Eighty-two-year-old Joseph Sanders, who walks three miles a day — most of it uphill — is an energy addict.
Mr. Sanders uses and teaches his clients a resiliency training program aimed at increasing energy levels. The program, offered through Health Enhancement Programs in Alexandria, includes stretching, aerobic and relaxation exercises, a meal plan with limited protein and fat intake, and daily drills, such as smiling in the morning and not wearing a watch, “to get out of the rat-race behavior,” says Mr. Sanders, director of a research and development company that offers wellness programs to individuals and organizations in the metro area.
“A person does that, and they will maintain their energy level,” says Mr. Sanders, who holds a doctorate in psychology.
Getting and maintaining energy is a subject author Jon Gordon discusses in “Energy Addict: 101 Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Ways to Energize Your Life.”
“People think it has to be a hard, complicated program, but it’s simple little things,” says Mr. Gordon of Ponte Verde Beach, Fla. “We have gotten so far away from the basics; that’s why people are so tired.”
Mr. Gordon coined the term “energy addict” to describe someone who is addicted to positive instead of negative energy, focused on doing things that provide and do not drain energy.
Stress and fear, for example, can be energy sappers, along with anger, lack of sleep and poor eating habits that include too many processed and not enough whole foods, Mr. Gordon says. Energy boosters, on the other hand, range from taking short breaks to eating breakfast, eating heavy meals early and light meals late in the day, and exercising in the morning, he says.
“I don’t try to focus on weight loss. I try to focus on lifestyle and energy,” Mr. Gordon says, adding that building emotional and mental muscles is just as important as physical exercise. “We have to work our minds and emotions just as much as our bodies,” he says.
The amount of energy expended needs to be balanced by enough rest, says Rick Fowler, co-author of “Too Busy to Live: The Addiction America Applauds” and executive director of the Prestonwood Counseling Center in Dallas.
“The key is a balanced life. If life is out of balance, we have physical, psychological and spiritual problems,” says Mr. Fowler, who holds a doctorate in social psychology. “If we put too much energy into one aspect, it causes the others to be ignored.”
Energy, in part, comes from serotonin in the brain that when depleted causes a person to feel lethargic and depressed, Mr. Fowler says. Serotonin can be replenished through regular exercise and getting eight hours of sleep a night, he says.
Exercise also releases hormones, such as endorphins, and helps a person feel more energized, says Dr. Patricia Davidson, cardiologist at Washington Hospital Center in Northwest.
“It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or fancy,” Dr. Davidson says, adding that simply walking can do the trick.
A feeling of tiredness may be explained by checking blood pressure and the vital signs and getting blood tests for the thyroid and anemia, she says. If results are normal and energy levels remain low, a person’s exercise should be evaluated, she says.
Exercising tones muscles, lowers heart rate and allows daily activities to be carried out with a lower expenditure of energy, says Dr. Richard Colgan, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and director of undergraduate education in the Department of Family Medicine.
Energy, however, is a vague, broad term that typically is not used in Western medicine, Dr. Colgan says. He instead uses the biopsychosocial spiritual model to explain well-being, which is achieved with a balance among the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of the self.
“If someone were deficient in one area, they may perceive that they are low in energy, run-down, weak or tired,” Dr. Colgan says. “I don’t think people see themselves as high or low in energy, but rested, fed and medically well.”
A varied diet with five daily servings of fruits and vegetables helps keep the body leaner and carry less fat, allowing, as does exercise, the body to use less energy on tasks, Dr. Colgan says.
In nutritional terms, energy means calories, says Susan Burke, registered dietitian and chief nutritionist for EDiets.com, an online health and weight-management program based in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
A good source for calories is carbohydrates, Ms. Burke says. Unrefined whole or complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans, are preferable, she says. They take longer to digest and absorb than simple refined carbohydrates and sugar, which provoke an insulin response and lower blood sugar, causing a person to feel hungry soon after eating, she says.
Ms. Burke recommends a diet that includes carbohydrates, protein, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and low fat intake, along with smaller, frequent meals to help maintain a stable blood glucose. Protein, which is found in grains, nuts and soy, in addition to meat — preferably lean — helps with growth, cell integrity and energy, she says.
“Just being overweight can really make you tired. You’re carrying around more weight. You’re carrying around a load, and it takes energy,” Ms. Burke says. “If you’re eating an unbalanced diet and you’re not getting good nutrition, that could definitely affect your energy level.”
Other things that affect energy level are not getting enough water, sleep and exercise, Ms. Burke says. She recommends exercising 30 minutes a day to maintain and 90 minutes daily to lose weight. Exercise helps improve sleep, provides energy instead of tiring a person, and decreases the risk for osteoporosis, she says. At the same time, a healthy body weight, combined with a balanced diet, provides energy and decreases the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and hypertension, she says.
“Everybody is genetically unique. Everyone has different needs nutritionally and activitywise,” says James Mahoney, doctor of osteopathy and founder and president of the Center for Hope and Healing in Southlake, Texas. The center provides clinical information for the Better Body, Brighter Mind system, a customized online nutrition and fitness plan.
A good indicator of health, Mr. Mahoney says, is having a high level of energy, feeling good in the morning and energetic through the day.
“Anytime there’s a drop-off, it indicates something needs to be changed,” he says. “Energy is one of those key signals the body sends out.”