4 healthy habits that might be sapping your energy2023-02-03
If you’re getting enough sleep but still feeling tired, then it’s time to assess your healthy-sounding but energy-sapping daily habits.
Let’s do a quick check-in: close your eyes, relax your shoulders, take a deep breath in and out. How are you feeling right now? Tense? Alert? Exhausted? According to a recent YouGov survey, one in eight Brits feel tired “all of the time”, with a quarter saying “most of the time”. Those are, objectively, some big numbers – but I bet you’re not surprised. I bet you also won’t be surprised to hear that nearly double the number of women than men said they felt exhausted all of the time too.
The UK isn’t exactly known for its high energy. We’re more likely to be pictured swigging ale down the local pub than hiking fresh-faced through fjords like our Scandi neighbours. In fact, an Aviva study of 13 different countries once found the UK to be the most exhausted. One sleep expert supposed that this was because of our all-night culture, where we can watch TV, go to the supermarket or (in some places) even a pub whenever we want.
But it’d be wrong to suggest that a quarter of us are knackered because of our Netflix and party habits. Loads of super-healthy, organised characters struggle with fatigue, so what’s going on?
We spoke to medical experts and found that these four everyday things are making us more tired.
Doing too much exercise
Both too much and too little exercise can have a major impact on your energy levels. “Too much exercise means you’re not having enough recovery,” says Dr Nicky Keay, sports endocrinologist and author of Hormones, Health And Human Potential.
“Exercise must be matched with sufficient recovery: rest days, taking it easy, doing lighter exercises. Keep track of it. If you do the right amount, it will support all your hormones, make you fitter and stronger. If you do too much, it forces the body into a stress situation and will be counterproductive to you feeling better.”
Not being active enough
At the same time, being too sedentary will make you feel lethargic. Over time, lack of exercise can cause the body to decondition, which affects your whole physiological system, including your muscles and bones. You’ll lose strength, feel weaker and experience a faster heart rate at rest and during activity. Any physical activity, even walking, will feel harder and more exhausting.
In fact, Strong Women took part in an experiment last year that proved staying static had the same negative effect as a week of insomnia.
So, although it might sound counterintuitive, exercising regularly will keep your body in good nick and increase your energy levels. Even doing low intensity exercise has been proven to increase energy levels and reduce fatigue by up to 65%.
Drinking over three cups of coffee a day
Despite popular opinion, coffee is not the answer to all things. Most of us will have experienced that feeling of having one cup too many, trying to push through the consequences of a late night with three flat whites on the trot.
Specialist registered dietitian Catherine Rabess explains: “If you drink large quantities of caffeine – say, more than three or four cups of caffeinated drinks in a day – that can impact your energy levels in a negative way. It can overstimulate you, leading your body to work in overdrive. You get to the end of the day and you’re absolutely exhausted.”
Rabess suggests that if you have caffeine in your diet, make sure it’s good quality caffeine and/or coffee. Drinking it earlier rather than later is, of course, crucial. While caffeine cut-off times will be different for everyone, one study found that coffee drunk as much as six hours before bedtime had a serious impact on sleep quality.
Following a restrictive diet (or getting used to increased fibre-intake)
Let’s tread carefully here: yes, food gives us energy but there will be certain foods that make you feel a bit heavy, sluggish or bloated. Saying that, just because a particular food makes you feel sleepy, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should set about cutting it out of your diet.
Take fibre, for example. “Breaking down really high-fibre foods can be quite hard work for the digestive system, “says Rabess. “Dietary fibre does not break down in the small intestine; it travels to the large intestine where lots of bacteria has to be produced and there’s a fermentation process. The bioproducts of that process can cause bloating and heaviness.”
Rabess stresses, however, that this is a normal bodily function. “It’s just indicating that your body is doing what it needs to do, and the same goes for gluten.”
In the cases of folks with gluten sensitivity or Coeliac disease, that brain fog and tiredness is a result of the body actually being unable to break down the gluten protein effectively. And in the case of Coeliac disease, the autoimmune response will be for the body to attack itself. Rabess says that if eating gluten causes you pain or bloating so severe that you can’t put on certain clothes that would normally fit you, it’s worth consulting your GP or a registered dietitian.
When it comes to eating foods for more energy, Rabess recommends choosing complex carbohydrates over simple carbs and sugar hits for slower releasing energy. And, she warns, it’s definitely worth staying away from juice cleanses.
“We need to pull away from this idea that you can detoxify, cleanse or reset your body by any sort of diet or juice cleanse,” she says. “It’s about what you can add into your diet, not what you can take away. What your body needs is more fibre so you’re able to actually flush your system by having more regular poos. And drinking more water too. Plant diversity, no restrictions and no juices or cleanses are all good for your gut health; it’s a lot easier than you think.”
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