America’s in the midst of an energy crisis. We’re overworked, overstressed, tuckered out and tired, thanks to jam-packed schedules and today’s go-go-go culture. Compounding the problem, millions of people reach for Red Bull, soda, energy shots or copious amounts of coffee to help increase their energy level.
Although these options supply instant, short-term energy by stimulating adrenaline or spiking blood sugar, they wind up depleting energy reserves even further, says Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, author of From Fatigued to Fantastic (Avery Trade, 2007) and creator of the “Cures A–Z” smartphone app. “Sodas, energy drinks and excess coffee are like stepping hard on the gas pedal but not adding any more fuel to the tank,” he explains.
The good news is you can enhance energy naturally, safely and without substances that ultimately do you more harm than good. According to Teitelbaum, the most effective methods are longer-term lifestyle changes, but a few quick-fix tricks work well too. Here are his top suggestions for both.
1. Get enough rest
To maintain energy throughout the day, most people need 7.5 to eight hours of sleep per night—yet the average American gets only 6.5. If you struggle to sleep, make sure you get a daily dose of 150 to 200 mg of magnesium, which helps relax muscles and calm nerves. You can also try a sleep-promoting supplement such as melatonin or an herbal blend that includes valerian, passionflower, hops or Jamaican dogwood. The scent of lavender eases the mind to help you sleep, so spray some lavender oil on your pillow.
2. Eat more whole foods
Sustained energy comes from eating a balanced diet that supplies the right mix of vitamins, minerals and protein. Yet half of most Americans’ calories come from nutrient-void sources, namely sugar and white flour. This plays a major part in our lack of pep. Ditch sodas, fruit juices and sugar-stocked processed foods like cookies and ketchup and eat more whole fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein such as poultry instead.
3. Drink your vitamins
Even if you eat a balanced diet, it’s still tough to get enough energy-sustaining nutrients from food alone. To cover your bases, supplement with 50 mg of vitamin B complex, 150 to 200 mg of magnesium, 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D, 500 mg of vitamin C, 900 to 1,200 mg of malic acid and 15 mg of zinc each day. Sound daunting? Rather than gobbling handfuls of pills to get the gamut of nutrients, mix one scoop of multivitamin powder with water and drink it first thing in the morning. “It’s the best 10 seconds you’ll spend all day,” Teitelbaum says.
4. Move your body
Even though you’re busy, make time to move. “When you use energy, your body increases production and function of its energy furnaces—mitochondria—and energy stores—glycogen—which in turn boosts endurance and efficiency,” Teitelbaum explains. Choose fun activities like biking with your kids or strolling through the neighborhood after dinner. You can also incorporate more movement into each day by taking stairs instead of elevators, parking at the far end of parking lots and walking over to your coworker’s desk instead of sending an email. Track your movement with a pedometer and aim to hit 10,000 steps a day. This may seem like a lot at first, but soon you’ll be figuring out more ways to step it up.
5. Get up, get sunshine
Sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen under fluorescent lights for hours will zap anyone’s energy. Take a break and step outside—a dose of natural light will wake you up and incite alertness. Plus, the sun helps your body make vitamin D, which is important for bone health.
6. Drink or splash cold water
Pour yourself an 8- to 12-ounce glass of cold water. If you down it in seconds flat, you’re likely dehydrated, which means your system isn’t functioning properly or producing sufficient energy. If dehydration isn’t the problem (you sip the water slowly and your lips and mouth aren’t dry), splash cold water on your face to wake up your nervous system and spark adrenaline. This can be especially helpful after lunch, when the body focuses its energy on digestion.
7. Rub your ears
Grab your ears between your thumb and forefinger and massage them gently for 15 seconds. This action stimulates energy by waking each of the body’s meridians—pathways of energy and blood flow, according to traditional Chinese medicine.