Why exercise if I already feel tired?
Tiredness can be caused by a number of things – diet, illness, stress, lack of sleep, fibromyalgia, low iron, the menopause – but one cause of tiredness that people often overlook is a lack of activity.
It may seem strange but tiredness and fatigue can often be beaten not by resting, but by exercising. Fatigue can be the result of a vicious cycle, as you can often feel too tired in the morning or after work to get up and exercise, but this lack of activity only makes you more sluggish, and as a result even less inclined to exercise. Getting into the habit of exercising regularly can be difficult, but the more you exercise, the more energetic you will feel.
The science behind energy and exercise
Exercise actually causes changes in your body at a cellular level.
As many of us will remember from secondary-school Biology, the mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. This is where chemical processes take place that create energy from food – or the molecules that were once food. The more you exercise, the more mitochondria your body creates, allowing you to increase the rate at which you burn food and obtain energy. This is great for feeding your muscles as you exercise, but it also means that you can metabolise energy more efficiently even when you aren’t exercising.
Exercise also stimulates the release of hormones called endorphins. These hormones have a number of physiological functions, but they also make us feel happy – in fact, they have a similar effect to morphine. This feeling of positivity is helpful for when your tiredness and lethargy is caused by or exacerbated by low mood. That good feeling also gives you motivation to exercise again to get the same rush of endorphins.
I understand that finding time to fit in exercise can be difficult in today’s world. We are often so busy commuting, working, looking after the family and socialising to find time to go to the gym or go out for a run. Therefore, on this page I give advice on some simple exercises you can do at home that fit easily into a busy schedule, as well as some extra exercises if you have a bit more time to spare.
So what kind of exercise should I do?
Most research indicates that regular low intensity exercise can be highly beneficial for fatigue. Exercise should be active enough to wake your body and mind up and encourage the production of energy, but not so active as to drain your energy supplies. In other words, don’t make your first bit of exercise in 6 months a 10 mile run up a hill. In fact, one study found that regular low intensity exercise decreased fatigue by 65%, whereas moderate intensity exercise only reduced it by 49%. So it pays to take things easy!
Some low intensity exercises I recommend for fatigue are:
Yoga. Some people assume that yoga is just about relaxation, but it can also provide a refreshing work out. The great thing about yoga is that it can accommodate all fitness levels and experience – one pose can be easy in its most basic form but can be built upon to make it more challenging and tiring. You can easily do this in your living room, and don’t need any fancy equipment. Have a look on YouTube for some free tutorials like this one for morning yoga.
Squats. A really easy way to work squats into your daily routine is to do them while brushing your teeth. Just two minutes can wake your body up in the morning or in the evening after sitting down all day, but can also wake up the mind because the opposing motions of squatting and brushing can be challenging for many (think rubbing your belly while patting your head).
Walking. This is easy to fit into your day too and you can adjust it to your fitness levels. Even a 10 minute walk will help boost your energy levels, but 20 minutes is ideal. Some people find that parking further away from work is an easy way to fit a 10 minute walk in twice a day. Alternatively, get off the bus a stop earlier.
Mini bootcamp. You can complete a mini bootcamp from home by combining a number of exercises that suit you. You could try by starting with 20 star jumps, 10 sit ups and 10 press ups and build it from there. If press ups are too difficult, try lowering your knees so you’re on all fours, then cross your ankles and lift your feet off the ground. This puts a bit more weight on your knees instead of your arms.
Step-ups. Use the bottom step of your staircase to do step-ups – simply step on and off the step, alternating the leading leg every 10 steps. To make this a little more challenging try holding a tin of beans or bottle of water in each hand and, keeping your elbows tucked in at your sides, pulling your hands up towards your shoulders as you step up, and lowering them as you step down
If you struggle to find time to exercise because of demanding young children or toddlers, get them involved! Go outside for a game of tag, or, if you have a games console, there are loads of active games you could play, like WiiFit or Just Dance.
When you feel your fitness building you can start increasing the intensity of your exercise, but these can often be more time consuming, because moderate exercise requires the heart rate to increase for longer. Most of the low intensity exercises can be modified to increase their intensity by doing them faster or for longer. Here are some more tips for exercises to move onto once your fatigue dissipates enough:
Yoga (again!). It’s really easy to increase the intensity of your yoga practise, and most yoga teachers will offer different degrees of intensity for the same pose. Try Ashtanga yoga, which is a more modern, energetic version of the traditional practise. This ‘Yoga for Weight Loss’ series provides more challenging yoga work outs.
Cycle to and from work. Depending on how far you live from your workplace, cycling there and back can provide a refreshing start and end to the working day, leaving you energised and ready to socialise (or do the chores) by the time you get home.
Start jogging. Going for a run can be daunting for someone who hasn’t been running in a long time, but the NHS have a great app called Couch to 5K, designed to help you run a 5K in just 9 weeks. It provides a very gentle introduction to running with Week 1 alternating between 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking. Each one takes half an hour – a 5 minute warm up, 20 minute jog/walk and then a 5 minute cool down.
Take a class. Set aside some time in your week for a class or club. You could try a sport like football, squash, tennis or netball, or a fitness class like Zumba. You may be more motivated to go if there is a social aspect involved. If you’re more of a gym person, try to set aside an hour or two a week to go, maybe on the way home from work.
What else can I do for fatigue?
If you’re beginning to increase your activity, you need to ensure that your diet is providing you with sufficient nutrients and energy, to prevent your fatigue from worsening.
Try A. Vogel’s Balance Mineral Drink. This supplement helps fight fatigue by balancing the pH in your body. If pH drops too low and becomes more acidic, the enzymes and hormones that keep your body functioning will struggle to work. This means that you won’t be getting the maximum nutrients and energy out of your food, and you may also end up constipated or bloated. Plus it contains magnesium which is an essential mineral for fighting fatigue.
Make sure you get plenty of good quality sleep. This may involve going to bed earlier, making your bedroom darker, and restricting your use of technology in the evening. Read our Dangers of Insomnia blog for more information on getting better sleep.
Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is a common cause of tiredness, because we need water to properly metabolise energy from food, but also to transport nutrients and oxygen around the body.