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Need an Energy Boost? 5 More Tips.

If I had a nickel for every person who said “I’m just so tired…”

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.  

5.Chew gum.

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?

Morning Rituals for Health

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:

  • drink water (it’s important to rehydrate after a night’s sleep)
  • move (stretch, or do a quick 5 minute yoga flow)
  • eat a delish breakfast
  • read (the newspaper, or a great book)
  • sip tea or coffee.
  • write
  • meditate
  • re-connect with the world on an aesthetic or sensory basis…look at something beautiful, dabble in aromatherapy, or listen to music
  • get some sunlight (send a signal to your brain that daytime has arrived & trigger a strong circadian rhythm)

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?

Stress Ninja: 4 Stress Busters That Take Zero Extra Time

When I’m stressed, I fantasize about escaping to the spa for a nice long massage. Or getting centered at the yoga studio with a luxurious 90-minute class. Or crawling into bed for an afternoon nap. But there’s one problem: who’s got the time for all that? Trouble is, my stress is often there specifically because I’m in a time crunch. All the conventional de-stressing advice (Exercise! Meditate! Get more sleep!) is great, but sometimes, I simply don’t have the time.

 So, are there ways to detox from all that stress…without piling on more pressure by cutting into your maxed-out schedule?

 You bet.

 Here are four groovy stressbusters that can slip, ninja-like, into your life.

 1.Take a spoonful of music medicine. Research shows that music therapy lowers serum cortisol, heart rate, blood pressure, and perceived stress level. If music can alleviate the stress of parents waiting in a pediatric emergency department (as shown in one study), it can certainly help you. It only takes a second to pull out your iPod or pop in a CD; let music dissolve your stress while you keep doing what you gotta do.

2.Drink green tea. You’re at Starbucks already, topping up your tank with caffeine to keep you going…so try switching out that venti nonfat latte for a soothing green tea. Research has shown that a component of green tea, L-theanine, increases serotonin, dopamine, and GABA levels in the brain—changes that are associated with increased relaxation.

3.Don’t vent. This isn’t something to do so much as something you can skip doing. It’s a common impulse to vent about your stressors with girlfriends. Turns out, kvetching is not necessarily the best idea. Research shows that when we rant and complain, it actually makes us feel worse. If you need to unload, keep it brief. An hour can easily go by and all you’ve done is bitch, you haven’t solved any problems, and now you’re all riled up and feeling terrible.

4.Breathe with your belly. You have to breathe, right? Abdominal breathing is easy and has been shown in several studies to reduce anxiety, panic attacks, depression, headaches, and fatigue. Instead of using shallow “chest breathing”, you use your diaphragm to fill your lungs more deeply. To learn it: put one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest. Breathe in through your nose and allow your abdomen to push out. Exhale fully, allowing your abdomen to retract. Rinse and repeat.

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Music Medicine: Can Music Make You Healthier?

A study was published last week with some intriguing results. The researchers looked at the effect of music therapy on patients with cancer. This was a review study, which meant they analyzed data from multiple studies–30 trials in this case–and drew conclusions from the collection of results. They found that music therapy (“music medicine”) improved mood, anxiety, and quality of life in cancer patients. Which are largely emotional results, and things that make intuitive sense, right? But they also found that music therapy had a beneficial effect on heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. Physiologic change. Fascinating, no?

I have personally felt the beneficial effect of music, haven’t you? I’m a big believer in the power of music to help with stress and well-being. But this recent research, well it made me think: is there any evidence that music is beneficial for health, in general? It turns out there’s a whole lot of research into this, actually. The more I started digging the more I started turning up.

The effect of music therapy has been studied on people in a variety of clinical settings: preoperatively, during labor & delivery, and for patients with coronary artery disease. And in each of these situations, beneficial effects were demonstrated: reduction of anxiety and stress, reduction of heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. 

A randomized study of nurses found that music therapy resulted in lower perceived stress level, cortisol, heart rate, mean arterial pressure, and higher finger temperature while the women were listening to music. Which are significant, important physical changes. 

I couldn’t find any studies that looked at the long-term effects, but it does make you think: if there’s benefit in short-term music medicine, there could very well be long-term health improvement. More research forthcoming on this, I’m sure.

I certainly find music to be soothing, don’t you? After a particularly stressful period recently, I made a resolution to listen to more music. I’ve started bringing my iPod with me absolutely everywhere; it practically need to be surgically removed from me these days. And I’ve felt an enormous difference in my life. When I’m listening to music my stress level is hugely improved. It seems to make the bad times better…and the good times better, too.

And what I love about music is that you don’t need to commit yourself to one kind. There’s such variety out there: music that’s uplifting, or relaxing, or mellow, or the kind that make you wanna get up and dance. There’s music for every mood. For me, sometimes there’s nothing better than classical music, but later that same day I find myself craving dance music (even rap!)…show tunes, piano jazz, my fave hits from the 80s…I love it all. Well, maybe not country. Although, even there, I’m starting to come around a little (courtesy of my ever-persistent husband).What’s your favorite? 

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Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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