Energy and Mental Health: Exploring the Vitality Link

Restoring energy by addressing stress, poor diet, and other factors that sap your strength can also help boost mood and brainpower.

If you’re wondering where your get-up-and-go went, and are looking for ways to increase your energy levels, there are a number of steps you can take to boost your mental and physical vigor, an MGH expert says. Doing so will help keep your body active, your heart vigorous, and your mental abilities in peak form.

“You can stay energetic and vital even into your older years if you follow a lifestyle that promotes optimal physiological and psychological functioning,” says David Mischoulon, MD, PhD, Director of the Depression and Clinical Research Program at MGH. “This entails avoiding the factors that have been found to increase levels of fatigue and lethargy, and adopting strategies designed to increase energy by maximizing your physical and mental health.”

First, What NOT to Do

Guzzling a few energy drinks should not be one of those strategies, Dr. Mischoulon warns. New research suggests that the popular beverages may be harmful, especially to people with high blood pressure or other cardiovascular conditions common in older adults.

In a small study published online April 26, 2017 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers compared participants who consumed 32 ounces of energy drinks, which typically contain numerous proprietary ingredients plus caffeine, with participants who consumed a similar amount of a beverage with caffeine only. Electrocardiograms revealed that energy drinks elevated systolic blood pressure by 5 points compared to just 1 point for caffeine and caused blood pressure to remain elevated for as long as six hours. Energy drinks also increased the risk for abnormal heartbeat.

“In most cases, flagging energy is caused by lifestyle factors, such as poor diet and physical inactivity, that can be addressed very successfully without resorting to energy drinks or other potentially harmful remedies,” Dr. Mischoulon says. “In some cases, however, depleted energy and fatigue may be a sign of a psychological or medical condition that requires treatment. If you experience fatigue that does not respond to commonsense lifestyle changes, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to ensure that your lack of vitality is not the result of a disorder that can be resolved or managed, such as a vitamin deficiency, anemia, depression, hypothyroidism, or diabetes.”

Avoid These Energy Depleters That Can Sap Your Vitality

The following lifestyle changes can help you address common factors that are known to deplete energy:

  • Too much stress: Your body tries to adapt to stress by activating neural, neuroendocrine and immune mechanisms that, over time, can deplete energy reserves. Mental stress caused by feelings like depression, anxiety, fear, or anger can also sap your energy. Remedy: Lower stress by talking over your problems with loved ones or engaging in relaxing activities, such as hobbies or listening to music. Get regular exercise and practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga. A study conducted at MGH’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine suggests that regular practice of relaxation techniques triggers positive changes in genes responsible for energy metabolism.
  • An unhealthy diet: Food is fuel, and poor eating habits, an unhealthy diet, or nutritional deficiencies can make you feel like you’re running on empty. Remedy: Eat a balanced, low-calorie diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy products, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats such as olive and canola oils. Eat plenty of fiber and complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, to help keep blood sugar levels steady. Don’t skip meals, and avoid simple sugars that can lead to sugar highs followed by energy-draining sugar lows. Ask your doctor to check for deficiencies that can be addressed with vitamin or mineral supplements. Drink about eight glasses of water a day for proper hydration.
  • Insufficient sleep:Interrupted or disturbed sleep at night can result in feelings of fatigue and depleted energy. Remedy: Try to get at least seven hours of sleep. Improve your sleep hygiene by establishing regular sleep and wake times; ensuring that your bedroom is dark, cool, and comfortable; using your bed only for sleep or sex; refraining from exercise, alcohol consumption, or caffeine within four hours of bedtime; and avoiding computers and other “screens” in the hour or so before bedtime. For many people, poor sleep may be related to a sedentary lifestyle that can be addressed by increasing physical activity. If your sleep doesn’t improve, see your doctor: Some sleep problems may be related to depression, allergies, or sleep disorders like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome that require treatment.
  • Physical inactivity: Lack of exercise and its effects on physical and mental health can result in fatigue and low energy. Remedy: It may seem counterintuitive, but research suggests that regular moderate physical activity increases vitality and helps lift energy-draining depression. Aim for low- to moderate-intensity workouts, such as brisk walking, at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week. Avoid prolonged sitting or excessive exercise, both of which can deplete energy levels.
  • Negative thinking: Focusing on the downside of life can drain you of energy. Remedy: Question negative thinking by looking for other, more positive interpretations of events. Make a daily list of things you are grateful for. Cultivate upbeat friends, and engage in activities that make you feel optimistic, such as volunteering.
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