Summary: Energy is the currency of life. When you have enough, life is more enjoyable. When you don’t have enough, life is more challenging. When you have a health issue that causes fatigue, energy is a limited resource you need to use well. Physiologists recently discovered your body has a fixed energy budget. Like keeping your family budget in check, your energy is more sustainable when you are aware of what makes it and takes it. This article is about how to optimize your energy with exercise by knowing the five foundational factors that take and make your energy; stress, stamina, sustenance, sleep, and spirit.
Stress: How to have renewable energy from exercising for, peace, and strength in times of stress
Are you enjoying connecting with friends and family again? Even if your introvert-self loved the lockdown, connection is how we are hardwired to not only survive, but thrive. Yet connections can also drain our strength, energy, and peace when we are on overload with life activities. Emerging stronger means knowing how to renew our resources when we start getting drained by life.
We become physically drained from the mental and emotional demands of life because our bodies hold tension while our brains are working. Like a rubber band, the more we are stretched, the more ‘tension energy’ is stored in our bodies.
Only exercise, when it is movement for self-care, can release this tension and renew your whole person. Many other forms of de-stressing don’t release that held tension in the body. Many other forms of movement keep your brain in future thinking mode, so they build rather than release tension.
When exercise is self-care, you go below the surface purposes of exercise like burning calories, toning, or improving performance. Just as a water well is deep, being well requires we go deeper than the ‘Instagram’ benefits of exercise.
My family and I went through a stressful time of grief recently. Exercise has been my way to renew the strength, energy, and peace I need inside so I can share it with those I want to support. Here’s how moving to renew works:
- Strength: Strength exercises, done in the way your body is designed to move, make you feel stronger. This reconnection with your physical strength instantly renews your whole-person strength so you are ready to meet life’s challenges with more confidence.
- Energy: Past/future thinking drains energy because it creates tension your body cannot do anything about in the present moment. When the repetitive nature of cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, swimming, or biking, brings your brain back to the present moment, this type of exercise renews your energy.
- Peace: Although the name does not reflect it, stretching causes muscles to contract, releasing stored tension energy. When you know how to stretch well, it feels good instantly and it can be done anywhere, so it becomes a go-to resource for renewing peace in yourself and those around you.
There are many strategies for reducing mental stress, but every thought is embodied. If you are to renew your strength, energy, and peace, your body needs to feel these qualities in order for your brain to use them. With ‘exercise as self-care’, you have a go-to way to renew your strength, energy, and peace so you can stay well in yourself while you stay connected with others.
Stamina: How to have lasting energy by doing cardiovascular exercise well
I entered high school in the 80s and was starting my career when they ended. It was the time of big hair and skinny bodies. I didn’t have big hair and I didn’t think I had a skinny body, but I was influenced by the pop culture of that decade. As you can imagine, this created a great deal of inner struggle as I tried to fit in as a teenager. I endured many smelly perms, and did a lot of aerobics. A lot!
All the sweat and leg lifts never seemed to get rid of the cellulite on my legs the way it did for the women in Shape magazine, though. When I read that Madonna did five hours of aerobics a day, I knew I had to up my game. So I did more aerobics and leg lifts and every kind of crunch you could think of (shudder!).
As I look back on that girl trying so hard to ‘get in shape’, I realize what I really wanted was to be well—to be centered, confident, and calm, no matter what my hair or thighs looked like.
This is true for all of us. At the heart of anything we do for self-improvement is the innate drive to be well.
Looking back, I can see how exercise offered me ways to be well, by balancing my brain chemistry and creating lifelong friendships. I just couldn’t see that that was enough. Instead, the marketing hype led me to exercise in a way that caused muscle soreness, stress, and self-doubt.
We have much more information at our fingertips now than we did in the days when I had to wait for my issue of Shape to come in the mail. But more information does not mean better information. Now we have a million times more misinformation to weed through in order to use exercise to be well now.
Below is a short video about cardiovascular exercise so you can avoid the soreness and stress commonly associated with cardio and simply use it to be well now.
Sustenance: The time-efficient way to have more energy by knowing how to rest well
Sustenance is food and drink regarded as a source of strength and nourishment. When we think of sustenance we think of nutrients from the calories we eat and drink. Eating and drinking for nourishment is essential. Only when you have an understanding of how your body uses energy will superfoods have their super power.
Scientists are finding that every living thing has a fixed energy budget. Energy is allocated just like you would allocate a fixed financial budget. Use too much in one area and you have to pull from another.
Just like a financial budget, our energy budget can get thrown off quite a bit during the holiday season. Our minds are busy with longer ‘to do’ lists and our hearts are full with a greater emotional load.
All this extra thinking and feeling takes energy from your body. Every thought and emotion is quickly sent to your body to prepare it to take action. When you mentally move from one task to the next, that tension accumulates in your body.
The result is spending way too much energy on ‘fight, flight, or freeze’, leaving less energy for rest, renewal, and repair.
It’s no wonder most New Year’s resolutions fade within a few weeks. We start off stripped thin of our available energy for changing our health habits.
One time-efficient way to do sustain your energy during stress is to repurpose the downtime moments in your day. You have them, even when you are busy—when lying in bed, waiting in line or on hold, putting gas in your car, brushing your teeth.
They don’t feel like downtime moments because your brain sees them as a chance to do what it is designed to do—problem solve! Before you know it, you are caught up in problems and worries and regrets and your energy is being drained when it could be restored.
Repurpose those downtime moments by turning the brain-body cycle in the opposite direction—into a body-brain cycle. One of the simplest ways to do this is to notice your breath. This is different than taking a deep breath, which causes more tension by interrupting its natural flow.
By simply joining your attention with the feeling of your breath, you remind yourself to trust the undercurrent of automatic self-care that is always there, no matter where your thoughts take you. This simple shift to noticing your breath allows you to see that the thought cycle is not a problem, the tension is not a problem, the emotions are not a problem, YOU are not a problem to be solved.
The video below gives you simple instructions for positioning your body so your breath flows with more ease and your whole person has a greater ability to rest well. It can help you unlearn the ways we tend to overthink the simple act of breathing when sitting or standing.
Notice your breath during downtime moments and watch what happens to your energy level. This simple shift from stressed to well puts your physiology in a state where it can use what you take in to sustain your energy. For renewable energy rethink sustenance to include what state your body is in before you take in nourishment. Take a moment to shift your physiology and visualize how your whole person can be nourished well.
Sleep: How to optimize sleep for deep daily energy renewal
Although the why and how is not completely clear to scientists yet, sleep certainly activates well-being.
What do you notice when you get enough sleep? When you are sleep-deprived?
When not sleeping well, I notice more cravings for simple sugars, my short-term memory and focus are reduced, I am more likely to stress about something small, and exercise does not feel as enjoyable or satisfying.
Motivation to move tanks when sleep quality is low, not only because of the physical fatigue but also because sleep deprivation puts the mind and body in a stress response. And we know what that means – smart brain goes offline and healing is on hold. Working on sleep issues is the first goal before setting any other healthy lifestyle goals. Setting big goals while sleep-deprived is like trying to climb Mt Everest without any provisions.
Without the recharge time during sleep, the brain looks elsewhere for energy and comfort. Cravings for quick-energy foods increase. Since the smart brain is taken over by the emergency part of the brain, intentions to eat healthy and stick to an exercise plan are not the priority. Finding energy and comfort in a quick and easy way becomes the brain’s focus.
The great news is that there are many natural strategies that are shown to help. Movement is among the most effective. Because stress prepares the body for movement, exercise is the perfect antidote. Movement that relaxes the body before sleep, like gentle stretches, sends signals to the brain that it is okay to relax.
Below are more science-based sleep resources. Not every strategy is right for everyone, but each are worth a try to find what works for you if lack of sleep is keeping your well-being on hold.
- Check out this article on sleep on The Connection blog, which also contains links to other blogs on the science and importance of sleep and how to get a good night’s sleep.
- “Sleep your way to the top,” says Arianna Huffington says in her TED talk . Yes, she means actually sleep!
- Here is a list of sleep hygiene recommendations.
Spirit: The one word that will keep you motivated to exercise
Your spirit is the part of you that knows what is most important to you at any given moment. The ‘shoulds’ created by our typical ways to exercise can separate us from this essential part of our whole person. What you know in your spirit is the catalyst for energy. The way you find the energy to do things you enjoy or be with people you love is evidence of this. Let’s tap into this natural source of energy and reconnect it with exercising. This is how exercise will most naturally be motivated and energy-giving.
“Discovering the WHY injects passion into our work. This is not a formula for success… it’s a tool to help us achieve long-term, fulfilling success.” Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek popularized finding Your Why for work. His 2009 TED talk is one of the 25 most popular TED talks of all time. Why is finding Your Why so appealing? In his TED talk, he spelled out with a mesmerizing conviction that the companies who clearly convey their Why enjoy success, and the ones who don’t never find satisfying success.
Just do it. Right?
The Nike phrase “Just Do It” leads us to believe we don’t need the why. You know what to do so just get out there and do it. It works for athletes because they already have a clear why—to win. Without the power of your why for exercising, though, those three words just won’t keep you motivated.
But the Why for exercise is pretty clear, isn’t it? It’s to lose weight, be healthy, age well, look better, live longer—the list goes on and on. These Whys don’t work because they are not the kind of Whys Simon Sinek is talking about.
Getting to the level of Why that will keep you going when the going gets tough takes a bit of digging.
Cardio, weight lifting, stretching are should’s
To help you get clearer about your Why for exercising, I intentionally use the words
- strength, instead of weight lifting
- stamina, instead of cardio and
- mobility, instead of stretching and balance exercises
Strength, stamina, and mobility are the Why; weight lifting, cardio, and stretching are the what. This gets you a bit closer, but you need to go still deeper, below the surface, to a one-word summation of your Why to exercise.
Your One Word
Your Why is not just a word, it’s your word; it’s the personal meaning behind the word that only you know and feel. When you hear it, it sends you right to the heart of what is most important to you in life right now. This is what will keep you motivated even when your to-do list is long and your mental energy is short. This one word helps you restore your well-being, no matter what kind of exercise you do or for how long you do it.
Here are some examples of one-word Whys my clients have uncovered in our coaching sessions:
More motivation for your exercise goals
This word is what gives life to your life. It’s a declaration that you will not settle for just going through life without really living.
It’s a way of saying, “I’m not willing to put my life on hold until I reach my goal, I want to be well now!”
Your one word transforms any amount of exercise you do into a way to get back to feeling like yourself when life gets a bit crazy.
The simple way to make exercise motivating
Why one word? Because life’s complicated and the media makes exercise complicated too, by flooding us with those surface Whys and giving us long lists of what we ‘should’ do.
To be well in today’s world, you need something simple you can use to get out of the ‘should’s’ and stay clear about what will restore your well-being right now. This is essential because weight loss, slower aging, and health only happen when exercise restores you to a state of being well.
why knowing what to do is not motivating enough
- Knowing what to do for exercise keeps you in the ‘should’s’.
- There are many surface Whys for exercise, but they will not keep you motivated.
- Your Core Why makes exercise a way to be well now.
- The state of well is when health happens.
Find Your Why for Exercising
Ask yourself what is most important to you about exercising? Keep asking that same question until you get to that one word that goes beyond words for you.