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How to stop ‘running on empty’

Jane Collins reveals some common sense tips to reinvigorate energy levels for those experiencing a 50-plus dip!

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A survey from vitamin brand Healthspan reveals the average Brit currently spends the equivalent of more than seven and half years of their life feeling tired. That means out of every 24 hours nearly three of these are spent feeing drained and lacking in energy –  that’s more than 20 hours a week or six weeks a year.

It is perfectly normal to feel tired at times – life, as we know, can be physically and emotionally draining. Feeling exhausted and worn out are not necessarily new 21st century conditions but what has changed is the causes of them. It’s not that suddenly people are working harder than in centuries gone by but what is different is how we work (commuting, sedentary work, often doing longer hours in less secure jobs for lower wages – so creating increased stress) and the technology (emails, texts, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Skype) which makes it trickier to leave work behind when, in effect, you can take it with you everywhere. Without creating firm boundaries it then becomes hard to fully switch off and rest and recharge so our ‘batteries’ are often running perilously low. Question is, how do you charge them up?

Avoiding ‘junk sleep’

Sleep deprivation (defined as regularly getting six hours or less) has been called a national epidemic linked to increased risk of conditions including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and mental health problems like depression and anxiety. The problem is, many of us are surviving on what has been dubbed ‘junk sleep’ – poor quality rest that leaves us waking up tired and feeling that way all day. And the factors causing us to ‘junk sleep’ include the very things we use to keep us going through the day – caffeine to keep us alert, alcohol to help us switch off at the end of the day and technology to keep us up to speed with work (checking e-mails) or relax (binge watching box sets or playing computer games). Advice from the Sleep Council includes getting into a regular sleep routine of going to bed and waking at roughly the same time each day; avoiding caffeine after around 3pm, limiting booze before bed and switching off your tech a couple of hours before you turn in (and keeping devices like phones and laptops out of the bedroom). There are a range of helpful herbal remedies to help the body and brain relax including valerian. One 2006 study published in The American Journal of Medicine found this traditional herbal remedy improved sleep quality by 80 per cent compared to a placebo. Another of its benefits is that it doesn’t leave you with any sort of groggy or ‘hungover’ feeling as some other sleep remedies do. Try Healthspan Valerian Sleep Aid and 5HTP , £15.95 . Another traditional herbal remedy used for centuries is hops. You can find this mixed with valerian in tincture form in A.Vogel’s Dormeasan Valerian-Hops Oral Drops 50ml  £9.75.

Drinking more

Another energy drainer that tends not to be so obvious is dehydration. As Nutritionist Fiona Hunter says, ‘Most of us don’t drink enough during the day and even mild dehydration can cause us to become lethargic. A study from Tufts University in the US shows that even a loss of 1-2% water is associated with fatigue.’ It is worth pointing out this this level of dehydration is unlikely to register as you even feeling thirsty and our ability to feel thirst becomes diminished as we age – so keep yourself well hydrated throughout the day by drinking every couple of hours – ideally water and non-caffeinated herbal teas – and choose food with a high water content like fruit and vegetables.

Pre-empting the post lunch slump

Why is mid-afternoon the time the nation goes into a collection energy slump? Fiona Hunter a nutritionist on behalf of vitamin and wellbeing brand Healthspan suggests it is an evolutionary throwback: ‘In prehistoric times our ancestors woke early to hunt for food, once they’d eaten it was then time for a nap to digest food and avoid the heat of the day.’ Given most of us can’t take a nap at our desks she points out the food we choose for lunch can have a significant impact on that slump. ‘Carbohydrates like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes trigger production of the neurotransmitter serotonin which makes us feel sleepy and relaxed. Protein, on the other hand, triggers the release of dopamine and noradrenaline which keep the brain alert and awake so swapping your lunchtime sandwich or pasta salad for a protein rich meal like an omelette or chicken salad could fight off afternoon apathy.’ She also says if you eat an early lunch or skip it completely blood sugar levels will probably plummet around 3pm and this could be the time for a healthy snack like a yogurt, banana, dried fruit or a couple of oatcakes with peanut butter.’

Walking off the running on empty feeling

It might seem counterintuitive to suggest exercising when you are exhausted but research from the University of Georgia has shown regular low intensity exercise (like a leisurely walk) can boost energy levels in those feeling regularly fatigued. Those in the study who started to walk for 20 minutes three times a week over a six week period reported a 65% reduction in feelings of tiredness. So get yourself outdoors for a lunchtime stroll and/or start walking to work. The other advantage is that you should also have better quality sleep – a 2013 poll by the National Sleep Foundation found 83 per cent of people said exercise helped them get a more restorative night’s rest.

Supplementing your diet

Eating a healthy balanced diet will help you to get the vitamins and minerals you need for energy production and help you to avoid any nutritional deficiencies that can be a symptom of tiredness. Vitamin B12 is essential to help reduce tiredness and fatigue and it is used in the conversion of food into energy.  It is required by the body to make healthy red blood cells and prevents  against a type of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia. The B vitamin complex are used by the body to convert food into energy.  This vitamin group, including B12 are more rapidly depleted with stress and alcohol intake, which can impact on energy levels and overall vitality plus, as we get older our ability to absorb B12 lessens and certain groups of people are more at risk of being deficient e.g. vegans and vegetarians as it’s mainly found in red meat.     A further symptom of anaemia is also low mood and depression that will impact on energy levels.  Not everyone wants to take supplements, try Healthspan Vitamin B12 Oral Spray  (250μg – 15ml – 100 daily doses, RRP £8.99 which  comes in a handy little pump size with added natural blackcurrant flavouring it makes a truly delicious vitamin experience.

Becoming more mindfully tired

Technology has many benefits but being hooked up to it 24/7 can also be one of our biggest energy sappers, not least because most of us are almost permanently ‘on call’. Psychologist Dr Megan Arroll encourages us to take a ‘digital detox’ one day a week but simply taking a daily short phone-free walk can help leave you less distracted and more energised. Plus, practising a few minutes of daily mindfulness (focusing your attention on something in the present to calm you) can help you to become more ‘mindfully’ tired – acknowledging your feelings of tiredness but becoming mindful of what exactly your worn out body and/or brain needs (better food, exercise, more sleep, time off and more quality time with the people you care about). Dr Arroll suggests this simple walking mindfulness exercise could help diffuse physical and emotional stress: ‘As you walk notice the sound of your feet as they hit the ground, feel the air as it swooshes past your face. If you walk mindfully, you'll feel calmer and more alert after this exercise.

Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 8:57 am Health

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