One of the most common complaints that people that seek healthcare advice and treatment for, is fatigue and lack of energy. It is a major problem in our society and has great impacts on our lives and ability to function productively at our jobs, in our homes, and how we interact socially with others. When you feel fatigued it is difficult to have a positive outlook on life and be able to contribute to others because you go into survival mode trying desperately to take care of yourself. Unfortunately, overcoming fatigue can be much more difficult than just trying to get more sleep. There are multiple body functions that must work together to help your body sustain the life energy you need to function optimally in our society
Lets first talk about what energy is and how our body uses it. The human body uses a molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) as the primary molecule responsible for cellular health and energy. We often forget how our body is just a conglomeration of cells connected together by molecular bonds. As these cells work together our body can function to do all the amazing things that keep us alive and functional. Within each cell there are organelles that do jobs to allow the cell to perform its functions and stay healthy. If our cells are healthy our body is healthy. If our cells are not healthy our body becomes diseased. Having the proper energy balances and utilization of the energy in our body keeps us healthy.
The human body creates energy through metabolic processes called glycolysis or through oxidative phosphorylation; also know as the Krebs cycle. Glycolysis is the breakdown of sugar, which gives off 2 ATP molecules. Oxidative phosphorylation produces energy by burning fat, which produces about 30 ATP molecules. In order to have sustained life energy we should be focusing on burning fat as our primary fuel.
The increased epidemic of obesity in our population is creating many health problems and challenges for our society. Most of these overweight people complain of not having enough energy to sustain their activities of daily living. This should seem a little odd to you based on what I just told you above. Fat is the number one energy source of our physiology, yet people that have all this extra fat are still complaining of fatigue. The problem lies in getting the body to use the energy properly. It is very easy to burn sugar like when you burn paper; it burns quickly but gives off very little heat. It is harder to get wood to catch on fire, but once it does it burns longer and gives off more heat. This is the same principle of burning fat vs. sugar in your body. If we eat a diet that that is full of sugar and refined carbohydrates we will burn those carbohydrates off quickly just like the paper. This leaves us hungry and wanting more sugar to burn. Our physiology isn’t lazy it just follows the path of least resistance. It is easier to burn the sugar so the body does. In order to switch the body to burning fat we must get the fire going by burning the sugar in our muscle first and then keep it going by burning fat. This requires that we have a diet that contains good fats and very few carbohydrates. Especially limiting refined carbohydrates like white sugar, white rice and bleached flour and choosing to eat complex carbohydrates like brown rice, sweet potatoes, squash or quinoa makes for a much better choice. Good fats contain omega 3’s and some forms of the omega 6’s and medium chain triglycerides. Foods such as fish, grass fed animals, avocados, organic butter from grass fed cows, coconut oil, coconut milk, and olive oil all are rich sources of good fats.
When a human starts exercising and needs energy quickly, we will burn sugar that is stored in our muscles. Start exercising too fast and too hard and we burn up all the sugar, creating lactic acid, which causes our body to fatigue and feel pain. This is often what happens as people begin an exercise program, which then deters many people from continuing on with their exercise routine. It is much better to start out slow and increase intensity over time. Instead of trying to jog or hit the stair master or elliptical machine, it is better to walk. Walking is a very underrated exercise that fulfills all your exercise needs and requirements at once. Most people however do not walk correctly. When walking you need to be in a cross crawl pattern, swinging your arms opposite your legs. Stand up tall, eyes forward in the direction you are moving, and breath deeply through your nose. If you can’t breath through your nose without running out of breath, you are over-exerting yourself and you will be burning too much sugar instead of fat. Slow down to be able to maintain that pace while breathing though your nose. This will increase your aerobic capacity faster and keep you from producing too much lactic acid so you will have less pain from your workout. You must be working in a sustained exercise in order to burn fat. That means at least 30 minutes of walking, but more is better if you have the time. The more you walk the more fat you will burn. As your cardiovascular fitness increases you can start walking faster but continue breathing through your nose. As your body gets stronger you can incorporate more intense exercise activities but always use walking as your foundation.
After you expend your energy you must take time to recover and recharge your body. This requires attention to your diet as we already talked about, but you must also be doing active resting which includes stretching and mobilization such as yoga or using a foam roller. Making sure you drink plenty of water helps flush out all those toxins in your body also. Managing your stress levels so your adrenal glands and hormones stay healthy is also a major part of sustained life energy. The adrenals like routine such as waking up at the same time each day, eating at the same time, exercising at the same time, going to bed at the same time all help the body to stay balanced. Of course it is not always possible to have the same routine daily but it is something to strive for. Getting good sleep every night so your nervous system can recharge is also vital to sustaining life energy. Keeping your energy levels up and your body moving correctly will keep you living healthy, naturally and optimally.
Dr. Phil Cameron DC is the owner of the Bozeman Wellness Center. He is a Chiropractic Physician and Professional Applied Kinesiologist. He treats every patient based on his or her individual healthcare needs and strives to help each patient Live Healthy, Live Naturally, and Live Optimally. Visit www.bozemanwellnesscenter.com for more information.