TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter – November 2002

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Dune JumpingHigh Energy
Do you know any people who are "low energy?" Do you enjoy being around them? Me neither. High energy people are much more fun. They've got that sparkle in their eyes… and you just know good things will happen when they're around. However, many of us have gone through periods when we're just about running on empty. Modern life can wear us down and sap our energy. You already know there's a powerful mind-body connection: personal energy levels and moods are related. However, most people don't fully understand this, and even get it backwards: depression and negative moodiness don't lead to low energy. Rather, low energy levels lead to negative moods. But that's good news. It means you have direct control over your state of mind. A high energy level drives positive mood – and you have the ability to dramatically boost your personal energy.

The very best way to raise your energy level is through exercise. Working out also yields a wealth of additional benefits: it reduces tension, improves your mood, leads to weight loss, better sleep, better sex, and… (do I really need to go on?) If your primary goal is to boost energy, a little exercise goes a very long way. Just taking a brisk walk for five or ten minutes will increase your energy level for an hour or more. Unfortunately, when both your mood and your energy are low, the last thing in the world you feel like doing is exercising. Instead, you'll do what you always do… eat some comfort/junk food and veg out in front of the TV… leading to an even lower energy level – the classic vicious circle. May I humbly suggest that you get up out of that Lay-Z-Boy and go take a walk instead? Do this no matter how unappealing it seems. Walk with determination, as if you're heading down a long airport corridor and you're late for the plane. I absolutely guarantee you'll feel much better within 10 minutes (of course, consult with a doctor first if you haven't exercised in quite a while – that's just good common sense).

There are only a few probable reasons why you'd suffer from low energy or chronic fatigue. For younger people, the reasons are often psychological stress/anxiety, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and/or lack of exercise. In older folks, the cause is more often a medical disorder. If you are feeling truly fatigued for a period of several weeks, a trip to the doctor is definitely in order. You'll want to first rule out the possibility of diabetes, thyroid disorders, anemia, or other energy-sapping diseases. Once you've done that, you can make some changes in your diet and lifestyle that'll provide a quantum leap in your energy level:

Work out regularly. Do aerobics as often and as intensely as you're able. Do resistance exercises every other day (allowing your muscles to recover in between). Exercise vigorously at least three times a week. If you want the real payoff – endorphins -- you'll need to break a sweat or push some serious weight. Endorphins are the energizing compounds – peptide hormones – that bind to the opiate receptors in your brain. They boost your energy and mood, and dull pain. Besides releasing endorphins, vigorous exercise also oxygenates your brain, increasing alertness and mental sharpness. However, you aren't going to get these goodies just by strolling around the block. You'll have to work for them…

Cut out white food: highly processed carbs like white sugar, white flour, and white rice. And watch out for corn sweeteners: even more popular these days than white sugar, and just as harmful. For many people, eating sugar and processed carbs leads to an overproduction of insulin and a severe blood sugar rebound – resulting in fatigue (and intense hunger). Krispy Kreme donuts are for dessert, not breakfast!

Take a multivitamin. You may or may not be vitamin deficient, but taking a daily vitamin is cheap insurance. You need vitamins (especially the easily depleted water-soluble B-complex vitamins) and minerals like potassium and magnesium in order to maintain your energy level. Make sure you're getting the full spectrum every day. Of course, you should also eat a well-balanced diet, including lots of bright-colored vegetables and fruits.

Watch your caffeine. While it can perk you up in the morning and slightly raise your metabolism, coffee also has its dark side... too much can interfere with sleep, and it's also quite addictive. You can feel tired simply if you fail to get your usual fix of coffee (or black tea and cola drinks). Cut back gradually and see if that helps.

Cut down on the boozing. Alcohol disrupts sleep, especially when consumed within four hours of bedtime. You may fall asleep rapidly but it won't be restful sleep. This is especially true if you've consumed enough martinis to dehydrate yourself (very easy to do, and a great way to wake up in the middle of the night with a headache). If you're drinking alcohol, make sure you also consume at least a full glass of water with each cocktail. However, if you're trying to boost your energy, one drink per day is about the limit. Total abstinence is better.

Get enough sleep. This is absolutely key. If you aren't getting enough sleep, practically nothing else matters. Shoot for seven hours a night minimum. Eight is better. Every night you get less than your "quota," you're making a withdrawal from your sleep bank. At some point you're going to be overdrawn… fatigued, moody, and mentally sluggish. Daytime catnaps can help, but excessive napping interferes with the more important nighttime sleep.

Know your meds. Ask your doctor if any of the drugs he or she prescribes for you could be contributing to your low energy; it's the most common side effect of hundreds of prescription and OTC drugs. Fortunately, it's frequently possible to switch to a slightly different drug that won't cause you to lose energy.

Manage your stress. Psychological stress rapidly drains physical energy. Find ways to reduce your anxiety and stress levels: mediation, deep breathing, counseling, etc. Prescription medications and herbs like St. John's Wort can help if your stress/anxiety is very high and doesn't respond to lifestyle changes. However, I've found one of the best stress-reducers is to simply build a couple of extra minutes into "between time." I try to allow a little extra time to reach appointments and meetings, or to complete tasks. It's pretty silly to get stressed because of heavy traffic or an unexpected phone call.

Check your teeth. Many people walk around with minor infections in their mouths and don't even know it. And an infection anywhere in your body, no matter how slight, can fatigue you quite severely. (It'll cause your energy to be directed to fight the infection.) Be sure your dentist or hygienist checks very carefully for any potential infection sites in your teeth, gums, or mouth. Likewise, see your dermatologist if you tend to have skin rashes and slow-healing wounds.

So far, I haven't met anyone who wouldn't enjoy having more personal energy and vitality. However, few people take the simple steps needed to make a dramatic change for the better. When you've got energy and a positive mental attitude, anything seems possible, and indeed, great things do start to happen. Start today!

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(c) Copyright 2002-2010 Victor Urbach
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