Have Low Energy? Try These Research-Backed, Energy-Boosting Tips
Low energy is a problem that affects most of us at least occasionally. Between work, family responsibilities, and everyday chores, you might be like many Americans and run low on energy.
According to a survey conducted by the National Safety Council, about 50% of adults in the United States do not get enough sleep to perform their job duties safely.1
The survey also found that 97% of people report having at least one risk factor contributing to fatigue. Some of the risk factors include:
- Working early in the morning or late at night
- Working more than 50 hours a week
- Working without breaks
- A long commute to work
This means that most of us are at risk for fatigue and low energy. But what else may contribute to a lack of energy? Continue reading below to find out more and learn what you can do to increase your energy and overall quality of life.
Causes of low energy
Energy levels often vary from day to day. Sometimes you might not be able to pinpoint why your energy is waning. But there are several factors that may cause a lack of energy, including the following:
Lack of sleep: It’s probably a no-brainer, but lack of sleep can decrease your energy level. Most of us do not get enough sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of adults in the United States do not get the shuteye they need.2
Stress: Increased stress can affect all areas of your life, including your energy level. Stress may lead to poor lifestyle choices that leave you tired and fatigued.
Medical problems: Several medical problems can cause decreased energy levels for varied reasons. For instance, certain conditions affect hormone levels and may wreak havoc on energy.
In some cases, such as with chronic lung disease or heart problems, the body works harder because the organs are not functioning as well. This leads to fatigue. Other conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea, affect how well you sleep.
Mental health issues: Certain mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, may also affect someone physically. Emotional issues can cause fatigue and reduced energy.
Lifestyle factors: Various lifestyle factors may play a role in your energy level. For instance, people that travel a lot between time zones may experience jet lag, which can affect energy. Insufficient activity may also contribute to low energy. Drug and alcohol use can zap energy levels as well.
Medication: Certain medications may have side effects that affect energy levels. For example, some cough medicines and antihistamines can increase fatigue.
Symptoms of low energy
Low energy may have a combination of physical and mental symptoms. For some people, symptoms may only occur occasionally. But for others, lack of energy is frequent. Symptoms of low energy may include:
- Lack of motivation
- Poor concentration
- Muscle soreness or weakness
- Low mood
- Slowed responses
Tips to boost your energy level
We might not feel like running a marathon every day. But it’s possible to increase your energy level and combat fatigue. Below are some tips for putting a little pep in your step.
1. Manage stress
Have you ever felt overwhelmed or stressed out and just didn’t feel like moving? If so, you’re not alone. Stress can be an energy zapper.
Stress may affect your energy level for a few reasons. When we are under pressure, it may affect how well we sleep. Poor sleep can lead to a lack of energy. But chronic stress can also shift our hormones and chemicals in the brain, which may affect energy.
As an example, a 2017 study found that the level of stress a group of chiropractic students felt predicted their level of fatigue. The more stress they felt, the worse their fatigue. Increased stress was associated with mood, relationships with family, and the need for learning accommodations.3
Although it may be impossible to live a completely stress-free life, there are things you can do to effectively manage stress. Consider the following suggestions:
- Do deep breathing exercises – Take a few minutes each day and breath slowly and deeply, engaging your abdominal muscles.
- Learn meditation – Meditation is one of the top stress busters. Online and in-person classes are available to learn how to meditate. Although it may take a little practice, once you get the hang of it, it can decrease tension, lower blood pressure, and have a calming effect.
- Laugh – Laughter is great for your mind and body. When you laugh, you release certain chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. Try to find the funny side of life. Watch funny movies or enjoy a laugh with friends.
It might seem like exercise would be the last thing you want to do if you have low energy. But getting regular exercise may combat fatigue and boost energy levels.
A study conducted in 2008 involved 36 healthy adults that reported feeling chronically fatigued. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups: those that exercised at moderate intensity, those that exercised at low intensity, and those that did not exercise at all.
Study participants performed cardiovascular exercise in the exercise lab 3 times a week for 6 weeks. Fatigue and mood scores were obtained at the start and again each week for the 6 weeks. The results indicated that the groups that engaged in exercise reported less fatigue after the 6 weeks than those that did not exercise.4
The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that most adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.5 The best type of exercise may be the one that you will stick with. Options include jogging, brisk walking, aerobic classes, dance classes, and sports.
The foods you eat play a major role in either fueling your body or depleting energy. Although all food can provide the body with energy, the amounts can vary greatly depending on the food. Some foods may be energy stealers in the long run. For example, refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, sugary snacks, and chips may lead to a spike in blood sugar levels. But after the spike, levels may fall and lead to a major decrease in energy.
Not getting enough of certain nutrients can have a disastrous effect on energy levels. One nutrient, for example, that we all need in sufficient levels is iron. A lack of iron can cause a condition called iron deficiency anemia. Anemia involves a decrease in the number of red blood cells, and it can cause fatigue. It is usually caused by a lack of iron in the diet or excess bleeding. Good dietary sources of iron include seafood, nuts, and leafy green veggies.
Another common deficiency is vitamin D. Research has found that roughly 42% of Americans are deficient in this key vitamin.6 Adequate vitamin D is critical for energy, and the lack of it can easily lead to fatigue. While we can get most of our vitamin D from the sun, we can supplement it with foods like cod liver oil, fatty fish, and egg yolks.
Certain minerals are especially important for energy as well. A few of these that people are commonly deficient in are calcium, magnesium, and iodine. Again, foods such as nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, seafood, and dairy are high in these minerals.
Along with making sure you get enough of these nutrients, follow the general guidelines below to get the most energy from your diet:
- Skip drinks with added sugar. Instead, opt for water, unsweetened tea, and fat-free milk.
- Eat balanced meals with whole grains, fiber-rich veggies, and lean protein.
- Include healthy fats, such as olive oil and avocadoes.
- Limit high-glycemic foods, such as baked goods, white rice, and pasta.7
Get enough vitamin B
When it comes to energy, another nutrient that you’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough of is vitamin B. The spectrum of B vitamins are needed for proper cell metabolism and to keep the blood and nerve cells healthy. If you have sufficient vitamin B levels, taking extra is unlikely to increase energy. But if you are deficient in vitamin B, it can lead to weakness, tiredness, and decreased energy.
Several studies have found an association with deficient vitamin B levels and fatigue. One particular study involved inducing vitamin B5 deficiency in adults using a pantothenic acid kinase inhibitor. After about 6 weeks, the participants reported fatigue, including excess fatigue after their daily walk. The fatigue decreased, then disappeared 4 weeks after taking vitamin B5 supplements.8
Vitamin B deficiency or marginal depletion is common, especially in older adults. One study, for example, found that vitamin B12 was marginally depleted in 10 to 16% of adults age 20 to 59 and in 20% of adults over age 60.9 That deficiency can possibly contribute to a lack of energy.
Vitamin B is not produced by the body. You have to get it from food or take supplements. In addition, certain factors can interfere with getting adequate amounts of B vitamins. For example, people that are strict vegetarians who do not eat foods derived from animal products or fortified whole grains may be at risk. Having certain medical conditions that interfere with absorbing nutrients also increases a person’s risk.10
To ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of vitamin B, eat a diet that contains fish, poultry, or lean red meat. For those that do not eat meat, add whole grains fortified with vitamin B, as well as seeds, nuts, and leafy green veggies such as kale and spinach. If you are not able to get enough B vitamins from your diet, consider using a B-vitamin supplement.
Along with the vitamins and minerals mentioned above, there are many other supplements out there that may enhance your energy. While the verdict is still out on many of them, certain supplements appear to have some science behind their claims.
One supplement that has plenty of research behind it is melatonin, which is a natural hormone that affects sleep. People that have low melatonin levels can have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Supplementation with melatonin has been shown to reduce fatigue while improving concentration for people with chronic fatigue syndrome.11
Beetroot powder is another fatigue-fighting supplement that may allow your body to produce energy more efficiently. The powder, which is made from beetroot vegetable, contains high levels of nitrate. In the body, nitrate produces nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels, which increases oxygen delivery and blood flow to the cells and tissues. This may help make energy production more efficient and reduce fatigue.
The results of a 2010 study back up the effectiveness of beetroot powder for improving energy. Participants in this study that took the beetroot supplement exercised 25% longer until reaching fatigue than the placebo group.12
Along with beetroot powder, there are a number of other herbs that are known to increase energy. Some of these include Rhodiola rosea, ashwagandha, and ginseng.
As with any supplement, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider become taking any of these—especially if you have a chronic condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
The bottom line…
Life can get busy. With all we have to do each day, it’s not uncommon to fight fatigue and low energy. But by determining the cause and making a few changes, you can boost your energy level and overall wellness. Make sure to follow the general guidelines outlined in this article on your journey to less fatigue and more energy.
- Manage stress through things like meditation, deep breathing, and laughing
- Engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 150 minutes per week
- Avoid sugary foods, refined carbs, and high-glycemic foods
- Focus on healthy fats, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and lean protein
- Make sure your getting enough vitamin D, vitamin B, iron, calcium, magnesium, and iodine
- Consider supplements such as melatonin, beetroot powder, and Rhodiola rosea
About MaryAnn DePietro
MaryAnn DePietro has written about all things medical, as well as health, fitness, pregnancy, and parenting for various websites, magazines, and newspapers. She has a degree in Rehabilitation from Penn State University and a degree in respiratory therapy. In addition to writing, she works as a respiratory therapist at a trauma center in California.
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3. Kizhakkeveettil, A., A.M. Vosko, M. Brash, & M.A. Philips. “Perceived stress and fatigue among students in a doctor of chiropractic training program.” Journal of Chiropractic Education 31, no. 1 (2017): 8-13.
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11. van Heukelom, R.O., J.B. Prins, M.G. Smits, & G. Bleijenberg. “Influence of melatonin on fatigue severity in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and late melatonin secretion.” European Journal of Neurology (2006).
12. Bailey, S. J., J. Fulford., et al. “Dietary nitrate supplementation enhances muscle contractile efficiency during knee-extensor exercise in humans.” Journal of applied physiology 109, no. 1 (2010): 135-148.