By Lisa Ziegel
Let’s face it, we are a nation of tired people. We Americans seem obsessed with gaining more energy, with coffee being the beverage of choice to rev up our engines. In 1997 the “energy” drink Red Bull was introduced to the weary and from that sprang an entire industry with consumption (mainly among younger adults and now, in a more worrying manner, teen-agers) on the rise. In one survey of college students these were alarmingly seen as preferred over regular soft drinks, such as colas and other sugary beverages.
Whatever the preferred method is of gaining liquid energy, the bottom line is the reason for all of this is that people just don’t get enough sleep. This is an easy fit — just get more sleep, right? But insomnia is also a major problem for many. Lack of sleep creates a chronic level of fatigue that even caffeine cannot stave off forever. When people are fatigued, the thought of exercising seems overwhelming, so people don’t. A major reason for not exercising that is mentioned is, “I’m just too tired.”
The sad thing is that by not exercising because you feel tired, you are perpetuating a vicious circle in which you will continue to feel more and more fatigued. There are many proven reasons why exercising not only gives you more energy, but also helps you sleep better. This in turn gives you even more energy to exercise, thus creating a positive cycle.
One of the reasons why exercise gives you more energy is because it stimulates the nervous system to produce “endocannabinoids,” which play a role in relieving anxiety and inducing a relaxation response as well as elevating mood. All of these elements can, of course, only have a positive effect on sleep, helping us to relax and then rest better.
As we well know, enough hours as well as the quality of sleep are essential to regulate our body’s metabolism, as well as to repair and strengthen tissues, especially in retaining muscle and bone mass. Muscle is what moves our bodies, and exercise helps maintain and even builds our muscle mass. When we use our muscles in a manner that progressively increases their capacity for endurance (usually cardiovascular activities, such as walking, running, cycling, etc.), or strength (resistance training with weights, body-weight exercises such as push-ups, etc.), the number of “powerhouse cells” or mitochondria in muscle tissue increases in number, and the capillaries that provide blood flow to muscles also increase in number. All of which increases our capacity for activity so what was difficult at first (i.e., the first time you ride a stationary bike) becomes easier the next time. Not to mention how the most important muscle in our body, our heart, is affected it becomes more efficient at pumping blood throughout our body, thus bringing energizing nutrients to our cells.
Add to this the cognitive effects of exercise: improved self-esteem, Increased feelings of accomplishment and self-efficacy, all of which lead to greater mental energy thus physical energy, and you then have a bundle of energy-boosting elements that unlike energy drinks and caffeine, do not make you crash and feel irritable.
If you still feel like you are too tired to exercise, try this four-point plan to get started. Chances are you will be excited to find, as so many others do when they give activity a chance, the rewards in energy will carry on into all aspects of your life, enabling you to get things done like you never dreamed of:
- Make time in your schedule to get enough sleep and to exercise
Many make the mistake of thinking they have to choose between one or the other, which results in added fatigue in the long run. Remember that at first even the most minimal amount of time spent exercising can reap benefits. Start with 10 minutes, add another 10 and another until you achieve 30 minutes of total time spent exercising most days of the week. Once you start feeling better, you will be motivated to add more and will seek ways to fit it in. In addition, cut out time spent watching TV or do whatever you have to do to get to bed earlier to make sure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Find the best time for YOU to exercise
There is no right or wrong time to exercise. The important thing is that you find a time that feels good to you. Some people are “morning” people and may feel energized at that time of day, while others can barely slog through a workout in the wee hours. We each have our own “circadian rhythm” that regulates when we feel more or less sleepy during the day, so try to pick a time that’s in tune with your more “awake” hours because fighting against that is tough. Sometimes you have to experiment with it, but if you stick to it long enough, you will get there.
- Choose the right intensity and duration of exercise
Starting out with too much high-intensity exercise or exercising for too long can have negative effects. If you are a beginner, do start out with smaller doses and build up until you can tolerate more. Seasoned enthusiasts should also be aware that balancing high-intensity workouts with lower intensity and less duration can help them avoid burnout and overtraining syndrome. The rule of thumb is that you should feel good after working out, not like you cannot function
- Find activity you enjoy
Nothing is more de-motivating and thus fatiguing than trying to make yourself do something that you just don’t want to. If you dread the thought of getting on that stationary cycle yet again, then consider mixing it up. Try activities that are new or cycle your activities so that you’re not doing the same thing always. You can find hundreds of ideas on how to do this on websites like fitsugar.com or acefitness.com where you can get a myriad of ideas, or ask a fitness professional for advice. There is no reason to be stuck in a rut!
In conclusion, lack of sleep is a huge problem in society today. In turn, this negatively affects people’s desire and ability to exercise, which creates even more fatigue and sleep problems. By starting out with small doses of moderate exercise, one can build more energy and improve quality and quantity of sleep, thus creating a cycle of energy that can improve lives and enhance productivity. Now, you can’t find that in a can, but it is sugar free and you can feel good about it!