Recent research confirms what world travelers and adult-education addicts already know: New experiences give you a rush. “We’ve known that when people do something novel, the brain’s reward chemical, dopamine, is released,” says Gregory Berns, M.D., a neuroscientist at Emory University, in Atlanta, and the author of Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment ($8, amazon.com). But novelty has an added benefit. “What we’ve discovered in the last five years,” Berns says, “is that dopamine is also a motivating chemical that gears us up to do more.” In other words, take a trip or learn Spanish and you may also feel inspired to start a new project at home or work.
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Get an Energy Boost From Moving Around
The more active you are, the better your circulation will be. And good circulation is “essential for energy because blood transports oxygen and nutrients―fuel for the cells―to the muscles, brain, etc.,” says internist Jacob Teitelbaum.
If you have a desk job, get up throughout the day―once an hour is ideal―to give your body breaks from activities such as typing and staring at the computer. Also, stand up when you’re on the phone or pace around the office. When you’re stuck seated, like on a long car ride, do neck rolls and shoulder shrugs and circle your feet to keep blood circulating.
And sit up straight. Good posture opens the chest cavity and increases oxygen intake by as much as 30 percent, making more energy available to your mind and muscles, says Teitelbaum. If you’re a sloucher, trade in your chair for an exercise ball, which forces you to sit taller, says Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Healthy Aging ($13, amazon.com).
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Get an Energy Boost From Deep Breathing
Shallow breathing prevents the body from getting enough oxygen. Many people fail to breathe deeply when they feel tense, which is one reason they may feel zapped at the end of a stress-filled day. “The general principles of correct breathing are to make it deeper, slower, quieter, and more regular,” says Weil. Doing so helps you force more oxygen into your cells, which slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation, ultimately providing more energy.
Weil suggests you do a simple breathing exercise twice a day or whenever you feel yourself losing steam: Put the tip of your tongue against the ridge behind your upper teeth. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Then inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat for a total of four breaths.
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Get an Energy Boost From Exercise
Regular workouts boost energy stores by conditioning the body to make optimal use of oxygen and glucose, its two primary fuel sources. You need only 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week, to get the cardiovascular benefits that lead to increased vitality,” says Woodson Merrell, M.D., director of integrative medicine at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing, at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
There’s good evidence that simply walking regularly can boost energy. Ongoing research on the relationship between mood and activity by Robert E. Thayer, a professor of psychology at California State University in Long Beach, has found that the more steps his research subjects take, the more energetic they report feeling.
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Get an Energy Boost From Grazing
"Eating consistently―three small meals with snacks in between―keeps your blood-sugar level even, so you don’t experience the highs and lows that occur when you go too long without food," says Molly Kimball, a registered dietitian at the Ochsner Clinic’s Elmwood Fitness Center, in New Orleans. Ideally, all your meals and snacks should contain complex carbohydrates (produce, whole grains) to provide fuel, and protein (nuts, cheese) to give you endurance. Try an apple and a piece of cheese or carrot sticks and edamame.
Snacks of refined carbs, like cookies and pretzels, provide an initial rush, but the body burns them quickly and your energy soon flags. To satiate a sweet tooth, try dark chocolate. It contains the chemical phenylethylamine, which increases energy by improving mood and attention span. According to Teitelbaum, dark chocolate also contains theobromine, a mild stimulant.
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Get an Energy Boost From Doing Things That Lift Your Spirits
Fun people, rhythmic music, and funny movies can boost your energy level, researchers have found. "In fact,anything that makes you feel good may raise your level of endorphins―the same chemicals that are released when you exercise," says Weil. Listening to music invigorates the body by activating several areas of the brain at once, building new nerve connections. "It also increases oxygen flow to the heart, which perks you up as well," adds Weil.
While you’re infusing your life with energizing experiences, try to cut out people and activities that drag you down and deplete your energy―the whiners, the naysayers…that deadly planning committee.
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Get an Energy Boost From Drinking Fluids
Your body needs water to transport oxygen to your cells. Deprive yourself of sufficient liquids and you may feel tired or get headaches. While there’s no magic number for the amount of liquid to consume in a day, experts say you should try to drink at least four tall glasses of water or low-calorie beverages, such as Propel or Crystal Light.
Caffeine gets a bad rap, but used judiciously, it can give you a lift. The trouble is “many people drink too much in the morning, so their energy is bunched up early in the day, and they need more later to keep going,” says Weil. Try to limit yourself to one cup of coffee in the morning and, if you must and it doesn’t interfere with falling asleep at night, a half cup after lunch. Consider switching to green tea, which contains caffeine but also theanine, a calming substance that counteracts the jitters from caffeine.
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Get an Energy Boost From Obsessing Less
When your mind is in overdrive, your body secretes stress hormones, such as cortisol, which over time can wreak havoc on the body. It can also make falling asleep difficult by suppressing the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for lowering body temperature so that you can shift into sleep mode. “Worrying is like putting a hole in your gas tank,” says Teitelbaum. “Unless you do something to stop it, you’re draining energy away.”
To rewire an overwrought mind, Merrell suggests doing some form of mind-body exercise, like meditation, practicing yoga, or engaging in regular prayer. For a quick fix, Teitelbaum suggests this trick: “Ask yourself, ‘Am I in imminent danger?’ It may sound irrational or melodramatic, but that’s the point. You bring yourself down to earth by reminding yourself that your worries aren’t crises. This will relax your body’s adrenal ‘fight or flight’ system and help you feel in control.”
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Get an Energy Boost From Going Outside
At least once during the workday, get out of the office. Studies show that spending time outdoors provides a boost by reducing stress hormones and lowering blood pressure. "Sunlight can also increase the body’s production of serotonin, which lifts mood and increases energy," says Teitelbaum.
In addition, "air that contains a high balance of negative ions (molecules with a negative electrical charge) may increase the body’s oxygen intake and serotonin levels," says Michael Terman, Ph.D., director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at New York–Presbyterian Hospital. Negative ions are produced when there’s a lot of air and water movement in the atmosphere, like during a thunderstorm. Terman has found that when people with seasonal affective disorder (a mood disorder associated with seasonal variations of light) and depression use specialized negative-ion generators, their symptoms improve.