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How to Get Instant Energy

It's the small things (slumping over your computer, reading in dim light, eating full-fat cheese) that wear us down. Read on for quick and easy ways to recharge your batteries.

By Brian Underwood; Illustrations by Eva Tatcheva

At the Computer

Even on the best of days, crossing off everything on your to-do list is tough. When you're tired, it's nearly impossible. "Exhaustion makes the smallest of tasks hard to complete," says Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., director of the Annapolis Center for Effective Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Therapies, in Maryland, and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic! (Avery). But a few simple tricks can give you the stamina you need to be more productive. Here, habits that may be draining you—and how to nix them in no time.

Staring at an Electronic Screen

Many of us spend five days a week—or more—in front of a computer, but 78% of us don't have our monitors positioned correctly, which can decrease our energy levels. "When our screens are too high, too low, or too far away, words and images can look fuzzy. To see more clearly, we frequently squint, fatiguing facial muscles. We also tend to tilt our heads upward or downward to help put things in focus, a habit that can cause neck and shoulder tension," says Kerry Beebe, an optometrist in Brainerd, Minnesota. Plus, excess glare, looking at a screen for too long or trying to decipher illegible fonts on damaged, dirty, or dim monitors and handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs) can lead to eyestrain and headaches.


Fast Fixes

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Slouching While Standing or Sitting

If you have poor posture, you're not alone. Approximately 60% of women hunch over—a habit that makes us more exhausted, according to the San Francisco Spine Center. "There are two types of muscles in our spine," explains Desiree Kiehn D'Agostino, a chiropractor in Boston. "Slow- twitch muscles burn energy at a snail's pace and can work for a long time without tiring, while fast-twitch muscles run out of steam a lot sooner. When we don't put our shoulders back, we rely on the fast-twitch ones, so we get fatigued more quickly." What's worse, when we don't exercise the slow-twitch muscles enough, they atrophy or shrivel up, making it harder for us to stand or even sit up straight.

Fast Fixes

Not Getting Enough Sun

Our bodies require the right amount of light to feel alert. "The pineal gland in our brain monitors how much sunshine comes into the eyes and regulates our internal clock by it, keeping us awake during the day and asleep at night," says Dr. Teitelbaum. In order to function properly and allow us to feel peppy, the pineal needs to absorb the full spectrum of light, which we typically get from sunlight and which is not produced by most lightbulbs. "So getting a little bit of sunlight every day is good for you," says Dr. Teitelbaum. "Sunshine helps the body suppress melatonin, a sleep hormone that can make you yawn and feel groggy."

Fast Fixes

Worrying Too Much

Ruminating over things not only prevents you from getting quality sleep, it also sets off a surge of stress hormones that initially rev you up but deplete your energy stores in the long run, says Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Waltham, Massachusetts, and coauthor of Be Happy Without Being Perfect (Crown).

Fast Fixes

Being Dehydrated

The old rule about drinking eight glasses of water a day may seem outdated, but thirstiness can often leads to drowsiness. When our cells perform daily functions, they leave behind waste products and metabolites in the bloodstream that can drag us down, says Eric Plasker, a chiropractor in Marietta, Georgia, and author of The 100 Year Lifestyle (Adams Media). "Most of them are washed out when we use the bathroom or sweat. But when we don't drink enough fluids, they can build up, making us feel tired, achy and irritable."

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Eating Unhealthy Foods

A few hours after munching on fatty foods, red blood cells clump together and reduce oxygen to the brain by about 20%. "This can make you feel sluggish and disoriented," says Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that promotes preventive medicine. The sources of the malaise-inducing saturated fat are animal products, like whole milk, full-fat cheese, and red meat. Also, consuming sugary foods or refined carbs can cause blood sugar to rapidly rise and fall, often to a level lower than it was before you started eating.

Fast Fixes

Originally published in the March 2009 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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