When we’re feeling tired or run down, most of us reach for an extra cup of coffee. Getting a workout may be the last thing on our mind at that moment. But science shows that exercise is one of the best energy boosters around.
I kind of stumbled on this by chance. Before I became a regular exerciser, I struggled with fatigue and feeling stiff and achy from my desk job. This went on for many years, yet medical tests always came back normal. One day I decided to start walking every day on a treadmill, and long story short, it changed my life. I started feeling dramatically better.
Today, as a fitness professional, it’s a joy to witness this happen on a daily basis with my clients and class members. Linda, a new client, originally came to me because she wanted to lose weight. But after her first week on a personal training plan, she was amazed at the difference exercise made in how she feels physically and mentally. “Even my fiancé noticed that I have so much more energy and feel more awake. My hip arthritis feels better, too. Now I love working out, because it’s so energizing!” Like my own experience, these immediate benefits made her enjoy exercising and want to keep going with it.
It’s a thing. In a study published in Psychological Bulletin, researchers analyzed 70 studies on exercise and fatigue involving more than 6,800 people. More than 90% of the studies showed the same thing: Sedentary people who completed a regular exercise program reported improved fatigue compared to groups that did not exercise. The results show that regular exercise increases energy and reduces fatigue.
Cellular-level changes occur inside your body when you exercise. Your body produces more mitochondria inside your muscle cells, which increases your body’s energy supply. Exercising boosts oxygen circulation and increases hormone levels that make you feel more energized.
And exercise works even if you’re not breaking a big sweat. A University of Georgia study found that low-intensity exercise reduces fatigue symptoms by 65%. Researchers said the finding suggests that exercise acts directly on the central nervous system to increase energy and reduce fatigue. Low-intensity exercise was considered a leisurely paced walk.
Exercise is also fantastic for reducing stress, which is an energy drainer. For more on that, read our post about 6 surprising ways walking can help you de-stress. Plus, exercise can help you sleep better so that you feel more rested.
Which exercise should you do and how much?
Simply put, the best exercise is the one that you will do. Pick something you like doing. That makes it much easier to create an exercise habit you will stick with.
Walking is simple and free, and most people find it enjoyable once they get going with it. Bike riding is another option that is good exercise and fun, too. A bonus with both walking and bike riding is that you’ll also benefit physically and mentally from being in the outdoors and sunshine – a proven mood booster. Another idea is to sign up for an exercise class.
You can start with a small amount of exercise and still be successful, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. In fact, this strategy can help you succeed because small is doable and gets done.
Over time, try to work your way up to 30 minutes, five days a week of moderate-intensity exercise (such as a brisk walk). This meets the minimum recommended physical activity guidelines. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. You could do 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the evening, or whatever works best for you.
No time to work out? Try these easy ways to fit movement into your day.
3 simple steps to get started with exercise to have more energy
- The first step is to choose your exercise, as described above.
- The very important second step is to schedule this time into your day. Give it the same priority as an appointment or meeting.
- The third step is to actually do it. When I started with exercise, I walked every day for 15 minutes at the same scheduled time. A big reason for this is so that I could establish it as a habit. I knew from past experience that if I skipped one day, it could easily turn into two or more and I’d be off track yet again.
Your initial exercise plan that incorporates these three steps might be: This week I will walk the dog for 15 minutes each day at 7:00 a.m. It can be helpful to make these plans short-term (week to week) rather than open-ended, so you can adjust as needed.
To progress, in a coming week you could plan to walk for 20 minutes instead of 15, or to walk faster. You get the idea. But even if you never do more, you’re still ahead of the game and benefitting yourself by exercising each day, whatever the amount.
Focus on creating the habit
A mistake people make is to focus mainly on the goal and the outcome they want, rather than on creating the habit that will get them there. Without the habit and the schedule, exercise becomes an option rather than a priority in your busy day. And we both know what happens then. Exercise doesn’t get done.
That’s one reason why I’m a fan of morning workouts. I do it first thing, and then it’s done. It’s not hanging over my head the rest of the day, gnawing at me that I need to do it as the day gets busier and I get more tired. Exercise gives me energy to get through my day and be the best me I can be.
Let’s face it, there will be days you wake up and don’t feel like exercising. This is normal. Do it anyway, even if it’s just a small amount. Once you get going, you’ll feel better, and you’ll be glad you did.
If you’re struggling on your own, enlist the help of a certified personal trainer for assistance and ongoing support.
Remember, it’s the movement that helps us feel more alert and energized, not the other way around. You’re sitting around waiting for the energy to exercise, when actually it’s exercise that will give you the energy you want.
If you are experiencing persistent fatigue or lack of energy, be sure to see your health care provider for an evaluation. Thyroid issues, heart disease, sleep apnea, diabetes, hormonal unbalances, depression, nutritional deficiencies and other health conditions can also cause these symptoms, so it’s a good idea to get checked out.
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