Exercise and Fatigue

How can I make myself exercise when I'm so tired all the time?

Start out slowly. If you haven't been active in awhile, see your doctor before starting an exercise program. Then try just walking for a few minutes each day. In the beginning you may find that you're tired after a workout or that you have to force yourself to take a walk even though you'd rather take a nap. But if you can stick with it for a few weeks, you'll discover that you do have more energy. If you don't, you should probably see your doctor. You may just be pushing too hard, not getting enough sleep, not eating enough calories, or not getting enough nutrients. But you'll also want to rule out any health problems.

How can exercise give me more energy?

One reason for the increase is that aerobic exercise makes your heart stronger and more efficient: A fit cardiovascular system delivers about 25 percent more oxygen per minute at rest and 50 percent more oxygen during physical exertion than an unfit one does. And stronger muscles give you the endurance to get yourself through the day with energy to spare. Exercise can also improve the quality of your sleep, so you feel more rested even after spending the same amount of time in bed.

If my muscles are screaming and I'm gasping for breath in the first few minutes, should I keep going?

No. Slow down and catch your breath. Once you feel more comfortable you can start building up your pace slowly. Your muscles may hurt at first because they're burning carbohydrates without oxygen and producing a waste product called lactic acid that causes fatigue. If you've been spending a lot of time on the couch, your lungs aren't used to having to boost their oxygen intake at a moment's notice. But once you've built up a little endurance, your breathing should catch up with your effort, giving your muscles the oxygen they need. The better shape you're in, the sooner you'll reach this state. If you find you can't recover your breath after a few minutes, see your doctor. You could be suffering from exercise-induced asthma.

How can I reach the "exercise high" I've heard so much about?

You'll get there. The theory goes that when you exercise intensely, the stress on your body prompts your brain to release substances called endorphins into your bloodstream. These chemicals hook onto nerve receptors all over your body, blocking pain signals. They may cause you to feel euphoric -- simultaneously relaxed and energized -- even hours after you've stopped sweating. A leisurely walk around the block probably won't do the trick. Researchers say you have to work out at about 75 percent of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes for endorphins to kick in. (You can find your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.) But any kind of regular activity will give you more energy on a day-to-day basis. You don't have to become addicted to endorphins to benefit.

References

Physical Activity. National Library of Medicine Medical Encyclopedia.

Exercise: A Healthy Habit to Start and Keep. American Academy of Family Physicians.

Just Move. American Heart Association.

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