Though exercising when you are tired and want a nap may sound counterintuitive, and maybe even counterproductive, working out to increase your energy level may work for you. When I first heard from a mentor that I should exercise when tired instead of taking a nap, I was exhausted between working full time at my internship site and finishing up grad school assignments. Although sleep is, of course, important, I knew a nap would put me at risk of not being able to fall asleep that night, which could contribute to my sleep debt. So I decided to do a 20 minute workout with Les Mills Pump. I figured that it was short enough to power through and if it didn’t work, I could always take a nap afterward.
It did work! I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. I had heard long before this advice was given to me similar sentiments from Chalene Johnson. In one of her Turbofire workouts, she talks about how people ask her why she always has so much energy and she says that she works out. People say that they’re too tired to do that, and she says that if they worked out they’d have more energy. That’s how it works. How does exercise work to increase energy?
The Body Creates Energy from Exercise
According to nutritionist Samantha Heller, energy production begins with mitochondria in our cells, which she says are like “tiny power plants to produce energy”. The more activity you have, the more mitochondria are required, so doing regular cardiovascular exercise prompts the body to increase the mitochondria available in the body to meet your energy needs (1).
Robert Gotlin, MD, DO, and the director of sports rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in NYC, says that the energy increase from exercise is also related to improvements in mood and fitness level. Hormones called endorphins are released when doing things requiring a burst of energy, like working out, and the increased level of endorphins helps people feel more focused mentally after a workout. Better cardiovascular health comes from working out, which leads to more endurance, allowing people to have more energy left over at the end of the day. People may also experience improved sleep after exercise which leads to more energy the following day (2).
Types of Exercise that Boost Energy
The type of exercise you do may matter if your’e hoping for an energy boost. In a 2008 study by University of Georgia researchers, it was discovered than inactive people complaining of fatigue could decrease fatigue up to 65% and increase energy up to 20% through participation in regular, low-intensity exercise (1). According to behavioral therapist and personal trainer Therese Pasqualoni, Ph.D, exercise that is in your low to moderate training heart rate range “will prevent you from depleting your body and help you from feeling fatigued…” (1). According to experts mentioned by Bouchez in a WebMD article, yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi, are among the workouts that can be beneficial for this goal (1). There are some excellent home workouts that incorporate these workouts including yoga workouts Ho Ale Ke Kino and Yoga Booty Ballet, PiYo (a cross between Pilates and Yoga), and Tai Cheng, which is based on Tai Chi.
Robert Thayer, Ph.D, a psychology professor at California State University Long Beach, indicated that a 10 or 15 minute walk “has a primary effect of increased energy”. He discussed with WebMD a study in which people had more energy on days when they had more total daily steps than on days when they walked less (1). I have heard from several people that 10,000 steps a day is a good goal to have, and I know some who use a FitBit or similar device to track their steps and other activity levels. I haven’t given such a thing a go yet, but for awhile my car was broken down and I was walking nearly every day for at least 40 minutes, and I did feel a lot more energetic those days, even though I had to motivate myself to take those first steps. You can read more about increasing your motivation to walk or run here and some fit facts about walking here. If you do prefer high intensity workouts, Thayer reports that it might be possible that within about an hour of an intense workout “when your muscles recover, you might see a surge of energy but without the tension” (1).Pete Mcall, Exercise Physiologist at the American Council on Exercise recommends bicycling for pleasure and to run errands or commuting to work. He says, “Research indicates that most errands people run are within two miles of their home, a distance easily covered on a bicycle.” He points out that bicycling for errands has a dual benefit, in that it reduces the the amount of carbons in the air as well as helping people to exercise (3). I may actually be getting a bike soon for both purposes. He also recommends working extra activity into your day by taking the stairs or parking in a spot further from your destination. McCall says “chronic exercise beats chronic fatigue every time” (3). I’ll have to keep that line in mind next time I do multiple (not overly strenuous) workouts in a day and am asked “Why are you working out so much?”
If you want to know the absolute best workout for an energy boost, Gotlin says the best workout is “up to you and what you like to do” because “it’s not going to work if you don’t like it”. (2).
What do you like to do for exercise (and hopefully fun)? Let me know in the comments below!
1. Exercise for Energy Workouts that Work by Colette Bouchez on WebMD
2. Boost Your Energy Levels With Exercise by Diana Rodrigues on Everyday Health
3. Exercise as a Cure for Fatigue and to Boost Energy Levels by Marion Webb on AceFitness.org
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