Do you feel like you have enough energy to do everything you want to do during the day?
Most people would answer no. Or they might just laugh at the absurdity of the question. Of course we don’t have enough energy. Is this even a question?
Yes, it is a real question because we shouldn’t have to spend all day feeling and looking like a walker from “The Walking Dead.” Shouldn’t we go through our days feeling energized and strong enough to accomplish our goals? Shouldn’t we have the zip to head outdoors and help our kids get enough exercise? Sure we should.
Just stop and think about the health and financial benefits of having more energy. You’d be more productive at work, have better and more creative ideas, and feel capable enough to take on new or more challenging projects, all of which could lead to a raise or promotion or even new job opportunities.
So what’s stopping us? And what can we do about it?
How to Boost Your Energy Naturally
It should come as no surprise that most people admit to having low energy. In his book “Are You Fully Charged?” author and researcher Tom Rath surveyed 10,000 people. Only 11% felt they had high energy.
If you have children, you’re even more likely to admit to not having enough energy. A study published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology found that 13% of parents had “high burnout” – that is, they were so exhausted they felt emotionally withdrawn at least once per week. And this statistic doesn’t include the rest of us who are just outright exhausted long-term.
So what’s going on? Why do we feel constantly depleted of energy? It turns out, there are a lot of factors sapping our energy levels. But we can combat low energy by changing our habits.
1. Get More Exercise
If you’re like most people, you don’t get enough exercise every day.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 23% of Americans meet all national physical guidelines. According to federal guidelines, adults should get 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week in addition to muscle-strengthening activities.
The more energy you expend working out and moving around, the more energy you get long-term. You put in a lot less than you get out. Additionally, regular exercise is linked to better sleep and feelings of well-being, both of which can help increase your energy.
To work exercise into your daily routine, do it first thing in the morning. This is one key habit of wealthy and successful people. Set your alarm 20 or 30 minutes earlier than you get up now and find some easy exercises you can do at home without a gym.
It’s important to realize you don’t have to do situps or planks to get exercise. Vigorous cleaning can be a great indoor exercise. Going for a walk, doing yoga, dancing, and running around with your kids all count too. If you find it hard to get motivated to move around, joining a group exercise class might be a great way to start a new routine and make friends. You can also sign up for app-based fitness programs like Aaptiv. They offer thousands of classes that can be done in your living room.
2. Improve Your Diet
According to Health.gov, almost half of all Americans have one or more preventable chronic diseases, many of which are linked to poor eating patterns. These conditions include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and poor bone health. In fact, a study published in JAMA found poor diet is now the leading cause of death in the United States, causing more than 500,000 deaths in 2016.
Sugar is one of the main culprits of poor diet and the resulting low energy, and people around the globe eat too much sugar. The University of California San Francisco estimates the average American consumes 57 pounds of added sugar each year. That’s around 17 teaspoons per day. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than six teaspoons per day for women and nine teaspoons daily for men. One of the best things you can do for your health is to eliminate sugar from your diet or at least drastically reduce how much you consume on a regular basis.
Sugar isn’t the only problem, however. We’re also eating too many refined carbohydrates, which are in things like pastries, white bread, pasta, and pizza. These carbs cause unhealthy rises in blood sugar, causing you to have an energy crash just like a candy bar does.
To improve your energy level with diet, follow the old saw, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” It’s a perfect formula to avoid energy slumps throughout the day. Have a big breakfast with whole grains, healthy protein, and fruit. When lunch comes around, opt for lighter fare with as much variety as at breakfast, but not as much food. And at dinnertime, eat the lightest meal of the day.
A daily menu might look like this.
- Breakfast. A king’s breakfast is hearty and filling. Try whole-grain toast, scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt with chia seeds and honey, and fresh fruit. Then pack up a healthy smoothie filled with fruits and vegetables to drink on your way to work.
- Lunch. A prince’s lunch gives you the energy you need for the rest of the day. Have a sandwich filled with healthy vegetables like sprouts, avocado, and tomato alongside a big bowl of soup and some fresh fruit for dessert.
- Dinner. A pauper’s dinner is simple and light. Think a salad and a cup of soup or a small bowl of pasta with some grilled vegetables.
It’s a challenge for some people to imagine eating this way. After all, many people structure their eating habits in the opposite direction. They eat a skimpy breakfast of cereal or skip breakfast entirely, have an on-the-go lunch from a fast-food restaurant, and then a big dinner.
If you’re not ready to restructure how you eat, make small changes to your diet that still have a big impact. Check out this high-energy diet meal plan put together by NBC’s “Today” show. It’s full of healthy proteins, whole grains, fruits, and healthy fats.
Another option is to incorporate more of these high-fiber, high-energy foods into your diet:
- Tuna fish
- Brown rice
- Cottage cheese
- High-protein shakes (made with protein powder)
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole-grain oatmeal (such as steel-cut oats)
3. Drink More Water
Water makes up 55% of our adult body weight. We must have water on a daily basis to survive, and if we don’t get it, we’re typically dead within three to four days.
Dr. Kendra Frazier, senior medical director at Oak Street Health, told the Chicago Sun Times 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Most of us just don’t drink enough water day to day, and dehydration leads to low energy.
Drinking water throughout the day is a habit that takes time to develop.
One strategy is to splurge on a water bottle you enjoy looking at. Spending more on a water bottle might seem counterintuitive when you’re on a budget. But if you love your water bottle, you’re going to use it.
I splurged on this wood-grained water bottle from S’well. It’s beautiful, and I carry it with me all day because I like looking at it. I know I have to drink five of these a day to stay hydrated. So using just one water bottle helps me keep track of my progress.
Another strategy is to use a timer during your workday so you remember to drink. Set it to go off every hour. When you hear the alarm, get up and drink at least 8 ounces of water.
If you don’t like the taste of water, add a splash of lemon juice or a few slices of cucumber to make it more palatable. Taste of Home has some really unique fruit and vegetable infusions that will make your plain glass of water a lot more exciting.
4. Focus on Work-Life Balance
Inc. reports the 2017 World Happiness Report found that more than half of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs because of poor work-life balance. Another survey conducted by CNBC found that 40% of American workers are so burned out they’re ready to quit their jobs. The primary reasons are feelings of overwork and underappreciation and the lack of autonomy in their lives.
Flexibility is important to a better work-life balance. The 2014 National Study of Employers from the Family and Work Institute found that employees with flexible work options had less stress and greater mental and physical health than employees who had to work a traditional nine-to-five.
If you work long hours and love it and trying to achieve work-life balance stresses you out – yes, this does happen – don’t beat yourself up. Does your work stimulate and energize you? Do you feel good about your relationships with family and friends? Then there’s no problem.
But feeling resentful about your work and family life or having low energy because you don’t have time for yourself is a sign life is unbalanced. Something needs to change.
Achieving a healthy work-life balance can be difficult, especially if you have a long commute, work long hours, or a stressful job – or all three. If all you do is work at a job you’re not passionate about, it’s probable you’ll have low energy.
Having autonomy – the feeling you’re in control of your life – is essential to having a rewarding job, achieving balance, and feeling energetic and engaged. You might not be able to switch careers right now, but there are ways to create more autonomy in your current role.
Start by asking for it. The next time you’re given a project or performance goal, set up a meeting with your boss and ask them to let you do the work your way. Explain you’ll keep them in the loop on your progress and meet their deadline. But also let them know you’d like to use your own approach.
You also need to turn off your phone. Yes, you read that right – turn it off, ideally by 6pm Tell your boss and coworkers you won’t be answering calls or emails after that time, and stick to it. You can also ask about working from home at least a couple of days per week.
5. Form Meaningful Connections
Many of us underestimate how powerful and important our social interactions are. In Tom Rath’s book “Are You Fully Charged?” researchers asked people about the most positive and negative events in their lives. Across the board, they cited social events as most meaningful.
We know interacting with others and having friends makes us feel good and energized. But many people are too busy or spend too much time with digital devices to go out and initiate face-to-face interactions. A study conducted by Cigna found that loneliness is now at epidemic levels in the United States. Nearly 50% of Americans reported sometimes or always feeling alone, and 2 in 5 felt their relationships are not meaningful and they feel isolated from others.
In an interview with MarketWatch David Cordani, the CEO of Cigna, said they’re seeing a lack of human connection, which directly leads to a lack of vitality in people.
Talking with and connecting with others feels good. These interactions will make you happy and energize you. However, connecting takes time, which means you need to free up some of your nights or weekends to create opportunities to interact with others, whether it’s your family, your neighbors, or even strangers.
If you feel like you need more family time, make sure you’re not overscheduling your kids. If your family schedule is crammed with playdates, sports practice, and work commitments, it’s time to start saying no to things.
Another way to connect with others is to volunteer. Volunteering is rewarding in and of itself. But it also connects you with other people who are deeply committed to the same causes you care about. It is a great foundation for friendship and connection.
If volunteering isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other places to meet new people:
- Join a book club.
- Get a dog and take them out for nightly walks.
- Join a meetup you’re interested in.
- Join a running club or exercise club.
- Take a continuing-education class.
- Start a supper club with neighbors.
- Go to festivals and other cultural events.
- Join a sports team.
I have a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old. Every morning, they wake up at 6am full of energy. They run, climb, jump, and tumble around like puppies all day. In fact, they never really stop moving. By 6pm, I’m outside with a glass of wine, exhausted, while I watch them chasing each other through the grass like the day never even happened. “Why can’t I have that much energy?” I think every evening.
We all wish we had the insane energy of young children. Think of how much we could get done. But as adults, we have to work a lot harder for our energy. Getting enough exercise, eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and connecting with others are all great ways to feel more energized and less sluggish.
What do you use to boost your energy throughout the day?