crummy sense of humour, and increased health issues.
Everyone has different sleep requirements, but it’s usually somewhere between seven and nine hours per night. Experiment a little to figure out your ideal quota, then stick to it.
It’s not always easy to get the sleep we need, of course. Yes, you could always get one more task done if you postpone bedtime, but you’re going to suffer in the long run. So, lights out, please.
7. Deal with Stress
Stress is the scourge of our modern lives. Truth be told, it’s the reason lurking behind a huge proportion of doctor’s visits. And it’s the core factor beneath an awful lot of fatigue.
It’s not that you’re merely imagining your dwindling energy. It’s more than that. A deep mind-body connection exists that we don’t fully understand. But we do know that stress exerts a harmful effect on our health and sense of well-being.
Is your fatigue truly due to deep-down stress? The only person who can answer this is you. You need to take a penetrating look at your life. And be straight with yourself.
Whether it’s a stressful job, relationship troubles, financial worries or something else, it’s time to stop ignoring it. You have to face up to the big stressors in your life and deal with them. (Read this for 50 tips on dealing with stress)
Don’t tackle all of the above at once. Start with the ideas that most capture your fancy, and get set to rediscover some pizzazz. Not just to make it through your ‘to do’ list, but also to enjoy life more.