How to get more energy from morning to night

Until someone invents a healthy (and legal!) pep pill, here's the next best thing: simple, proven tactics that keep you powered up all day long.
Health.com // Health.com

We work, we plan, we organize, we go, fueling ourselves on coffee and pure determination. Until, that is, we fall onto the sofa in a stupor. More of us are struggling with energy issues, experts say; they point to the weak economy, which has us working harder and plugging in longer, and the belief that we can have it all (so what if we’re up till midnight making it happen?).

“Just like houseplants need water, our energy reserves need regular replenishing," says psychologist Michelle Segar, PhD, associate director of the Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls at the University of Michigan.

To the rescue: strategies that will keep you humming along—and, happily, don’t take much effort.

--By Viriginia Sole-Smith, Health magazine

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Stay energized all morning

What works against your a.m. mojo: "We've been essentially in a starvation state all night," says Gregory Dodell, MD, an endocrinologist in New York City.

What's working for you: "At the same time, we experience spikes in cortisol and testosterone, important hormones for energy that help get us moving," Dr. Dodell adds.

You want to fuel up and max out that hormone high. The plan: Lights! Action! Breakfast!

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Don't delay the day

It’s so tempting to hit snooze when your alarm goes off in the morning. Problem is, “by falling back asleep you could be interrupting the hormone cycle, which can make it harder to get going,” Dr. Dodell says.

Better to just set your alarm for 15 minutes later—and keep your clock across the room so you can’t reach out and silence it.

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Let in light

"Artificial or natural, light helps optimize the body's wake-up processes," says Michael Terman, PhD, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. Roll up the shades or, if it's still dark outside, turn on lights.

Terman recommends compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) labeled "cool white" or "daylight." They're not just good for Mother Earth, he says: "CFLs with these color temperatures emit a white light closer to outdoor light than the yellowish kind from incandescents."

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Ease into things

"Roll out of bed and into the frenetic pace of getting everybody ready and you're exhausted right out of the gate," says time-management expert Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check E-mail in the Morning.

Get up 15 minutes before the kids so you can shower and get dressed. And, yes, avoid the siren call of email: "Facing an onslaught of to-dos can be a big drain if you haven't cleared your mind first."

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Get moving

Not an a.m. exerciser? Rethink your idea of a workout. In a University of Georgia study, people who did a low-intensity aerobic activity (think a leisurely walk) three times a week had a greater reduction in fatigue levels than folks who did higher intensity workouts (like a faster-paced walk with hills) for the same amount of time.

If you tend to drag in the morning or you’re overall exhausted, a tough workout can be more draining than invigorating. “And if you’re not in top shape, a high-intensity workout forces you to expend major energy, leaving your body tired,” says exercise physiologist Michael Bracko, EdD.

Motivation to do some activity: The study found regular exercise generally increased energy levels by 20%.

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Eat more breakfast

“If you have just a bagel and coffee, you get a quick stimulant from the caffeine and quick energy from the carbs—a recipe for a crash,” says Ashley Koff, RD, coauthor of Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged.

Instead, go for a mix of unrefined carbs (for fast energy) plus lean protein and healthy fat (which take longer to digest, giving you more staying power). Think a scrambled egg in a whole-grain tortilla or oatmeal topped with nuts.

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Work in chunks

Don't stay glued to your desk chair—your body needs occasional movement to change channels and get oxygen flowing (so you’re alert enough to address request No. 5,739 from the boss).

"Most of us can’t stay focused on one task for longer than 90 minutes, anyway," says Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of the Energy Project, a group that boosts business productivity.

Get up and talk with people instead of emailing—or at least stand while you’re on the phone.

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Keep your pep up in the afternoon

If your energy level dips between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, it's official: You're human.

"The spike of hormones that gets us moving in the morning is leveling off, and many people have a big lunch and then sit at a desk for the rest of the afternoon, all of which can cause a slump," Dr. Dodell says. Strategic eating and a bit of movement will help.

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Take a multivitamin at lunch

And consider adding a B-complex for extra pep. "We actually get an energy boost from vitamins but we usually don't notice because most of us wash them down with coffee or tea," Koff points out.

This is not permission to have a multi and soda for lunch; you need some calories, preferably from a balanced meal, for all-afternoon energy.

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