Energy-Boost #3: Exercise
Use Exercise to Bring Your Energy to a New Level
Exercising can boost you energy by up to 20% while reducing fatigue by 65% (study, article). On top of that, it has a ton of complementary mental health benefits. Exercise will also improve your sleep, ignite your libido, build your stamina to last throughout the entire day, and increase your mental alertness (article, study).
Researchers found depressed mood symptoms and fatigue are commonly seen in people who didn’t get to do their usual exercise routine. They think this could be a contributing reason to why people become so bummed after an injury or a surgery—because they can’t exercise their body the same way (study).
We know it’s easy to skip gym day, especially during busy times—the holidays, crunch-time at work, exams. Skipping the gym will save you an hour or two that day, but at the expense of far more future energy. Much like “gaining” an extra hour by staying up past your bed time, you’ll need to pay it back with interest soon.
Don’t overreach when you need energy & focus
Overreaching is a technique where you push your body a little too hard, preventing full short-term recovery. This is useful when trying to promote muscular or endurance adaptations, since it forces your body to adapt. However, because your body will be spending its finite resources adapting, your energy levels overall will be a little lower.
It’s also entirely unsustainable in the longer term.
Researchers took well-trained men around 25 years old, doubled the amount of weightlifting they were doing, and told them to lift a little harder while they were at it. Their moods became worse and their reaction times slowed significantly, leading the researchers to suggest that overreaching could affect the speed of information processing in the brain (study).
This might sound like an extreme example—asking weightlifters to double their training volume—but many people will intentionally do intense bootcamps or take a “no pain, no gain” approach to exercise. The goal of these workouts is to use all of the trainee’s energy to willingly beat themselves to a pulp. At first their motivation is able to sustain them, but eventually their willpower will deplete and they’ll be forced to listen to their body’s urges to calm down (oftentimes causing them to get sick or quit the program). This cycle of high motivation => intense training => burnout can be a real energy suck… without really accomplishing anything.
You can also do this strategically though. For example, in the programs we have scheduled for previous clients we use a cycle like this:
Week 1: Deload week. Recovery is emphasized, allowing your body to adapt from intense stressors. We still lift, but the workouts are short and we leave the gym feeling hungry and pumped. This is comparable to how a fit person would feel after coming back from a short jog, or after a friendly game of soccer.
Weeks 2-4: Training. You train within your means, stimulating gradual adaptations. We leave the gym feeling like we got a good workout in. If you do one of these workouts in the morning you should have most of your energy left for work, and if you do it at night you should fall asleep easily and sleep deeply.
Week 5: Overreaching. You train harder, you feel pretty worked, but are stimulating intense adaptations. We know a recovery/adaptation week is right around the corner.
Then back to deload week to recover from the overreaching week.
You can then adjust this system to fit your schedule. You can gear into a deload week when you’ve got big exams or an important meeting coming up, boosting your energy. When you’ve conquered that intense period, you gear into your regular training routine. And occasionally you prioritize your health and fitness goals, investing your energy in your training to bring you to new levels.
Training this way isn’t just a good lifestyle trick, it’s also the fastest way to get results. Building up a healthy, vibrant body is all about perfectly balancing recovery with stimulation, rest with activity. By training strategically you can gradually build up more fitness, strength, willpower and energy in the longer term, which is one of the best ways to become a “naturally” energetic and positive person.
Bonus Magazine-Worthy Energy Tips
Tired at your desk job? Schedule breaks. In the old days, you’d get physically tired from doing a manual labour task and need to take a break. When we’re doing desk work things are different. We don’t get a physical cue, like falling over, when our brain can’t focus anymore. The tiredness “cue” tends to be procrastinating, feeling an urge to check your phone/social media, repeatedly checking your email, etc. When this happens you need some rest, and it’s usually better to go take a real break. In 10–15 minutes, after standing up and taking a stroll, drinking some water and a having a small snack, you can get back to it with a fresh start.
Be productive, not efficient. Many people feel like they never have enough time to complete their to-do list. This might not be because of a lack of energy, but because completing your to-do list would take more time than you realistically have. Our time is our most precious resource. It is truly finite. And it’s naive to think that all of our time in a given block can be spent productively because our willpower is even more finite. Our willpower allows us to tackle challenges that may be good for us but are difficult to do. We need to spend it wisely, not let it drizzle away by flicking through emails or doing unimportant tasks that make us feel like we’re working.
Many successful people recommend making a must-do-list / might-do-tomorrow-list before bed (link). That way you can plan and execute the important things the next day, rather than just reacting to what seems urgent. You might be very efficient at tackling all the unimportant tasks that land in your inbox, but being productive means knowing what you must do to succeed and prioritizing those things above the less important distractions. Otherwise you may wind up being very efficient at doing things that get you nowhere.
Make fewer decisions, build more habits. Willpower is like a battery that drains over the day that is fully recharged by getting a good night’s sleep. Making a decision, any decision—even a little tiny one like what to eat for breakfast—drains your willpower. Your brain uses your willpower battery to process these decisions.
Habits are a way for our bodies to automate our decisions so that they no longer use precious our willpower. In the book Willpower, the authors discuss research that found that the most successful people, had more willpower overall… but didn’t even seem to use much of it. They found that these people would use their willpower in short sprints to consciously turn desired behaviours into unconscious new habits. Once those behaviours become habits, their willpower is freed up again. They would be full of energy and instinctively doing all the important things they want to: eating healthy meals every night, hitting the gym consistently, getting a good night’s sleep, etc.
For example, right now it might take you a bunch of willpower to start lifting weights three times per week. If you do it for a couple months (with an appropriate training workload), your body will automate this process. It will become a habit. At that point it will no longer use willpower, and you can use that willpower to develop a new healthy or productive habit—perhaps eating super well.
Over time these healthy behaviours will all be automated, no longer requiring any willpower to execute. Because these habits have longer term energy boosting effects, they will also give you more willpower overall. This will lead to a higher energy lifestyle.
This is the secret to becoming a person who’s “naturally” vibrant and full of energy.
- Focus on the most effective and longterm ways to improve your energy.This means forgetting about fads or short-term fixes and going back to the fundamentals: sleeping, eating, and exercising well.
- Sleep. To wake up energized, get lots of bright blue light exposure (like sunlight) early in the day and start moving. To gear down for sleep, in the evening use dim and amber/yellow coloured lights, turn the temperature down, and do calmer activities that relax you. Carve out time to sleep long enough in a dark room.
- Eat. Indiscriminately eat whole foods—reckless amounts of fibrous carbs (fruits and veggies), enough protein to support your physical activity and body composition goals, enough overall food to avoid hunger, not so much food in a meal that you feel sluggish afterwards, and enough fluids to avoid thirst. Keep caffeine to the morning. If you want a hot drink at night, try a herbal tea instead, like chamomile.
- Exercise. Lift heavy things, get your heart rate up. Don’t do so much that you can’t fully recover, don’t do so little that you fail to promote any adaptations (assuming you want adaptations—a “fit” person simply needs to maintain their fitness for optimal health/energy, after all). By balancing training stress and recovery you’ll become stronger and fitter over time. Finding this balance is tough, so it’s helpful to follow a good program at first.
- Switch one thing at a time. This will allow you to gradually turn these practices into a lifestyle made of habits that you love and can keep up without even thinking about it.
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