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Feeling a Little Run Down?

Posted - Jan. 9, 2004 at 6:20 a.m.



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ST. LOUIS - Tired and cranky? Get-up-and-go got up and went? Too sapped to see your way through the day, much less the week?

If every little thing is an effort lately, you may want to report a personal energy crisis to your doctor. Lack of energy can be a symptom of several serious medical conditions-among them anemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and Type 2 diabetes-so before you self-diagnose and then self-prescribe, consider seeking professional help.

If you've been there and done that and you are looking for ways to increase your energy level, here are some suggestions from experts in the fields of nutrition, exercise, sleep and time management.

NUTRITION

This is not new news, but it bears repeating: A poor diet can lead to low energy. "Food is fuel," said Jaimette McCulley, assistant professor of dietetics at Fontbonne University and a registered dietitian. "People need to understand that providing the body with food is how you get energy."

In an ideal world, we all would provide our bodies with appropriate portions of a variety of healthy foods every day. However, in this less-than-ideal world, even people usually careful about their eating habits sometimes look for a quick-fix energy boost. McCulley suggests looking past the doughnuts, chips and candy bars.

"Anything you eat has the potential to give you energy, but if you want the maximum benefit, avoid foods that are mostly sugar," she said. "Your body prefers complex carbohydrates, foods with starch and fiber that provide both satiety and extended glucose."

Specifically, McCulley recommended whole-grain breads or crackers, cereal, muffins, pretzels, bagels, rice or pasta.

Some people take vitamin supplements to increase energy. McCulley is not one of them. "Any supplement that advertises it will give you energy is made with an energy-containing ingredient, such as protein, fats or carbohydrates," she said.

These supplements probably are not dangerous, but neither are they necessary, she said. "We don't have widespread vitamin deficiencies in this country. We get vitamins from our food, and most people don't need to take vitamin supplements."

McCulley cautioned against buying supplements that promise to change your metabolism. "If the package says that, then the supplement is a drug and should be marketed as a drug," she said. "These products are not proven to be effective, and some of them are dangerous."

EXERCISE

As you drag around all day, do you hear your couch softly calling your name, luring you home to kick off your shoes and flop down into the soft cushions? Don't give in. Resist, hard as that may be, and go straight to the gym. There, you will find energy. So says Rik Wilson, a former Blues defenseman and owner of Power Play Personal Training in Des Peres, Mo.

People with good intentions but no follow-through are the reason Wilson has a job.

"I'm here to help encourage people," he said. "If you have an appointment and call to say how tired you are, I'll encourage you to come in anyway. I promise that that no matter how tired you are, you'll feel better after a workout."

How can that be true?

Wilson, who has been in this business for 10 years, says that people who don't work out have low metabolism, and low metabolism means low energy. Exercising with weights speeds up your metabolism and boosts energy. Aerobic exercise, including walking or running, also is a source of energy because it burns fat.

"The less fat you have," he said, "the more energy you'll have."

Wilson added that exercise also improves circulation and is a stimulant for the brain. "Most studies show that if you have two people doing the same job, the one who works out will be more productive than the one who doesn't."

In addition to helping shape bodies, Wilson also works on changing minds, at least in regard to diet and nutrition. He encourages clients to eat six small meals a day and to avoid eating too many carbohydrates. "When you `over-carb' you feel robust for a while, but then you crash and experience low energy levels," he said. "If you change what you are eating and when you are eating-well, these little things are huge. The best thing is to be balanced throughout the day, and never get to the point where you crash."

SLEEP

We've said it before and we'll say it again: A good night's rest restores the body and the mind. It's too bad so many people think that simple truth applies only to others.

Though experts recommend adults get at least eight hours of sleep a night to function properly, a poll conducted in 2000 by the National Sleep Foundation found that "on average, adults sleep just under seven hours during the workweek." One-third of adults sleep only six and a half hours-or less-nightly, according to the poll.

The foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports sleep- and fatigue-related education, research and advocacy, also learned that "a full 45 percent of adults agree that they will sleep less in order to accomplish more."

Mark Muehlbach, clinical director of the Clayton Sleep Institute, listens every day to busy people who say they are running on empty.

"If somebody tells me they are tired and have no energy, the first thing I think about is sleep," he said. "I question them about how much sleep they get, whether they are aware of any disturbances or if there have been any reports from a bed partner on disturbances."

Muehlbach also asks patients about medications. He noted that some of the older antihistamines taken by people in this allergen-rich region also can cause drowsiness during the day. If that can be ruled out, then Muehlbach gently reminds people that if they don't get enough sleep, they will be tired during the day.

"The exact amount of sleep required depends on the individual, but we recommend eight hours a night," said Muehlbach. "Also, we recommend maintaining a routine schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day."

TIME MANAGEMENT

Sometimes, when projects at work pile up or the list of chores and errands stretches out of the kitchen and down the hall, all you can do is sit and bemoan how overwhelmed you feel. Any energy you may have summoned to get started quickly dissipates when you realize you'll never get finished.

It's not your fault, says Dr. Larry Kiel, director of the Behavioral Counseling Center of St. Louis.

"The modern world creates obligations people didn't have in the past," said Kiel, a clinical psychologist. "Many people feel they have sold their souls to the company store, and certainly obligations at home haven't gone away. Unfortunately, when you put off things you have to do, usually you also put off things you'd like to do."

The answer, of course, is better time management. "It's a worthy endeavor, and good psychologists can help people do that," said Kiel. "What time management amounts to is prioritizing what is important and what is less so, and then inserting these activities into a grid. You work out what you have to do for the week."

Kiel noted that it is important to include time for exercise and relaxation. "In some ways, leisure time has been engineered out of our lives against our will, as we're all expected to do a lot more," he said. "The soccer mom, for instance, is in the car driving to game after game at all hours of day and night because we have institutionalized children's sports. This mom is expected to give up her life in order to get the children to their sports."

Television and the Internet also eat up time, Kiel said. "Many activities in our culture are vapid and useless, yet it's easy to get hooked in an addictive fashion and put off more productive activities."

Kiel cautioned that if you are completely overwhelmed by obligations and unable to prioritize, you may have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. "People with ADHD have no sense of time other than now," he said, adding that some 10 million people with ADHD have not been diagnosed.

Kiel also expressed concern for people experiencing low energy over an extended period of time, as they may suffer from depression. "Depression can have biological roots and psychological roots," he said. "The psychological roots come from a sense of loss, a loss of hope that things will get better, and that hopelessness lowers energy. This `emotional ennui' can take over, leading to more hopelessness and also helplessness-and then you need to see a doctor."

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(c) 2003, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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