Six ways to boost energy, beat fatigue and feel younger.
Feeling worn down? Constantly exhausted? You aren't alone. In fact, according to health experts, a ‘lack of energy' is one of the top five complaints doctors face. And it is a complaint that Western medicine all too often fails to treat.
“I discovered that I couldn't help about 70 per cent of my patients,” says Dr. Woodson Merrell, author of The Source: Beat Fatigue, Power Up Your Health, and Feel 10 Years Younger . “They weren't sick, but they weren't well either.”
Speaking at CARP's A New Vision of Aging Conference in Toronto, Dr. Merrell said there were six steps that can break the fatigue cycle and lead to better heath and improved longevity. These steps draw on both Western medical knowledge and Eastern healing practices.
East meets West
A prominent integrative medicine specialist, Dr. Merrell is the rare practitioner who gives medical advice that is a combination of traditional and alternative.
The chairman of integrative medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and a professor at Columbia University, Merrill received conventional medical training – but because he believes that Western medicine doesn't necessarily have all the answers, he is also licensed in acupuncture and trained in nutrition, botanical medicine and homeopathy.
Merrill takes a holistic approach to healing with an emphasis on prevention. In many cases, he says, intervention on a timely basis would mean, for one, that we wouldn't need so many pharmaceuticals. Integrative medicine, he says, looks for the safest and most gentle remedy.
Holistic medicine can be traced back to Indigenous cultures dating back thousands of years. It also embraces more recent therapies including vitamin supplements and acupuncture.
Where's the science?
While integrative medicine has largely been a consumer-driven movement, in the last 10-15 years, there has been good science to support many of the treatments, Merrell says.
In an effort to bring alternative practices into the mainstream medical system, Merrell teaches the science behind these therapies. He says he carefully scrutinizes any studies on the performance of natural remedies: "You have to look at the quality of the studies. We look for the gold standard, the same that is used for traditional medical studies.”
As a result of research supporting alternative remedies, about one third of US medical schools have joined the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrated Medicine, including such prominent institutions such as Yale, Harvard and John Hopkins. (Canadian universities who have joined the initiative include McMaster and Laval.)
“This is huge,” Merrell says, adding that it marks a turning point. “Academic medicine has come to see the value in integrated medicine.”
6 steps to energy creation
So how can Merrell's approach help you to beat fatigue?
“There are simple things you can do to increase your energy,” he says. “Much of it isn't rocket science, and in fact, may remind you of the advice your grandmother gave you. It's easy to say and understand… but not always easy to incorporate into your life.”
Yet, he says that thousands of his patients who have used this program have experienced incredible changes in mind, body and spirit. Here's an overview:
Manage stress . Stress can be good because it allows us to respond the emergencies, but prolonged stress can be very damaging to our health and energy level. One way to reduce stress is through meditation, but if it's not your thing, then it could be as simple as breathing – very slowly. Deep breathing calms the nervous system and normalizes the heart rate.
Merrell recommends taking ‘breath breaks' throughout the day, every hour if possible. Using your abdominal muscles (as opposed to chest muscles), take a deep breath in to the count of four, pause for a count, and then exhale slowly to the count of six. Repeat this four times.
“You can even do this in a meeting when someone is yelling at you,” Merrell says.
Load up on power foods . To combat fatigue, Merrell recommends eating mainly a fish and plant-based diet, including such power foods as salmon, trout, almonds, walnuts, legumes, cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, tea, citrus, garlic, rosemary and olive oil.
Trouble foods include red meat, trans fats, refined carbohydrates, wheat, cow's milk, coffee and alcohol.
Detoxify. In his book, Merrell writes that at last count, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found 148 man-made chemicals in the average American blood sample, including alarmingly high rates of mercury. Simple things you can do to help detoxify your life include avoiding toxic substances as much as possible, including the cleaning products you use in your home, filtering your drinking water and going organic.
Get your exercise. For aerobic exercise, Merrell recommends a minimum of 30 minutes/3 days a week. Even moderate exercise boosts the immune system and leads to better heart and brain health. “When it comes to energizing yourself, exercise is like plugging yourself into a power grid,” he says.
Get enough sleep . If you're like most of us, the advice when it comes to sleep is simple: Get more! “Before the light bulb was discovered, we got on average 10.2 hours of sleep per night; now we get 6.9,” Merrell says.
So how much sleep do we need? Most of us need 8 hours per night. “During the 8 th or 9th hour of sleep, most of the healing happens,” Merrell says. “And in case you're wondering, the power nap does count – 15 to 20 minutes in the afternoon can make a huge difference to your energy level.”
Ever wake up suddenly at 4:00am and can't get back to sleep? Try a technique called dream remembrance: “Lock onto the dream you were experiencing,” Merrell says, “and 50 per cent of the time this will take you back to sleep.”
Stay connected . Coming out of ourselves to give to others makes us both happier and healthier. People who are religious or spiritual have a lower rate of heart disease and they experience greater longevity.
And don't underestimate the power of laughter. A Japanese study found that nursing mothers who laughed while watching the Charlie Chaplin movie, Modern Times , had higher levels of the beneficial hormone melatonin in their breast milk, which reduced their babies' previously diagnosed allergic skin reactions to latex and dust.
“This small study offers a wonderful window into the mysteries of human nature,” Merrell says. “It's clear to me that laughter is a built-in healing mechanism.”
Lots of reasonable, common sense stuff here. Other advice would be great though--herbal remedies, certain exercises, etc. that you may have found effective yourself. I'm tired no matter how much sleep I get lately.