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Tips for Combating Physical Fatigue

Five ways to gain energy, reduce tiredness, and be more productive throughout the day

Some people call them the '3 o'clock blues.' It's that feeling when you've got 1-2 hours left in the work day, but no energy left to make it a productive finish to the day. So you head to the refrigerator or vending machine for a little boost to power through to 5 p.m.-only to arrive at home and collapse into a chair, this time for good!

Generally speaking, fatigue is attributed to too much or too little of certain behaviors: sleep, exercise, food. Feeling fatigued is certainly nothing new, and you aren't alone. One study reports that up to 20 percent of Americans experience fatigue at a level that interferes with their ability to live a normal life.

Here are a few tips or lifestyle changes that can help you reduce or hopefully eliminate physical fatigue.

Get enough sleep. We'll lead off the list with the biggest no-brainer of all-sleeping can help reduce your feelings of tiredness! In all seriousness, most experts says adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night to function at maximum abilities. Statistics are unreliable in this area, so be honest with yourself and ask how often you get 7-8 hours of solid, uninterrupted shut-eye?

If you find it difficult to relax or fall asleep, try some tips to reduce stress (more on that later) and eliminate taxing activities such as exercise right before bed. Lastly, reduce or eliminate any dependency on sleeping pills or other sleep 'aids.'

Eat more often. And no, this doesn't mean those aforementioned trips to the fridge or vending machine in the middle of the afternoon. This refers to the 5-6 small meals instead of three large meals style of diet that has gained popularity in the past couple decades.

We've all eaten that heavy lunch that drains our energy for the rest of the day. Eating more frequently and enjoying smaller meals allows the brain and body to focus on mental acuity rather than digestion. Blood sugar levels stay consistent throughout the day, which has the same effect on mood and energy. Another no-brainer tip that too few people heed: eat healthier. Balanced meals with proteins and the right types of carbohydrates and fats will assist in keeping those levels normal throughout the day. Fruits, vegetables. all the usual suspects for healthy eating apply here.

Reduce caffeine and sugar intake. Now this one seems counter-intuitive to many people. When people think of caffeine, they often think of coffee, which is their go-to drink for a morning pick-me-up. How can reducing caffeine intake eliminate fatigue?

The simplest answer-it works both ways. Just as that morning stop at Starbucks provides a quick boost, that diet soda or chocolate bar after dinner might be causing you to feel jittery or a little too alert when it's time to turn in for the evening. A slightly more involved answer is that any gains in energy experienced from a cup of coffee or candy bar are short-lived. This analogy from EveryDay Health is a solid one: caffeine and sugar are like energy loan sharks. The initial burst of energy that you feel is more than balanced by the resulting crash and feeling that you need more caffeine to make it through the day. Eventually, the imbalance can lead to another restless night of sleep.

On that topic, while a handful or crackers and celery may not give you something to look forward to in the mid-afternoon the way a Snickers bar would, it's been proven that these healthier snacking options are the way to go to provide even energy levels throughout the day. Replace the candy bars and sweets with something that provides protein and fibers. Nuts and yogurt are popular options.

Reduce stress and anxiety. Ask people who struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, and you'll find many of them attribute their troubles to an inability to 'shut off' their brains. Between 50 and 80 percent of fatigue cases are attributed to psychological stressors.

In other words, many people can't let the day come to an end. They're replaying that morning meeting over and over again, or trying to think through tomorrow's carpool schedule, or figuring out how to maximize the time they'll have to themselves this coming weekend.

No one is going to be able to eliminate all the stressful, draining activities from your life. Instead, the focus becomes finding the right ways-and the right times-to deal with these factors. These options range from psychological counseling to help you work through any problems with family, friends, or coworkers to simply setting aside 30 minutes or a full hour each day for yourself to enjoy a favorite book or activity.

Exercise! Lastly, we come to the suggestion that seems to give people with fatigue the most issues. How, you may ask, am I going to feel more energized by fighting traffic at my lunch hour or after work to get across town to the gym, only to wait to use a treadmill or weight machine until I'm sweating and exhausted?

The answer is that it doesn't have to be that complicated, nor does it have to follow that formula. Exercise can take the form of a quick 10-minute walk-or two-with a co-worker during the day. It can also take the form of a yoga class, volunteering to walk a neighbor's dog, or even taking the stairs up to the office rather than the elevator.

Change is never easy. Incorporating these changes in activity, diet or philosophy won't necessarily be easy-there's a reason we call them routines-but with winter winding down and warm weather making a return, and New Year's resolutions likely well past, this is an ideal time of year to try out these strategies. All you have to lose is that worn-out, rundown feeling.

Rob has 15 years of experience writing and editing for health care. He previously worked for ADVANCE from 2002 to 2012.


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