The Wake-Up Workout
Do any or all of these easy yoga stretches, and feel refreshed.
For A.M. Energy
Stand a few inches in front of your bedroom doorway and lift arms so that elbows are at shoulder height. Place palms on the edges of the door jamb, framing both sides of the doorway. Anchor hands as you lean forward and exhale. "Hold for a few breaths, allowing shoulder blades to move together and the chest to open," says Edward Vilga, a yoga instructor at Laughing Lotus in New York City and author of Yoga for Suits. Then, inhaling, return to starting position.
For At-Work Energy
- Sit on the edge of your office chair and do an Upward Spiral: Reach right hand to left knee, grab the back of the chair with left hand, and inhale. As you exhale, twist left, toward the back of the chair. Hold for a few breaths, twisting deeper into the stretch with each exhale. "Twisting releases the spine, allowing energy to spiral upward in the body," says Vilga. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Sit in your chair for a Side Stretch: Raise arms toward the ceiling, fingers reaching. "Inhale and linger, visualizing nailing tomorrow's presentation or landing an important client — whatever inspires you," says Vilga. Lean to the right while exhaling, then to the left. Repeat 3 times on each side, holding for a few breaths. "This opens the rib cage, increasing your heart rate and improving circulation," Vilga explains.
- Try the Breath of Fire: Pant through your mouth for a few seconds, then breathe through your nose, inhaling and exhaling rapidly for 15 to 30 seconds. "Because you're quickly contracting the abdomen, you'll increase your heart rate, which delivers oxygen everywhere and tones your belly," says Vilga. Finish with a few slow, deep breaths.
Need a Lift? Try mint. Breathing in the scent of peppermint is a natural pick-me-up. In studies at West Jesuit University in West Virginia, lead researcher Bryan Raudenbush, PhD, found that mint stimulates the part of the brain connected to attention and arousal. Use a peppermint-infused body lotion.
Good Food = Good Energy
Fuel your body with healthy picks from experts.
- Blueberries: They're packed with antioxidants that boost brain cells and help keep memory sharp, research shows. Toss a half cup onto your cereal.
- Apples: Their high fiber content means they deliver steady energy. "Apples also help prevent dehydration," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a dietitian in Chicago.
- Fish: "The omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish such as salmon are linked to improved concentration and memory," says Blatner.
- Spinach: It's brimming with iron, which helps deliver oxygen to your cells. When you're low on this mineral, you'll feel like you're...about...to...crash. Use it in pastas and salads.
- Nuts: Build energy with a daily handful of almonds, hazelnuts, or cashews, all of which contain fatigue-fighting magnesium.
Need a Lift? Make love. "Sex triggers the production of chemicals, including testosterone, dopamine, and oxytocin," says Helen Fisher, PhD, an anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of Why We Love. This revitalizing surge of hormones increases mental clarity and boosts energy.
Surprisingly Un-Healthy Stuff
Beat the five top "good-for-you" goofs.
- You think eating breakfast is healthy, but: "Any food with a lot of added sugar, even yogurt, can make your energy level take a nosedive about an hour after you eat it," says Blatner. Stick to a mix of protein, fiber, and whole grains; choose yogurt with 12 grams of sugar or less.
- You think salad is healthy, but: Greens won't do you much good if you drown them in cheese, croutons, and creamy dressing. "Fat takes a long time to be digested and makes us feel sluggish," explains Blatner. Instead, load up on lean protein such as chicken, fiber-rich chickpeas, and nutritious veggies like tomatoes, broccoli, and red peppers.
- You think any snack that isn't fried is healthy, but: Low-fat, low-cal pretzels and potato chips seem like a smart snack — trouble is, "these processed dry foods speed through your system," says Blatner. Choose popcorn or multigrain pretzels for a steady, long-lasting energy boost.
- You think dried fruit is healthy, but: It's loaded with sugar. Munch on raw fruit instead. "The water in it will energize you," says Blatner.
- You think coffee is healthy, but: Drink too much and you can get the jitters. Your best bet for improved focus and quick thinking — without the shakes — is to stick to about two cups before noon, advises Blatner.
The Ultimate Meal Plan
"This 1,700-calorie plan is high in lean protein, heart-healthy fats, dairy, and unprocessed carbs — the building blocks that keep energy levels up," says Monique Ryan, RD, a nutritionist in Chicago and author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. "If you exercise for more than 35 minutes, add another 200- to 300-calorie snack."
Breakfast: Veggie omelet
- Cooking spray
- 3 egg whites
- 1/2 cup mixture chopped tomato and red and green bell pepper
- 2 slices whole wheat toast
- 1/2 grapefruit
Make it: Coat a skillet with cooking spray; add egg whites. Once the edges are set, sprinkle veggies on egg. Cook through. Fold and serve.
Snack: Blueberry smoothie
- 1 cup skim milk
- 3/4 cup blueberries
- Ice cubes to taste
Make it: In a blender, mix together milk, blueberries, and ice cubes.
Lunch: Spicy avocado burritos
- 3 ounces warm, grilled chicken breast
- 2 six-inch whole wheat tortillas
- 1 handful low-fat shredded cheese
- 1/3 cup pinto beans
- Salsa to taste
- Raw bell pepper slices
- 2 slices avocado
Make it: Cut chicken into strips and place on tortillas. Top with cheese, beans, salsa, peppers, and avocado.
Snack: Yogurt parfait
- 1 cup low-fat Greek-style yogurt
- 1 peach, cut into slices
Make it: Top yogurt with fruit slices.
Dinner: Salmon and summer vegetables
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 4 ounces wild salmon
- 1 cup fresh asparagus, steamed
- 4 tablespoons light salad dressing
- 2 cups mixed greens
- 2/3 cup instant couscous
Make it: Heat oil in skillet, add salmon, and saute. Serve with asparagus, dressed mixed greens, and couscous.
Take a Power Shower
Finish your morning shower with a 10- to 20-second blast of cold water; this will invigorate you from head to toe and wash drowsiness away. According to researchers in New Zealand, suddenly immersing yourself in cold water increases your heart rate, alertness, and the blood flow to your skeletal muscle.
Need a lift? Buy yourself a plant. Who knew? Having greenery nearby increased workers' productivity by 12 percent, according to a study at Washington State University. "By causing us to be more relaxed, plants help us to be more productive and focused," says lead author Virginia Lohr, PhD.
What's in an Energy Drink?
Taurine: This amino acid helps your body move nutrients like potassium into and out of your cells. Does it energize? Mixed with the other ingredients here, it's tough to know.
Panax ginseng: One study found that a daily 1,000- to 2,000-mg dose may improve fatigue in cancer patients, but the 50mg in an energy drink doesn't add up to much.
Caffeine: Studies suggest that caffeine can enhance memory and even protect against Parkinson's disease. A safe limit: 200 to 300mg a day. One can of Rockstar has 160mg.
Guarana: A Brazilian plant, it contains natural caffeine. In a recent study, researchers found that varying doses of guarana enhanced memory, increased alertness, and improved mood.
Inositol: It may help reduce depression and anxiety, but the 50mg in here isn't going to do it. You'd have to drink 360 cans to get as much as study participants did.
B Vitamins: They turn food into energy. "But any boost you get is from the caffeine and sugars, " says Jeannie Gazzaniga Moloo, PhD, an American Dietetic Associate spokesperson.
Gingko biloba: Some studies suggest that this Chinese herb may improve concentration and memory. However, it can also cause side effects such as headache, dizziness, and heart palpitations.
Carnitine: Some studies show that this amino acid may improve heart health. But you'd need to drain 20 to 4 cans daily to get the amount recommended for benefits.
The bottom line: Skip the energy drink and reach for H20, iced tea, vegetable juice, or 100 percent fruit juice instead. "And get a good night's sleep — it will do a lot more than an energy drink to fight fatigue and improve concentration," says Gazzaniga Moloo.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2007.