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I was reflecting this morning on the changes I’ve made to develop healthy habits in the last two years.
One thing that kept coming up was that my energy levels are so much higher now than they used to be. And that’s with the addition of 2 children, a demanding job, running the blog and waking up much earlier.
Do you ever get halfway through the day only to realise that you’ve run out of energy?
This is not uncommon. And with the increase in remote working, it has become oh-so-easy to fall into bad habits.
In this post, I share the 8 healthy habits I have adopted in order to increase my energy levels. They are all simple and straight-forward but have worked wonders for me.
Eat Whole Foods
We all have our preferences and food choices that work for us, but in order to gain and retain energy throughout the day, eating whole foods is guaranteed to be a great option.
Whole foods are foods that have not (or barely) been processed so that most nutrients remain.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, processed foods have been transformed for convenience (e.g. longer shelf life) or marketing purposes (e.g. look more appealing, taste better). Nutrients are lost, and ingredients have been carefully engineered to leave you wanting for more.
In terms of healthy habits, there is no “whole foods” v.s. “processed food” switch – it’s more of a continuum. But the best way to increase whole foods in your diet is to look at the ingredients: the less the better, and if you don’t understand an ingredient, put that box back on the shelf!
Drink Plenty Of Water
Drinking water regularly maintains the flow of oxygen to your brain, meaning your heart doesn’t need to pump as hard with all that extra energy available to you!
There is no need to follow a strict rule about how much water to drink, our bodies are really good at giving us the right queues. But when we are fully immersed in work, it’s easy to forget to drink water regularly.
I’ve found that having a dedicated water bottle by your side, which keeps being filled up throughout the day, works wonders.
It goes without saying that avoiding alcohol is best to keep energised – alcohol makes you drowsy and impairs your judgement.
But it’s in this list for a very specific reason: using alcohol to find sleep is a very bad idea…
Many of us have a hard time falling asleep at night. With so much in our heads, it’s hard to make the world stop to find that peaceful sleep. So a glass or two in the evening can seem like an easy way to get into relaxation mode.
But in reality, although alcohol has a sedative effect, this only works in the first part of the night. And when the effect stops, it all tends to go wrong – you wake up feeling restless and likely to struggle falling asleep again!
On top of that, alcohol consumption affects the quality of your sleep (mainly because REM cycles, or “deep sleep”, don’t last as long).
Alcohol will affect people differently, so you could get away with moderation every now and then.
I personally find that even a glass of wine in the evening has a big impact on how energized I feel the next morning. I avoid drinking unless it’s for a special/social occasion (and one of these days I’ll probably stop all together).
If you think you are drinking too much, check out DrinkAware.
Limit Your Caffeine Intake
This is one I struggle with the most: I absolutely LOVE coffee! A few years ago, I would go through 5-6 cups a day, from the moment I woke up until late afternoon. Today, I’m down to 2 and no later than lunchtime. Why?
Since I’ve reduced my caffeine intake, my energy is more levelled. Because caffeine is really bad for maintaining energy throughout the day.
I know, caffeine does give you a kick for a few hours. But similar to a sugar rush, it is usually followed by a crash. And with that comes the search for more stimulation: more coffee, sugary drinks, snacks etc… And the cycle continues.
Did you know that it can take up to 10 hours for caffeine to completely clear your system? Which means that if bedtime is at 10pm, you should completely avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
In his excellent book A Life Worth Breathing, yoga master Max Strom recommends completely eliminating caffeine from your diet. He suggests replacing coffee with herbal tea. The result? More energy, not less.
Of course, sleep is the most important tool to have energy during the day. It’s a crucial time for our body to recharge and our busy minds to recover.
Without getting into too much detail, you complete a sleep cycle every 90 minutes to 2 hours, and with each cycle, your REM sleep (the “good stuff”) increases. This means the later cycles are more valuable than the earlier ones – i.e. make sure you log enough hours to recover fully!
(Ironically, I’m writing these lines after a few sleep-deprived nights. The joys of having a young family…)
Take Time To Relax
When was the last time you took time for yourself? I’m not talking about exercising or listening to a podcast. But to properly relax. Without trying to be somewhat productive.
Life can be so stressful, so if we don’t lay down our burdens once in a while, we’re in for a world of pain. Long-term stress is known to cause symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, poor sleep, gut inflammation, difficulty to concentrate and anxiety.
All of this is mainly attributable to a hormonal response to stress through increased levels of cortisol. Great when you are in a fight or flight situation (i.e. your survival depends on it) but in most cases an overreaction.
The solution? Mindfulness and relaxation.
By starting and committing to a regular practice, be it yoga, meditation, Qi-gong or simply sitting in silence for 5 minutes, you will start reversing the effects of stress. It’s as simple as that.
Mindfulness puts you back in control, moving from reactive to proactive.
Now don’t get me wrong, stress won’t disappear from your life. But your response to it will evolve through deliberate practice.
My way to switch off is through daily yoga practice. I was very hesitant when I started, it felt like a waste of time. But the impact it had on my mindset and energy levels was incredible.
I recommend you experiment to find what works for you – and it can be very easy to make mindfulness part of your day.
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Regular exercise is undoubtedly top of the healthy habits, but did you know that it contributed to an increase in energy?
In the short term, exercising increases endorphin levels, making you feel almost euphoric and ready to take on the world (ever heard of ‘runners high’?).
Exercise will also help you get rid of the stress, sleep better and optimise your recovery!
In the longer term, regular exercise will improve your muscle strength and lung capacity. So what you’re winded by now might genuinely seem like a walk in the park!
The trick is not to do too much too fast (as I have been guilty of doing in many HIIT sessions). Else you’ll spend the next 2-3 days achy and in the fog…
Start small: a daily power-walk, couch-to-5K, yoga practice… Then scale-up as you get more confident.
The other benefit of exercise, when you have a busy life, is that it gives you time away from stress to unwind, focus on yourself and really be present.
Move More At Work
We’re all so attached to our desks, lost in work, that we sometimes forget to get up and move for hours!
I know I have – my watch is tracking the number of times I get up every hour, and the results can be quite shocking. I guess that’s the negative of reaching a state of flow: time just passes without you realising.
And that’s in addition to the time spent sitting in commute or on the couch…
Sitting for too long can cause a myriad of health issues. On the flipside, it’s not very hard to add movement back into our work life and will have tremendous benefits in terms of health and energy.
Start doing a few stretches every hour (examples here). It doesn’t have to be complicated and you will feel a boost of energy almost instantly.
And if anything, remember to stop staring at your screen every now and then. This will prevent eye strain, another serious cause of lack of energy (you know when you get that fuzzy head in the evenings…).
Use the 20-20-20 rule as a guide: every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds off-screen and look at something at least 20 feet away.
I find the best way to remind myself to do that is to use the Pomodoro technique, working in short 20-25 minute bursts. Alternatively, you can set a recurring reminder.
READ NEXT: How To Be Authentic At Work
If you’re after more energy throughout the day, forget about short-term solutions such as caffeine or sugars, focus instead on building healthy habits.
Not only will those healthy habits lead you to more energy, but the quality of that energy will increase and be sustainable.
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going” Jim Rohn
What healthy habits do you have to boost your energy? Please share in the comments below!