Springing into action.

May 6th, 2011

Out of the shallow darkness of my keyed mailbox this week arrived the bright, promising message “Energize your life: a personalized plan to recharge everyday.”  It’s the headline that floats happily over a single yellow bloom on the cover of this month’s Real Simple magazine.

The issue’s “renewable energy plan” has a timeline filled with a variety of invigorating ideas for keeping a sharp, focused and creative mind. Here, from the experts, are a few of my favorites.

Even an early-morning person needs to charge up after waking. “It can take up to two hours to get the brain fully alert,” says Matthew Edlund, M.D., director of the Gulf Coast Sleep Institute, Sarasota, Fla., and author of “The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough.”

·      Start by standing in the sun and stretching. Edlund says exposure to light stimulates the brain to stop producing the melatonin hormone that induces sleepiness, and the first physical activity of the day raises the body temperature and increases blood flow to the brain.

·      A morning workout triggers feel-good endorphins and lower stress hormones, and the effects can last six to eight hours, according to Gregory Florez, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise in Salt Lake City. He says morning exercisers tend to have no mid-morning slumps and be sharper mentally than if they hadn’t exercised.

·      By doing a simple switch-up in your routine you can release a rush of neurotransmitters, like dopamine, that make you more alert. For example, if you’re right-handed, hold your toothbrush in your left hand instead.

Between 9 a.m. and noon are the magic hours of productivity and sharpness, says Lynn Hasher, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, because your body temperature and levels of the alertness-boosting hormone cortisol are on the rise.

·      According to Jim Loehr, Ed.D., cofounder of the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, working in 90-minute “sprints,” with a physical, emotional or mental break in between, “pays extraordinary dividends in terms of productivity, well-being and energy.”

·      If you work hunched over a keyboard, chances are your diaphragm is restricted and your breathing is shallow, which means your brain is getting less oxygen than you need to feel mentally alert and energetic. Margaret Chesney Ph.D., professor of medicine at U. of Calif., San Francisco, suggests you remind yourself to take a moment to relax your shoulders and breathe deeply whenever you check your watch or look at the clock.

·      To set off another blast of energizing dopamine, anticipate something pleasurable. Browse the Internet at lunchtime for weekend getaway spots, search for reviews of a movie you’d like to see, or just think about the hugs and kisses you’re going to get at home later.

“The mid-afternoon slump is actually a true physiological event,” says Edlund. It’s the time of day your core body temp plateaus and your cortisol level drops. You can lose energy, focus and motivation that make you feel only like napping. Here’s what you can do instead.

·      Get up and move. “Movement requires alertness and stimulates your whole brain,” Edlund says. And according to research from California State University at Long Beach, a 10-minute walk can increase your energy for up to two hours.

·      Have a protein snack. String cheese, yogurt, soy chips or peanuts will provide you sustained energy.

If you haven’t exercised already, an early-evening workout may help you sleep. A Northwestern University study showed that insomniacs who did about 40 minutes of moderate cardio between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. four times a week got an average of 75 more minutes of sleep a night.

As for a good night of restful sleep, allow yourself some time to relax and unwind before your head hits the pillow. Soak in a hot bath. Or, instead of watching a tense TV drama, opt for reading something calming. Lastly, experts say the ideal sleep environment is cool (65-70 degrees), dark and quiet.

It’s my hope you’ll remember always that your personal energy is abundant, renewable and, best of all, free.

On a personal closing note: Thanks again, Pinkie, for the gift subscription! If not for you, I might have missed these energizing ideas.


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