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New Image International

Having Enough Energy

NutritionalDecember 12

Getting enough quality sleep is probably the number one way you can boost your energy levels, combined with healthy nutritious food and regular exercise.

If you find you need your morning caffeine fix before you can get going, then chances are you’re not getting enough quality sleep. Of course there may be underlying physiological causes for lowered energy levels too. Low levels of iron and vitamin B12 reduce the efficiency with which oxygen is transported in your blood to your cells for energy. Early signs of this can present as feelings of lethargy, pale skin, weakness and shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms, then perhaps a chat with your healthcare professional who can point you in the right direction.

Caffeine is a stimulant, along with guarana and some other herbal supplements, these stimulants work by triggering your adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol which increases blood pressure, blood sugar release and can increase the rate of dopamine release, that’s the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. These physiological responses are normal and beneficial during times of stress, i.e. if we are being chased by a predator. However today's modern lifestyle sees us turning to a caffeine fix when we are feeling low in energy.

Women in their 30s consume about 165 milligrams of the stuff each day, but by age 50, the daily average leaps to 225 milligrams. The down side to this is that the initial boost in energy is followed by an energy low as blood sugar levels fall. Maintaining normal blood sugar levels can help to reduce the ‘peaks and troughs’ and keep energy levels throughout the day more consistent.

Ok, so some people find it hard to get going in the morning whilst others hit a mid afternoon energy slump, others get hit with the double whammy, experiencing both. Here are a few tips on how to ‘Shake Up to Wake Up’ in the mornings.

Morning Shake Up to Wake Up

Upon waking, open up the blinds and let the natural light flow in. This triggers your brain to stop producing melatonin (the brain chemical that induces sleep) and allows the natural circadian rhythm to reset. Physical movement in the morning increases body temperature and blood pressure up to normal operating levels. Try some stretching upon waking, even if you need to do this under the bed covers, this gentle movement will get the blood flowing to the brain and also help improve flexibility. For those that want more of those feel good endorphins to lower stress levels, try exercising in the morning, the gym, a cycle or walking all contribute to lowering the stress levels and preparing you for the mental challenges of the day.

It is hard to resist our body’s primal urge to meet our basic needs like thirst and hunger. This is embedded in our ancestral DNA, when we once woke to face a day of predators. Today the ‘predators’ or stressors have changed but to the body this still feels like we are under threat, draining our mental energy. However we can calm this primal urge by inducing some positive emotions like gratitude and hope. A strategically placed object, such as a photo, treasured plant or flowers that can catch the eye upon waking gives a prompt to initiate gratitude or thankfulness.

The brain responds positively to novel challenges by releasing dopamine, which makes you more alert. Challenge the brain in the morning by mixing things up a little, get out on the other side of the bed and use your opposite hand to brush teeth and hair and mix up the order of the morning routine. Challenging your brain also helps keep it more alert in the later years.

Avoiding the Afternoon Energy Slump

Hands up those that feel the 3pm energy slump and reach for a caffeine fix or more likely a sweet sugary treat? You’re not alone. Unfortunately this is all too common in the Western world. Contributing factors include spending all day sitting and staring at a computer screen. This can dry the eyes making them feel tired and heavy leading to whole body feelings of lethargy. A heavy starchy or fatty lunchtime meal requires the digestive system to work hard to process it. The body’s two main physiological pathways, sympathetic (think ‘fight or flight’ or ‘action stations’) and parasympathetic (think ‘rest and digest’ or ‘peace and relax’) both can’t work optimally at the same time. So that large lunchtime meal induces the parasympathetic system at the expense of the other, meaning that energy levels will be much lower during digestion.

In order to keep afternoon energy levels more consistent, eat a lighter meal for lunch e.g. a fresh salad or soup and a little protein and then have a light afternoon snack e.g. a piece of fruit or a few nuts to see you through to the evening meal. If you do have a desk job, get out of the seat every hour to stretch the legs and get the blood circulating around the body to increase blood flow to the brain.

Daily Dose of Nutrients

Stress increases the workload on the adrenals glands thus tiring the body. During more stressful times the body will have a higher demand for certain vitamins and minerals.
These include the B-group vitamins and the mineral magnesium. Foods rich in the B-group vitamins include the white meats (pork, chicken, and fish), eggs, whole grain cereals, soy beans and vegetables. Foods that are magnesium rich include nuts & seed, dark green leafy vegetables, whole grain cereals and avocado. Sometimes a little supplemental top up during stressful times can be of benefit. If you feel your diet could be a little better, then perhaps a multivitamin supplement with breakfast can help you to meet the body’s daily requirements. People may often chose to exclude food groups from their diet, whether it’s to lose weight, or for special elimination diets or because they have digestive disorders. Whenever food groups are removed from a diet, you also remove the vitamins and minerals that the foods contain. There are some vitamins and minerals in the New Zealand diet that studies continue to highlight as being low and not meeting daily requirements, for certain age and gender populations. These include calcium, vitamin D, zinc, iron, selenium, iodine, folate, and omega 3s. Therefore taking a multivitamin supplement can help fill the gap where the diet is lacking.