Q: I know I should be more physically active, but I just don’t have the energy. What can I do??
A: It’s ironic: once you get more physically active, increased fitness and improved sleep will leave you feeling more energetic. It’s getting started that’s the challenge. Have you tried to exercise too hard or too long, too quickly? Most experts encourage people to start slowly. If you are currently sedentary, you might want to start with 10 or 15 minutes at a time. Move at a speed and intensity that leave you energized, not exhausted, when you’re done. Then gradually increase your time or speed a little each week. In a study of over 400 overweight, sedentary older women, even 25 minutes of moderately paced walking three days a week was enough to significantly boost feelings of energy; energy increased even more in those who walked for an hour three times a week. If you find that a short walk does increase your energy, remind yourself of that each time you find yourself resisting an exercise appointment. Aim to walk just for 10 minutes; if you stop after that, you’ve still gotten some benefit, and it may be that once you’ve walked 10 minutes, you’ll be energized enough to walk another 10.
Make sure your lack of energy doesn’t reflect eating too few calories – either in total for the day or in the hours before your activity. Increasing activity doesn’t mean you can eat unlimited calories, but don’t let weight loss goals push you to cut calories so much that you have no energy. If your meals or snacks consist mostly of sweets or refined grains that give you a short-lived rise in blood sugar followed by a crash, that could also explain your lack of energy. See if you feel like walking more after a balanced meal that includes a vegetable and/or fruit, whole grains, and beans, poultry or other lean protein. Finally, if you’re chronically low on energy, talk with your doctor since this can be a sign of anemia, a thyroid disorder, medication side effect or another health problem that can be treated.