At any given time, one in every five of us has low energy levels. Discover what saps your vitality – and how to restore it.
Are you exhausted? It's normal to have 'off' days when you're too tired to do anything but the bare necessities. But if this happens frequently and interferes with your daily life, it's time to take action to boost your energy levels.
What exactly is energy?
Energy refers to both your physical ability to move and your sense of strength and vitality. It's also a fuel source – carbohydrates, protein, and fat in our diets provide us with the energy we need to grow, stay warm, be active, and survive.
Our primary sources of energy are:
Carbohydrates – the body's preferred energy source. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which powers everything we do, from breathing to exercise.
Fats and protein – if you don't eat enough carbs, your body will use fat first, then protein. These, however, are not the most efficient energy sources. When protein is used for energy, it leaves less available for its primary function of repairing and maintaining muscles and other body tissues.
Some diets, such as the Ketogenic Diet, are designed to maximise the use of fat as a fuel source. However, side effects may include bad breath and a buildup of potentially harmful ketones in the body (acids produced by fat digestion).
What exactly is low energy?
We all get tired from time to time, but low energy, also known as fatigue, is more than just drowsiness – it's constantly feeling tired. Among the symptoms are:
- exhaustion, both physical and mental
- a lack of drive
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, one in every five of us has low energy at any given time, and one in every ten has long-term fatigue. Low energy affects women more than men and is more prevalent in children and the elderly.
What causes a lack of energy?
Low energy levels can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- poor diet – foods with a high glycaemic index, such as white bread and cakes, can cause blood sugar fluctuations, making you tired.
- sleep issues – adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night to feel fully refreshed, according to The Sleep Council.
- stress – high stress levels are linked to fatigue and can interfere with your quality of sleep; • lack of exercise – inactivity makes it difficult to get quality sleep; and • certain health conditions such as depression, arthritis, and anaemia.
- excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption
How to Increase Your Energy Levels
To help you regain your vitality, try the following suggestions:
- Get some sun – Our skin produces vitamin D from sunlight, but low levels of the nutrient have been linked to fatigue, according to a 2013 Newcastle University study. Vitamin D is thought to boost the activity of mitochondria, the 'batteries' inside our cells. 14 During our British winters, or if you don't spend much time outside, the government recommends that everyone take a vitamin D supplement.
- Stay active – it may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you're tired, but it works. A study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in 2008 discovered that just six weeks of gentle exercise improved energy levels in sedentary adults with unexplained long-term fatigue. Exercise, according to the researchers, 'wakes up' the nervous system, reducing tiredness.
- Consume energy-boosting foods – nutritious fuel is essential for combating fatigue. Choose foods with a low glycemic index, such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes, to help you stay fuller for longer. Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time as well, so you can make healthy choices even when you're pressed for time or feeling stressed.
- Get enough B-vitamins – B-vitamins are required by enzymes that break down food and convert it into energy. B vitamins are found in a variety of foods, including wholegrains, eggs, legumes, and vegetables, so eating a varied diet is essential. Consider taking a vitamin B complex if you believe you are not getting enough.
- Drink plenty of fluids – a 2011 study in the United States discovered that even mild dehydration increased feelings of fatigue during exercise. To stay hydrated, the NHS recommends six to eight glasses of fluid per day – not necessarily all water.
When should you see your doctor?
It's normal to feel tired at times, such as when you're working long hours or have a new baby. However, unexplained tiredness can sometimes indicate a medical condition, such as anaemia or an underactive thyroid, so consult your doctor, who may order some tests. Advice is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to replace medical care. Please consult your doctor before attempting any home remedies.