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7 Surprising Health Habits That Drain Energy

 

That Ginormous Gym Bag

All the stuff you might need adds up: running sneakers, Spinning shoes, boxing gloves (who knows what you'll be in the mood for?), dry shampoo and facial wipes for post-workout happy hour. But a too-big bag can throw off alignment and posture, which, studies show, makes it hard to draw full breaths. That increases your heart rate and makes you feel that you need a nap ASAP.

Power Up: Swap your trusty duffel or tote for a backpack, such as the expandable Asics Ultimate Stash ($70, asics.com) or the superlight silver-and-coral Roxy Game Ready ($44, roxy.com). "Instead of putting a lot of weight on one shoulder, a backpack evenly distributes the load," says Karen Jacobs, an ergonomist and a professor in the department of occupational therapy at Boston University. Styles with chest and hip straps are best for relieving strain. Adjust the pack so that it sits just above your bum, and place the heaviest items closest to your back. Plan workouts for the week so you're carrying only what you need each day, and wait until you hit the gym to fill your water bottle.

Your Habit of Reading Nutrition Labels

When you're trying to eat well, the options at the grocery store can make your head spin. Say you're shopping for milk. Soy, hemp, rice, oat, or coconut? Or maybe you need nut butter. Peanut, cashew, flaxseed, or almond? A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that having too many options can be exhausting, making the supermarket — the average store carries more than 38,000 items — the place where your internal battery goes to die. "With thousands of products competing for our attention, it can be exhausting to make healthy choices," says Adiana Castro, RD, a co-owner of Compass Nutrition in New York City. And shelves littered with potentially misleading label claims — "No trans fat," "All natural" — just compound the confusion.

Power Up: "Focus on nutrient-rich whole foods, so it's easier to manage choices," Castro says. Make a detailed list, including preferred brands, before you shop to help you zero in on what you need. When you're stumped, try an app like Fooducate (free, iPhone and Android). A grading system makes picking the healthiest options as easy as scanning bar codes.

What You Do Between the Sheets

No, we're not talking about sexy time. A recent study found that 72 percent of participants spend their time before falling asleep in bed on social networks, and 65 percent say the last thing they do before closing their eyes is check for texts. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 95 percent of Americans use a computer or other electronic device within an hour of trying to drift off. Problem is, the bright light from some gadgets may stimulate brain activity and reduce melatonin levels, which may make it difficult to both fall asleep and perk up the next day, says Mariana G. Figueiro, PhD, an associate professor at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Power Up: Make your bed a no-gadget zone. Charge your phone in the living room so you won't be tempted to check for texts or hop on Twitter, and use an old-school alarm clock (one that lights up only when prompted); a blue LED display may be nearly as detrimental as your phone. If you have to use your laptop or phone at night, make it more sleep friendly. Lowbluelights.com has blue-blocking iPhone screen filters starting at $13, and the NeyetLight app (99 cents) automatically adjusts light levels on Android devices as darkness falls; justgetflux.com offers a free download that does the same for your computer.

Your Water-Chugging Ways

A small study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that being slightly dehydrated — even just 1 percent below your optimal fluid level — resulted in noticeable fatigue.

Power Up: Drink at least half your body weight in ounces every day (that's 65 ounces for a 130-pound woman), more if you feel sluggish. Tie your sips to something that happens often, such as when someone says your name (yes, "Babe" and "Mommy" count) or an e-mail pops into your in-box. Tired of ho-hum H2O? "Freeze creative combinations of chopped herbs and diced fruit into ice-cube trays. Try blackberry and mint, peach and cinnamon, or strawberry and rosemary," Castro suggests.

More Sneaky Culprits

Your Messy Closet

A study from researchers at Princeton University found that a less-than-organized closet or a cubicle piled with paper can sap your energy. "When we're overwhelmed by visual clutter, the brain's reaction time can slow, leading to the feeling that you need to rest," says Sabine Kastner, MD, PhD, one of the study coauthors and a professor of neuroscience and psychology. In fact, 77 percent of office workers say that clutter has a negative impact on their productivity.

Power Up: You're going to like Dr. Kastner's Rx for clutter-induced fatigue: Work out. "Exercise supplies more blood to the brain, which helps it work more efficiently," she says. But keeping disorder to a minimum is also important. "It takes less energy to put things away if you don't have to think about what goes where," says Mary Dykstra Novess, the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based president of the National Association of Professional Organizers. So make it easy on yourself: Label storage areas (dedicated baskets for cleaning supplies, wrapping paper, and so on), set up a mail-sorting spot with shred and recycle bins, and keep a donation box for cast-off clothing in your closet. No time to put things away as you go? Just a few minutes at the end of each day is enough to help you restore order, Novess says.

Your Job

"Sorry, Boss, I can't finish the project because my cubicle is putting me to sleep." That excuse might not fly, but there's some truth to it. Excessively cold temperatures (hello, office air-conditioning) can trigger a drop in body temperature, sending you into hibernation mode. Then there's what happens in your chair: Slouching decreases lung capacity and contributes to a feeling of fatigue.

Power Up: Dress in layers and take a quick spin around the office every 30 minutes. Ward off a literal case of the slumps with a posture-friendly desk setup, Jacobs says. Your monitor should be an arm's length (with a closed fist) away — 18 to 24 inches. "Sit back in your chair with your elbows close to your body and your feet flat on the floor or a footrest," she says. Write PSST ("Practice sitting straight and tall") on a Post-it note and stick it on your monitor. Need tougher love? The Lumoback Posture sensor ($149, lumoback.com) straps around your waist and vibrates if you slouch.

Those *&$# Allergies

They're not just a springtime problem. More than 80 million Americans are allergic to ragweed, which peaks from August to October, and experts estimate that up to 80 percent of people with nasal allergy symptoms actually have perennial, or year-round, allergies. In addition to making you miserable with a runny nose and itchy eyes during the day, allergies can wreak havoc on your zzz's. Nasal congestion causes "microarousals" — mini wake-ups during the night that you might not even be aware of — that lead to groggy mornings-after. "You can't fully relax when you're struggling to breathe through your nose," says Andy Nish, MD, the medical director for Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Allergy and Asthma, who estimates that more than 25 percent of his patients experience fatigue.

Power Up: "In the short term, you can use over-the-counter nasal sprays for up to three days to help relieve congestion and allow you to rest better," Dr. Nish says. "Nasal saline, Breathe Right strips, and a bedroom humidifier at night may also help." Still exhausted? See an allergist: A nasal steroid or immunotherapy, which involves regular low-level exposure to allergens to reduce your sensitivity to them, might provide long-term relief.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2013.

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