Modern life has become a quest to have it all: the fulfilling career, the camera-ready living room, the book club meetings, even the right cut of jeans. While there may be some rewards to the quest, it still leaves you vulnerable to fatigue, a health hazard that can go unseen until it's entrenched. Take lack of sleep, for example: Most adults need seven to nine hours every night, according to Mark Eric Dyken, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Iowa. But we're masters at convincing ourselves that we can get by with less. "People don't adapt to less sleep, they just think they do," says Dyken. add to that a dose of stress and other life changes, and before you know it, your hormones are out of whack, says Erika Schwartz, M.D., the New York City-based author of Natural Energy: From Tired to Terrific in 10 Days (Berkley Trade) and her own "Dr. Erika" health-advice column. "Fatigue is the first sign of aging," she says. "Your system becomes more inefficient. At the core, your hormonal balance starts changing." Fortunately, there are simple ways to bring more energy into your life. We consulted a number of experts-from nutritionists to sports psychologists-for the latest advice on reducing fatigue and putting more zip into your day.
Exercise produces a potent burst of energy, says John S. Raglin, M.D., sport psychologist at Indiana University in Bloomington. It may be connected to altered brain hormones or metabolic changes, or it could be because exercise offers a time-out from stress-producing events. Most likely it's a complex combination of all these things, says Raglin. Either way, the revitalizing power of exercise is considerable: A study from researchers at the University of Georgia found that regular exercise boosts energy and reduces fatigue by a whopping 20 percent. (The researchers compared 70 studies with a total of 6,807 participants.) To recharge through exercise, try one of these revitalizing activities:
- Get walking.
Patrick O'Connor, one of the University of Georgia study authors and codirector of the school's exercise-psychology lab, recommends exercising for at least 20 minutes four or more days a week. Any kind of exercise will work, but O'Connor recommends walking. "It's cheap and easy and needs no equipment," he says. Other than that, he adds, "Do whatever you're attracted to and will actually commit to." But be careful not to overdo it . O'Connor says that frequent (two or more workouts per day), intense (perceived as "difficult" to "very difficult"), or long (more than 90 minutes per session) stints of exercise are more likely to induce fatigue.
- Strike a pose.
"Most yoga classes involve both energizing and relaxing poses, and the combination appears to be more powerful than either alone," says Timothy McCall, M.D., of Oakland, author of Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing (Bantam). Backbending poses, like Warrior I, tend to be especially energizing, he adds. Recent studies have drawn a link between decreased fatigue and yoga in multiple sclerosis patients and seniors. And as early as 1993, a researcher at the University of Oxford found yoga provided extra energy to healthy people of all ages in a group of 71 volunteers. The study determined that a half hour of "yogic stretch and breathing exercises ... had a markedly invigorating effect on perceptions of both mental and physical energy."
- Lift some weights.
Schwartz suggests keeping an 8-pound weight near your desk. "When you feel bored, just pump the weight five or ten times on each side and you'll have a totally different energy level," she says. "It changes the hormonal balance in your body immediately as it releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that increase energy."
- Try T'ai Chi Chih.
Think of T'ai Chi Chih as an abridged version of the ancient Chinese exercise. Where the traditional practice uses some 108 martial arts movements meant to strengthen what the Chinese call our qi, or energy force, TCC, developed in the 1970s by American Justin Stone, uses 19 movements and one pose. Its s low, deliberate moves stretch the muscles and clear energy pathways, and it focuses on the breath as a way to bring more oxygen into the body. Carmen Brocklehurst, a TCC teacher of 30 years in Albuquerque, N.M., says the vigorous feeling you get from the routine is self-perpetuating. "The energy works on you and you work on the energy," says Brocklehurst. (See taichichih.org for more info.)
Try a TCC movement called the Bass Drum for a quick pick-me-up. Stand with both knees bent, the left leg slightly ahead of the right. Hold your hands at chest level, with palms about eight inches apart, facing each other. Move your hands downward slowly, extending your arms outward when you reach the belly area, moving in a circular motion away from the torso, as if you're outlining a bass drum. As your hands move down, shift your weight forward to the left leg. As your hands move up, shift your weight to the back leg. Continue three to nine times.
Good sleep is vital to feeling more robust during the day. "During sleep, your body renews itself by making the hormones it needs to heal itself," says Schwartz. "How you sleep, how long you sleep, and what happens while you sleep are all crucial to energy production," she explains. Throughout the day, chemicals like the neurotransmitters GABA and adenosine and the hormone melatonin build up in your brain and make you tired, adds U niversity of Iowa's Dyken. Sleep is thought to reset these chemicals. People who are chronically deprived of sleep have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, mood changes, and gastrointestinal problems. And even one sleepless night can have lingering effects: It can take two to three days to fully recover.
The best ways to catch some z's? "Have a routine at night," Dyken advises. It also helps to make sure your bedroom is dark, a comfortable temperature (usually around 70 degrees), and quiet. Avoid caffeine, sugar, or alcohol in the evening, adds Schwartz. Don't exercise at night, and don't eat heavy meals too late. "Try to have dinner by 7 and go to bed by 11," she says, "but don't go to bed without eating. Have a salad if you have to eat late."
Homework: Keep a sleep diary, suggests Dyken. It can help you recognize any patterns that are keeping you from sleeping. Make note of what time you went to bed, how long it took you to fall asleep, and how often you awoke in the night. Dyken tells the story of one patient who always had trouble sleeping on Thursday nights-the same night she would call her mother-in-law. "Finally she admitted, 'I really don't like that woman!' For her to get a better night's sleep, she had to put her husband in charge of talking to his mother," he says.