Coffee-free energy revvers
Caffeine is a tried-and-true tool for dragging yourself out of a slump, sure, but wheeling around an IV drip full of coffee all day is just so inconvenient. If you’re looking for a new way to feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, look no further—we’ve got 27 of ‘em.
Resist your smartphone
A game of Candy Crush can provide a quick hit of pleasure, but it won’t actually perk you up. “There is no evidence that using games and puzzles increases energy levels,” says Tiffany Herlands, PsyD, assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. “However, there is evidence that as we spend more time tethered to electronics and the internet—and the frequent distractions associated with managing multiple emails, text messages, and simultaneous information sources—we’re becoming less able to use selective attention, which is the ability to screen out distracting information while directing our attention deeply on a single task.” Want to stay sharp? Stay offline.
Log off before bed—long before bed
“Using electronics before sleep has been shown to be disruptive to sleep and can result in feeling tired and less cognitively sharp,” Herlands adds. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that subjects who used light-emitting e-readers before bed had a harder time falling asleep, lower levels of sleep-promoting hormones, and shorter and delayed REM sleep—all of which reduced their alertness levels in the morning.
Straighten up and spread your limbs
Taking up as much space as possible isn’t a good tactic on, say, a crowded subway car. But research has demonstrated that one-minute “power poses” (such as standing up straight with your arms braced in front of you, or leaning back with your legs fully extended) can increase testosterone and reduce the stress hormone cortisol in both men and women. This, in turn, increases feelings of power and tolerance of risk. In other words, to feel a bit more like a superhero, just pose like one.
Let the sunshine in
If prying yourself from your bed feels impossible, try leaving your blinds or curtains open. Scientists have known for decades that exposure to the natural sunrise—that is, light that gradually increases in intensity—is an effective treatment for people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Its mood- and energy-boosting benefits extend to those of us who cling to the covers, too. “The main benefit from morning light is to set your biological clock,” says Carl Bazil, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology and director of the sleep division of the department of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. “Particularly if you travel frequently or suffer from ‘social jet lag’ (that is, sleeping significantly longer on weekends, then trying to get back in sync for the week), your body becomes set to awaken later and has trouble getting to sleep at night.”
…Or stage your own sunrise with a gadget
Sensitive sleepers who favor blackout curtains in their bedrooms can still benefit from morning light, thanks to gradual alarms that mimic the rising sun; the Philips Wake-up Light ($170; amazon.com), for example, brightens over the course of 30 minutes and fills your room with golden light and a natural sound of your choice. “The wake-up alarms [set your biological clock like the sun does],” says Dr. Bazil, “but have the advantage of not lighting up the room at 5 a.m. at certain times of the year!”
Get a whiff of rosemary
Biochemists from the University of Northumbria in the UK suggest that the herb’s essential oil could boost brainpower, according to research they presented at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in 2013. Study subjects in a room scented with rosemary were found to have enhanced levels of 1,8-cineole, an organic compound the researchers had previously linked with cognitive performance, and they performed better on word puzzles and memory tests than subjects in an unscented room. More research is needed to explore rosemary’s potential benefits as a pharmacological agent—but in the meantime, it’s an attractive option for good old-fashioned aromatherapy.
Eat a protein-rich breakfast
Research has demonstrated that a healthy breakfast has a direct effect on how kids perform at school, and it’s equally important for the rest of us. Our brains thrive on steady blood glucose levels, and starting the day with protein sets the stage for maintaining that control.
Give yourself a chill
If you find yourself nodding off in the afternoon, try scooting a bit closer to the A/C or lowering the thermostat a few degrees. “It’s common to feel drowsy when it’s warm, especially if you are still,” says Dr. Bazil. “But don’t make it so cold that you’re uncomfortable.”
Belt out a favorite song
According to a study published in the Journal of Music Therapy, subjects who were instructed to sing reported that their musical task “increased energy arousal significantly and decreased tiredness arousal significantly.” A killer drum solo works, too; “rhythm tapping” was shown to have the same effect.
In kundalini yoga, Breath of Fire—a technique in which you take short, rapid breaths through your nose and forcefully contract your diaphragm and belly—is thought to increase energy and lower stress by detoxifying and flooding your system with oxygen. Will it magnify your invisible life force? Possibly. Will it get your heart rate up? Definitely.
Take a power nap
If you have the opportunity to grab some good old-fashioned Zs, go for it; napping can improve mood, alertness, and performance, according to the National Sleep Foundation. “Most [studies] suggest that 20 to 40 minutes is the optimal time,” says Dr. Bazil. “That’s long enough to actually get some restorative sleep (not just the light sleep you get from a brief nodding off) but not so long that you develop what is called sleep inertia, leading to drowsiness and difficulty getting back your alertness.”
Have a laugh
Gelotologists—that is, people who conduct research on the physical and psychological components of laughter (seriously)—call it eustress, or positive stress, that decreases hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and can produce physical effects similar to light exercise. They have a point: laughter stretches your muscles, causes your pulse and blood pressure to rise, and makes you breathe faster, all of which can pull you out of a slump.
Chug a glass of water
Dehydration is a particularly sneaky energy vampire. Even just 1.5% loss in normal water volume can result in fatigue, inability to concentrate, and mood changes, according to a pair of studies from the University of Connecticut. The studies’ authors say women are especially susceptible to the negative effects of low-level dehydration, and that everyone should keep an eye on their water intake to be sure they’re getting what they need.
Swap out refined carbs for whole grains
Whole grains provide steady energy throughout the day, since they’re absorbed more gradually than quick-hit carbs like sugar and white flour and are packed with protein and fiber.
Pop a piece of gum
Researchers in Wales set out to test the theory that chewing gum can improve both mood and cognitive function by subjecting volunteers to stress tests, monitoring their heart rates, and measuring cortisol in their saliva. Subjects who chewed gum during the study—both fruit and mint gum were used, though the flavors weren’t put in a head-to-head test—were more alert and reported more positive moods than subjects who didn’t have gum. Chew on that.
Get a massage
No time for a full-fledged spa retreat? No problem: “Research has shown that even a 15-minute seated massage at work can change your brain wave pattern to increase alertness, improve focus, and boost performance on quantitative tasks,” says Marilyn Kier, a member of the American Massage Therapy Association and founder of Wellness At Work in Northfield, Illinois.
Zero in on your “kiss point”
“This is the simplest technique I know to quickly boost alertness and energy, no matter where you are,” says Kier. “The ‘kiss point’ [also known in acupressure as GV-26] is located between your upper lip and nose, about a third of the way down from the bottom center of your nose. Using a fingertip, apply pressure for one minute.”
Go for a walk
“It may seem paradoxical, but increasing physical activity, such as going for a brisk walk, can increase energy and mood,” says Herlands. The American Council on Exercise heartily agrees, as one might expect, and points to a University of Georgia study in which sedentary subjects who engaged in regular, low intensity exercise reported 20% increases in their energy levels and a 65% reduction in their fatigue.
Call your mom
Researchers at Johnson & Johnson investigated “microbursts,” or small bursts of activity that can impact our energy levels, and found that purely physical acts are just the tip of the iceberg. In their research on subjects’ energy levels at their workplaces throughout the day, they found that the act of having a conversation with a loved one was associated with the high end of the energy scale. “Microbursts need not be solely physical,” they observed. “Microbursts of mental, spiritual, or emotional activities can also have a strong impact on energy levels.” C’mon, you know mom would love to hear from you.
Smell a cinnamon stick or a few mint leaves
A small study published in the North American Journal of Psychology found that people who inhaled aerated cinnamon and peppermint oil were more alert and better able to perform in interactive driving simulations. According to mood profiles and a task-load rating system developed for NASA, they finished their tasks more quickly and exhibited less frustration and fatigue. This suggests that commuters who find themselves drooping during long drives might benefit from all-natural air fresheners.
Try a mini-meditation
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, the key to speeding up could actually be slowing down first. New research published in Biological Psychiatry suggests that doing so might actually reduce inflammation markers. “Mindfulness exercises can reduce stress, and stress can sap us of our energy and focus,” notes Herlands. “Reducing stress through mindfulness can feel restorative for that reason.”
Don’t weigh yourself down with an extra-heavy lunch
You don’t need to eat hummingbird-sized meals dozens of times a day to feel fueled, but overdoing it at a single setting—even on healthy choices like whole grains—can wreak havoc on your blood glucose levels and leave you feeling lethargic. Comparatively small meals and regular snacks will keep you on a more even keel (and some research has suggested that spreading food intake out over four occasions as opposed to two can improve your mood, too).
Make sure you’re getting the B12 you need
A vitamin B12 deficiency causes fatigue by compromising one’s ability to convert food into fuel (and takes a serious toll on the nervous system). Most adults need 2.4 mcg of B12 per day, according to the National Institutes of Health; a vegetarian or vegan diet, digestive issues that hinder your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and being older than 50 are all risk factors. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you may be low on B12, and in the meantime, fill up on B12-rich foods.
Give your ears a rub
Integrative health specialists argue that auriculotherapy—that is, reflexology techniques involving our ears—can boost our energy levels and benefit our entire bodies. Research published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine showed that dementia patients in Spain who underwent regular ear massage and acupuncture showed improvement in behavior alteration, sleep patterns, and participation in rehabilitation. Want to see if it perks you up? Try stimulating your earlobes by using your thumbs and index fingers to massage them in small circles.
Take a plunge in cold water
There’s a reason the folks who undertake “polar plunges” in winter months emerge from the frigid water with silly grins on their faces: giving your body a quick, cold shock stimulates deep breathing (which increases the oxygen in our bodies) and jump-starts circulation. A cold shower will do the trick just as well—and if you’re bold enough to actually sit in a cold bath (think 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit) for 20 minutes or so after serious exercise, your muscles could recover more quickly.
Do a bit of sunbathing
That short, brisk walk we mentioned earlier is extra-effective if you can get your daily dose of vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” while doing it. Exposing your skin to the sun’s UVB rays for a brief period of time will enable it to produce the D you need to keep a spring in your step. (If you’re feeling shy, know that researchers have found oral doses of vitamin D effective for improving symptoms of fatigue as well.)
Shake it off
“If you’ve lost your focus staring at the computer,” Kier says, it might be time to get loose at your desk. “Here’s a quick energy break: Take three deep breaths, shake out your hands, and then use the fingers on both hands to gently tap the top of your head for one minute.” Think of the blush you’ll feel creeping up your face when your cubemates turn to stare at you as a little circulatory bonus.
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