If you didn’t know better, you might think that all the energy necessary to get through the ups and downs of an average day could be found in a powder, a pill, or a suspiciously small can. If only! But here’s the good news: getting — and, more important, keeping — your energy level high is a breeze. Just take a look at these expert tips and tricks.
1. To get your first energy boost of the day: Eat a little something
Studies show that breakfast-eaters enjoy more energy and stay in a better mood throughout the day than their breakfast-skipping counterparts. But we’re not talking just any breakfast.
“Muffins, granola, and croissants are energy zappers,” Los Angeles–based dietitian Ashley Koff, R.D., says. “They’re high in sugar, sodium, and less-healthy fats, providing carbs but rarely protein. So you get superhigh in the morning, and two hours later you’re picking yourself up off the floor.”
Instead, aim for an energy-balancing mix of high-quality carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats –oatmeal with a serving of almonds, an egg white omelet with a slice of avocado and a side of berries, or even last night’s leftovers.
2. To have enough zing to get yourself out the door: Fake it
Slap on a smile. Apply some bright lipstick. Wear a crisp, clean outfit instead of sloggy sweats. If you fake energy until you feel it, soon enough your body will catch on, says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., author of “The 150 Most Effective Ways to Boost Your Energy.” “The face you show to the outside world sends a message to the brain,” he says. Research suggests that simply smiling, for instance, releases endorphins and boosts serotonin, which actually lead you to feel the emotion you’re projecting.
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3. To turn your emotions into energy: Spin your situation
If a few hours at work has depleted your good mood, you might find yourself feeling inexplicably exhausted. A bad mood can sap your energy because it keeps your mind busy ruminating, says Kimberly Kingsley, author of “The Energy Cure: How to Recharge Your Life 30 Seconds at a Time.”
Substituting thoughts about what you have in your life, as opposed to what’s missing, can help reverse the negative spiral. With the first sign of stress or energy drain, Kingsley suggests, ask yourself, “What was I just thinking that’s causing me to be in such a funk?” Once you zero in on the problem, replace it with something that’s positive and gratitude-centered — for instance, “I’m grateful that I just had that argument with Sarah. It was a good reminder that I don’t allow people to walk all over me.” This type of reframe will stop you from wasting a lot of energy, Kingsley says.
4. To find the energy to conquer your to-do list: Change up your daily routine
The same ol’ same ol’ is more than boring — it’s an energy suck. When you switch things up, the brain’s reward chemical, dopamine, is released, which prepares the body for action, says Gregory Berns, M.D, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Emory University. “The brain is constantly trying to predict the way the world works, so when you encounter something that’s novel, it sees an opportunity to learn something new,” he explains. Even small changes — like taking an alternate route to work or making that morning jog an afternoon swim — can make a difference.
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5. To stay energized during a very long meeting: Sip something cold
Anything over ice is an instant pick-me-up, but staying hydrated can also help prevent brain drain, Kingsley says. Water is an ideal drink, but for an extra boost, make it iced tea. The combo of caffeine and the amino acid theanine stimulates alpha brain waves that are associated with an alert state of mind.
6. To keep going on very little sleep: Get small caffeine hits
Instead of downing one giant to-go cup of coffee, drink 4 to 6 ounces (the amount in a small cup or half a mug) every few hours.
Studies suggest that low doses of caffeine throughout the day are more effective than the traditional übercup first thing in the a.m. Researchers found that shift workers, medical residents, truck drivers, and others who work odd hours not only got a better boost from caffeine when they drank it in small portions, but they also performed better on cognitive tests.
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7. To find the energy to deal with conflict: Stop fibbing to others
Making up stories — even the tiniest white lies — takes more energy than simply telling it like it is. “Deceit takes a lot of psychic energy,” Bowden says.
When you withhold things or aren’t forthcoming, you’re constantly thinking about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it in order to avoid blowing your cover. Of course, you don’t want to unload in a harsh way in the name of honesty. Try wrapping the truth in something positive. Instead of telling a co-worker her ideas are lousy, say something like, “You have lots of great suggestions, but I’m not sure this one works.”
8. To retain your energy when you’re upset: Breathe!
It’s normal to get worked up when something rotten happens. But staying worked up is just a waste of energy, and breathing can help you take it down a notch, thus conserving your energy.
Try this “4-7-8 Deep-Breathing Exercise” from integrative-medicine guru Andrew Weil, M.D.: Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge behind your upper teeth and exhale completely through your mouth so that you make a whoosh sound. Then close your mouth and inhale deeply through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for 7 counts, then exhale through your mouth for a count of 8; repeat three more times.
Breathing like this — as opposed to taking shallow breaths, which we tend to do when stressed — forces more oxygen into your cells, slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation, ultimately resulting in an energy boost. The trick is to let the belly expand with each inhale, Weil says. “Over time, this improves many aspects of our physiology.”
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9. To find the juice to de-clutter your surroundings: Picture a tidy space
Clutter is a great big drag on your energy — and not just because of all the stuff taking up space. “So much of what ends up as clutter are tasks that we haven’t finished or obligations we haven’t been able to meet,” says professional organizer Emily Wilska, founder of San Francisco–based The Organized Life. “Who wants to be in a space where there are constant reminders of things you should be doing or aspiring to?”
Wilska suggests mind-mapping to get motivated: Clip pictures from magazines and write down snippets or words that describe your goal — “I want an organized living room so I can invite my girlfriends over for our book club.” Then post them on the fridge, the bathroom mirror, or on your computer desktop as a reminder of where you’re headed.
10. To get revved to exercise: Create a killer playlist
If it’s time for a real workout, but you’re dragging, pop in those ear buds. Your favorite tunes are more than just a distraction from all the huffing and puffing — researchers have found that matching the tempo of a workout to music with a strong, fast beat can increase one’s capacity for exercise by 15 percent.
Choose songs with 120 to 140 beats per minute (the norm for most pop and rock songs). “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas, for instance, clocks in at 128 beats per minute.
11. To avoid an afternoon energy slump: Get moving
The exercise-and-energy equation goes like this: The more active you are, the better your circulation. And the better your circulation, the easier it is for blood to transport oxygen and nutrients (fuel for the cells) to your muscles and brain.
So take a walk. If you can’t get outside, a trip around the office or up and down a few flights of stairs will do the trick, says Carol Espel, M.S,. National Senior Director of Group Fitness and Pilates at Equinox Fitness Clubs. A brisk, 10-minute walk is enough to boost your energy level for up to two hours, according to research from California State University.
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12. To boost your energy (and treat yourself): Enjoy some dark chocolate
Sugar isn’t a complete no-no when it comes to energy –you just have to conquer the crash. That cookie with sprinkles will give you the rush you’re looking for, but your body will burn the sugar quickly, and soon enough your energy level will take a nosedive.
Dark chocolate, on the other hand, contains the stimulant theobromine, which boosts energy without the jitters that can come from caffeine. Dietitian Ashley Koff’s recommendation for a crash-proof treat: choose chocolate with at least 60 percent cacao and eat it with a little protein — a dab of organic nut butter atop about 1 ounce (3 squares) of chocolate.
13. To remain sharp at the end of the day: Stay hydrated
Where dehydration goes, fatigue follows. But staying hydrated involves more than drinking lots of water. You also need potassium — the mineral that helps regulate fluid balance in the body, Koff says.
Even mild dehydration can slow metabolism and sap your energy. To stay hydrated, besides drinking water and eating water-based fruits and vegetables throughout the day, aim for at least one serving of a potassium-rich food or drink — such as avocado, coconut water, banana, white potato — each day.
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