ENERGY TAKES A HOLIDAY during winter. These dark, depressing days can leave you overweight, overstressed, or just over it. The solution? Short bouts of activity get the blood flowing, which instantly lifts your spirits. "Exercise builds brain endorphins that help us feel happier and more positive about life," says Elson M. Haas, M.D., director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in Northern California.
So how do you pump up your pep when you're feeling fat, frazzled, fried, or forlorn? We consulted four vitality specialists, whose favorite moves will boost your mood and resurrect your energy in just 10 to 15 minutes.
You're Feeling: Fat
Energy Transformer: Brisk Walking
If you found it hard to resist overeating during the holidays and even harder to squeeze in regular workouts, moderate cardiovascular exercise is a great way to get back in gear. Not only will you burn calories, but a brisk walk lets fresh oxygen and blood circulate through your body, making you feel more fit and confident nearly instantly.
Stride And Stretch
To shake yourself out of your sluggish mood, try this 15-minute walking program developed for Natural Health by Sue Parks, founder and CEO of WalkStyles Inc.
1. Begin by walking for 3 minutes at a relaxed pace to gradually warm up your muscles.
2. Pause to stretch your quadriceps by standing on your left leg, your left arm reaching out for balance. Hold onto your right ankle with your right hand and gently pull the ankle toward the back of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the left side.
3. Walk for another 2 minutes, going at a faster pace than in the warm-up. Hold your head high, lower your shoulders, and concentrate on drawing your abs in tight.
4. Increase your speed for 5 minutes. Pump your arms with each stride and keep drawing in your abs. Your heart rate should now be elevated. You ought to be able to carry on a conversation, but only with a little effort.
5. Reduce your heart rate by gradually slowing your pace for 3 minutes. Focus on your breathing, and include some deep inhales and exhales through your nose.
6. Stretch out your calves by standing with your feet a couple of inches apart, right leg front and left leg back, toes pointing straight ahead, feet flat. Bend your right knee and keep your left knee straight, feeling the stretch in your left calf. Hold for 30 seconds without bouncing, then switch legs and repeat.
Tips: Parks recommends building up to 10,000 steps per day. A step-counting device will help you achieve your goal. Or try the NL-2000 Activity Monitor ($54.95; digiwalker.com), which lets you plug in your age, height, and weight to get an accurate account of how many calories you've burned.
* Wear supportive footwear as well as socks made of breathable fibers.
* Drink water before and after your walk.
You're Feeling: Frazzled
Got a million things to do and no time to do them? Most people, especially those balancing work and family, end up feeling frazzled several times a day. You need an exercise that provides mental clarity to help you focus on the task at hand. Qigong, an ancient Chinese healing art that offers unique breath-control techniques, can put you in a more centered frame of mind. The steady focus and concentration enable you to calm the chaos in your mind.
Monk Gazing At The Moon
Find mental clarity--and a little peace in the chaos--with this standing meditation from tai chi and qigong instructor Terry Dunn, creator of the DVD series, Chi Kung for Health (taichimania.com).
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Raise your arms in front of your chest, with your hands at eye level, palms facing each other, and fingers spread. Maintaining a straight back, "sit" in a shallow stance (shown). Relax the back so it doesn't arch. Keep your eyes open, gazing through your fingers.
2. Keeping your mouth closed and the tip of your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, begin to breathe through your nose.
3. Take 3 deep breaths. After the third one, inhale fully, then exhale 60 percent of your breath capacity.
4. Inhale fully, then exhale 100 percent.
5. Inhale fully again, then exhale 40 percent of your breath capacity.
6. Inhale fully, then exhale 100 percent.
7. Inhale fully once more, then exhale 20 percent of your breath.
8. Inhale fully, then exhale 100 percent.
9. Take 3 deep breaths, then hold the position for 3 to 5 minutes, breathing naturally.
Tip: To keep physically balanced, focus your attention on your lower abdomen, about 3 inches below your navel, which is the body's natural center of gravity. The Chinese call this center the Tan Tien, or "Elixir Field," where the qi, or life force, is nurtured.
You're Feeling: Fried
Energy Transformer: Kundalini Yoga
Is "deflated" your primary state? You need to pick yourself up and get on with your day. Kundalini yoga practitioners do repetitive movements while focusing on a word or the sound of the breath. This repetition stimulates the nervous system, allowing you to decompress, re-energize, and awaken your senses.
Kundalini Torso Twist
Whenever you feel burned out, try this technique from Gurmukh, co-founder and director of Golden Bridge Yoga in Los Angeles.
1. Sit tall in a comfortable crossed-leg position, with your fingers spread and resting on your shoulders. Keep your elbows in line with your shoulders and your belly drawn in. Close your eyes.
2. As you inhale through your nose, twist your torso from your waist to the left, keeping your hips still and allowing your shoulders and head to follow your trunk. Then exhale through your nose and twist to the right.
3. Repeat this twisting motion for 1 minute without stopping, eventually working up to 2 minutes or more. Let your breath guide you into each side of the twist.
4. When you've completed your minute (or more), slow the movement gradually until you come to a complete stop, then lower your hands to your shins and take 3 deep breaths to get centered and bring yourself back to a restful state.
Tip: Focus on the sound of your breath to let go of any distractions. 10. End with 3 more deep breaths. On the third, exhale through your mouth, then lower your arms to your sides.
You're Feeling: Forlorn
Energy Transformer: Strength Training
It's common to get the blues this time of year; you need a workout that will give you a much-needed boost of positivity. Getting your body into shape with strength training does just that. Strengthening your muscles improves your posture, making you look taller and slimmer--a great confidence booster. It also releases feel-good endorphins, putting you on the road to physical and emotional wellness.
Twisting Walking Lunge
This multi-muscle exercise from Kent Burden, owner of the Ventura, Calif., personal training group My Life Fitness, utilizes not only the upper and lower body, but also the abdominals, making it a fast way to shape up all over. Adding in the balance challenge forces your muscles to work harder to stay upright and stable.
1. Warm up by walking on a treadmill or outside for 5 minutes, pumping your arms as you go.
2. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, holding a ball in front of your chest. Keep your elbows bent and close to your ribs, and your abs pulled in. (If you're new to strength training, use a volleyball or other lightweight ball until you are comfortable with your balance and stability. Those who are more advanced can use a 3- to 5-pound medicine ball; find one at spriproducts.com.)
3. Take a step forward with your left leg, bending both knees to 90 degrees. Your front knee should stay over your ankle as your back knee approaches the floor. When you are in a full lunge, rotate your torso and shoulders to the left, taking the ball to your left hip as you draw your abs in tight [A].
4. Rotate back to center, then push off the back foot and lift your right knee to hip height as you raise the ball above your head [B]. Keeping the right knee lifted, toss the ball up in the air and catch it.
5. Take a step forward with your right leg to repeat the sequence on the opposite side.
6. Continue lunging forward, alternating sides. Start with 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, building up to 15; add a set when you're ready.
Tip: Hold your gaze steady--don't let it wander. Keep your posture erect and your abs drawn in to stabilize your balance as you perform this exercise.
Woman walking in snow via Shutterstock