Energy Thieves

Dr. Celia Garner, with Avenues Internal Medicine, identifies some common energy thieves.

#1 – Staying sedentary!

Regular, moderate exercise (e.g. a 30 minute daily walk) is proven in medical studies to help increase energy.

It has been widely studied that we become more depressed, anxious, and stressed out if we do not exercise. The physiologic reason behind this is not completely understood.

There is also some evidence that moderate levels of exercise may improve our immune system. The function of our lymphocytes and macrophages (2 types of blood cells active in fighting infection) improves and may lead to fewer infections.

#2 – Poor or too little sleep…

It’s not just about how many hours you sleep but also the quality of your sleep.
There are a few ways to tell if your sleep quality is less than ideal. Often people will say that even when they have slept many hours, they do not feel rested when they wake up. The other signs are waking up frequently during your sleep hours, tossing and turning a lot in your sleep, and frequent snoring.

#3 – Lack of interpersonal relationships

Nurturing your interpersonal relationships with friends and your partner can be a great energizer – your loved ones can give you strength.
Having a support network decreases stress. People often don’t realize how much stress it puts on them to be without someone they can turn to for help if times get tough.

We often forget that our friends and family need signs of our love and attention, and this usually involves some time commitment. I encourage people to set some time aside – even if it is just 10 minutes – a day to do something for somebody in their life. This could be as simple as telling that person how much you appreciate their friendship and love to something as extensive as planning a surprise birthday party. Otherwise, life gets so busy that it is easy to let these things slip through the cracks.

#4 – Stress/Coping Skills

Stress is often unavoidable so it’s important to examine your coping skills – do they add to or decrease your stress level?

People have developed many different mechanisms for coping with stress. The first step is to ask yourself what is the first thing you do when you feel stressed out. Do you eat a bowl of ice cream? Do you go exercise? Do you have a glass of wine? Do you meditate? Some of these reactions are helpful – they bring your stress level down and help to keep it down in the long run. Eating is a common response to stress but can lead to unhealthy eating habits and alcohol may relax you initially but will cause a rebound anxiety that may be worse than the stress that initially led you to drink the glass of wine. Another common response is avoidance. This can be one of the more detrimental responses as the source of the stress will compound if it is not dealt with. Once you have identified what you do, evaluate if it is a helpful or ultimately harmful even if it feels like it may initially help. Identify a coping mechanism that you think would work for you the next time you are under stress. And remember, if it doesn’t work, you either should try it again or pick another tactic and give it a try. It is a process of trial and error to understand what works best for you.

#5 – Low Iron Level/Poor Nutrition

Make sure you are eating a balanced diet.
Small studies have also shown that if your iron level is low even if you do not have a low
blood level because of it, your energy level will be less.

To improve your iron level, you should eat more iron – containing foods including dark, leafy vegetables (spinach, collard greens); mollusks (oysters, clams, scallops); beans (lentils, chickpeas, soybeans); and red meat.

Poor nutrition decreases energy when you are not eating a well balanced diet. A balanced diet includes fiber, carbohydrates, proteins, and essential vitamins and minerals. It should be low in fat and sugars. Although a high fat diet has not been studied in terms of its affects on energy level, weight gain will decrease your energy level as your body starts to carry an increased load in every activity you do. Sugar is similar to caffeine in that it will give you an initial boost of energy and then after it wears off, you will crash and potentially go back to an even lower level of energy than you started with

#6 – Medications

Virtually, any medication can cause fatigue.
Common medications include antihistamines, blood pressure medications, other heart medications, cough and cold remedies, prescription pain medications, and some antidepressants. As our society ages, we see more and more patients on multiple medications (often times greater than 5), a consultation and periodic review to evaluate the necessity of all medications is imperative.

If all the above is not helping, see your doctor!
Almost any illness can cause fatigue, so if none of the above seems to help, you should get checked out.

Dr. Celia Garner specializes in internal medicine. She can be reached at Avenues Internal Medicine in Salt Lake City. 324 10th Avenue, Suite 285


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