YOU'VE already had two coffees and now you’re reaching for the Red Bull… At this time of year, the dark skies, the many colds doing the rounds, and the fact many of us are burning the candle at both ends can leave us feeling shattered.
Studies show that our energy levels dip as the seasons change.* In the winter months our bodies absorb less vitamin D, an energy-boosting nutrient that we mostly get from exposure to sunlight.
The lack of light means we also produce more of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin, which could make you feel more tired during the day.
Ready to curl up under your duvet from now until spring? Stop! There are a number of more efficient ways to boost your energy – even when it’s gloomy outside.
Brrr…ing on the cold showers
For an immediate burst of energy first thing, have a cold shower. A study found that people who brave regular cold showers were less likely to take sick days and also reported an increase in perceived energy levels, with many participants saying it had a similar effect to caffeine.**
You don’t even need to get your hair wet – the research found that just 30 to 90 seconds under cold water has the desired effect.
Mike Tipton, a professor of human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth, says: “Going into cold water is among the most shocking thing you can do to the body.
That sudden fall in body temperature tells the brain it’s being challenged, and then it releases lots of adrenalin and stress hormones.
That’s what makes you feel alert and alive.” It might be the last thing you feel like having on a frosty morning, but it’ll be worth it.
We all know the 3pm feeling when you’re sleepier than ever and all you want is chocolate (or a mince pie, or three). But surprisingly, the “sugar rush” is something of a myth.
A recent review of 31 studies found that sugar consumption could make people feel more tired.*** Luckily, you don’t have to stop sweet treats entirely.
Nutritionist Lily Soutter advises having healthier snacks to hand for when cravings hit, mixing natural sugars with a small amount of healthy fats for a steady stream of energy. “Try apple slices with nut butter, or a banana chopped into some unsweetened yoghurt.
By combining a little fat and protein with your carbohydrate source, you can help to balance blood sugar by slowing the rate at which sugar from that carbohydrate is released into the blood stream.”
Because you’re earth it
As simple as it sounds, some people believe that taking off your shoes and stepping on the ground outdoors – AKA “earthing”, a Gwyneth Paltrow favourite – might help to sustain energy levels.
But whether or not your boots stay firmly on, just getting outside will help.
A 2010 series of studies from the University of Rochester found that spending time in nature made people feel more alive, and that just 20 minutes outdoors – even just sitting in a park – was enough to ward off sluggishness and boost energy.
And if you can’t get outside, researchers also found that even just imagining yourself in the natural world can raise your energy levels. So spend a few minutes imagining a windy moor or a tranquil beach if you’re tied to your desk.
Walk the walk
Talking of #desklife, sitting inside all day can leave you feeling cranky and exhausted. Luckily, a short walk may be all you need.
A 2016 study compared the energy levels of two groups of desk-based workers – the first took a half-hour treadmill walk in the morning, while the second interspersed their day with five-minute “micro” walks.
Both groups felt more energetic, but only the micro walkers still reported improved mood and decreased fatigue at the end of the day.†
While it’s unrealistic for most of us to take a proper five-minute stroll every hour, it’s still worth getting up regularly to walk around a little.
However you rack up those steps, for example by getting up earlier and walking to a train station that’s further away, it will still help.
Do a hormone MOT
Hormone levels fluctuate naturally, but if they’re imbalanced, it can lead to low energy. Nutritionist and hormone expert Kay Ali explains: “Oestrogen balance is essential for maintaining blood sugar levels and thereby sustaining energy.”
Studies show that an insufficient amount of oestrogen – typically seen in women who are highly stressed, on restricted calorie diets, going through the menopause or have conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – can lead to low energy levels.††
Worried your hormones might be imbalanced? A simple at-home hormone test, such as Thriva Female Hormone test kit, £79, might provide some answers. Based on the outcome, you’ll get a personalised report from a UK GP online.
To increase your oestrogen levels, Kay recommends enriching your diet with foods high in lignans – plant chemicals found in flaxseeds and sesame seeds – which seem to mimic the effects of the hormone.
“The effects are mild, but as little as two tablespoons a day (added to a smoothie, for example) can make a difference,” she says.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women, or those with a history of oestrogen-sensitive cancer (such as breast or uterine) should avoid high intake of flaxseed or purified lignans.
For more advice, or if you feel your hormones are truly out of whack (especially if you have other symptoms, such as painful sex or irregular periods), visit your GP.
Clear the air
There’s just a chance your low energy might be down to mould toxicity – yes, really! According to the NHS, having damp and mould in your home can leave you more susceptible to respiratory problems and affect the immune system.
But research shows it might also impact our energy levels. One study of 112 people with chronic fatigue syndrome found that 104 had mould-related toxins in their urine, while a healthy and energetic control group had no trace.†††
“A musty smell, flat roof buildings, poor ventilation and humidity are strong indicators that your home might need an air purifier,” says Kay.
“Our biggest exposure is from buildings that have experienced water damage.” Air purifiers, which use filters to remove harmful airborne particles such as dust,
pollen and bacteria, are also believed to improve sleep quality because we breathe easier, which in turn can lead to increased energy. Try the Blue Pure 411 Air Purifier, £129, John Lewis & Partners.
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