Creating a Steady Supply of Energy

With fibromyalgia, exercise becomes very important in healing because it not only improves your mood and makes it easier to deal with symptoms, it also helps you to: exercise fibromyalgia2

* Strengthen ligaments and tendons and enhance muscle tone
* Promote weight loss, and reduce stress on your joints
* Increase blood flow to muscle tissues
* Improve your sleep
* Reduce depression
* Raise your spirits and relieve anxiety

Exercising when you have fibromyalgia is challenging and especially when you know that your body is experiencing a genuine energy shortage.  The warmer weather certainly helps to get the blood and our energies flowing a lot easier than in the colder winter months.  Take a look at  some of the ways our system creates and uses energy so you’ll have a better shot at ramping up production to meet your demands. 

Did you know that your body works in energy and rest cycles and that you will generate a lot more energy when you pay attention to what these cycles are and work with your body’s natural rhythms?

You may have heard about circadian rhythms, the sleep/wake cycles that occur every 24 hours. They’re important to your body’s energy use, but there’s another type of rhythm — ultradian — that has an even bigger impact on energy generation. “Ultradian” refers to any cycle that repeats itself a number of times within the 24-hour period. Every body system, including heart rate, body temperature, digestion, memory and muscle strength, is governed by its own ultradian cycle and associated peaks and troughs. You experience the high points of ultradian cycles as bursts or flows of physical energy, alertness and creativity. You experience the low points as periods of fatigue, distraction and diminished capacity.

“Most people don’t know they have a natural 90- to 120-minute period of energy,” explains psychobiology researcher and therapist Ernest Rossi, PhD, who explored the influence of ultradian rhythms in his book The 20 Minute Break (Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1991). “Research indicates that all our major mind-body systems of self-regulation, including the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system, have rest-activity cycles.”

After 90 to 120 minutes of peak activity, he explains, the human system goes into an energy dip for approximately 20 minutes, during which you may feel physically fatigued, mentally unfocused, hungry or grumpy. It’s during these dips, says Rossi, that each of the body’s systems replenishes its energy supply at the cellular level.

During an active phase, a cell extracts energy from adenosine triphosphate or ATP, changing it to adenosine diphosphate or ADP. During rest, the cell uses oxygen and blood glucose to change the ADP back to ATP.

Knowing when to Give It a Rest!

When you’re on a vacation, you probably live by your cycles and are wonderfully energized as a result. You might play in the waves for 90 minutes, then lounge on your beach towel for 20. But daily life is different. After about 90 minutes of top performance, when our concentration, energy, vigor and creativity are at their peaks, we start to feel a natural dip. We yawn, daydream, get fidgety; our concentration begins to break. At this point, many of us reach for a cup of coffee and a sweet snack to give ourselves a blood-sugar boost, hoping to jump-start our mental focus.

Pumped up with caffeine and sugar, we rally until the next dip, which comes, predictably, 90 to 120 minutes later. Again, we ignore the need for a break, and we continue the cycle throughout the day. By afternoon, we’re not dealing with a little energy dip anymore. We’ve dug a major trench and our cells need a double or triple rest period to fully replenish their energy supply. But they rarely get it.

Continuously ignoring the rest cycle over time leads to the classic symptoms of stress. In the short term, those might include headaches, skin problems, digestive difficulties and irritability. Down the road you may be looking at bigger problems like heart disease and depression. Ignoring your energy cycles is like swimming against the current: You end up with only exhaustion to show for your efforts.

To replenish your energy throughout the day, you need to work with your ultradian cycles, not against them. That means avoiding uninterrupted hours of steady-state activity, whether that’s deskwork, hard labor or wall-to-wall meetings. Ideally, after a period of activity, you should give yourself 20 minutes of complete relaxation.

Best-case scenario: You would lie down, breathe deeply, tune inward and just let your mind wander. But even if you can’t get horizontal and totally check out, you can (and should) find other ways of giving your energy system a rest, even if it’s for 10 minutes, and not the full 20.

“We need these brief periods of rest while every cell of our body makes ATP,” says Rossi. When the body is allowed a break after intense activity, it can replenish the energy stores in the pituitary and hypothalamus, the adrenal glands, and the endocrine system, so that we can once again perform at our best during the active phase. Once you’ve had your ATP boost, you can go back to what you were doing, feeling refreshed and productive.

If total rest isn’t possible, take any break you can: Switch activities and downshift to a lower gear, for as close to 20 minutes as you can, given the constraints of your schedule. Do some filing; make a phone call that requires little mental effort; take a bathroom break from a meeting and walk around the floor; clean up your desktop; stare out the window; step outside for a walk around the building and a little sunshine.

You can boost the power of your ultradian cycles by planning for them throughout the day. At the beginning of each day, make a to-do list that’s prioritized from high-energy-consuming tasks to low. Instead of heading straight down your list, cycle through the high- and low-intensity tasks. This way, says Rossi, “you don’t waste precious peak moments of high energy on less important work.” The bonus: You may actually end up getting a lot more done.

Fuel Factor

Food is a huge factor in the energy equation and it also ties in with your ultradian rhythms. Your digestion is primed for input every 90 to 120 minutes, according to Rossi. So as long as you are fueling intelligently, you can let go of any guilt about snacking between meals. By eating when your body is ready for food, you’ll absorb nutrients more readily and maintain a steadier supply of energy. This also keeps blood sugar levels more stable and helps avoid hypoglycemic low energy dips, which can happen easily and is prevalent among many people who suffer with fibromyalgia.  Here’s how to make certain the food you eat results in energy you can use.

  • Start with breakfast. You can swing your body’s ultradian rhythms into action by eating breakfast — ideally at the same time every day. When you eat breakfast, you kick-start your metabolism. With breakfast, the body says, ‘Now I can start revving up,’.  Of note if you’re trying to lose weight: What’s good for your energy levels, is good for weight loss, too.   Start the day off by eating a breakfast that contains healthy protein as this will provide fuel to the body and the brain and helps you to start your day off in a focused way.
  • Eat often. The traditional recommendation of three square meals a day is actually out of sync with our underlying ultradian needs, according to Rossi. “If we heeded our ultradian rhythms, we would eat not three times each day, but six.” Multiple smaller meals coincide with your body’s innate readiness for nourishment every 90 minutes. By providing quality food when your body is ready for it, you will feel more satisfied, Rossi says. You never get so hungry as to overeat, and you lessen your chances of reaching the breaking point where all you want is salt, sweets and fat.  Eating six smaller meals per day will also ensure a steady supply of glucose to your brain thereby helping to maintain stable moods, greater focus, and higher levels of energy that is spread out more evenly throughout the day and into the evening too if needed.
  • Eat the right combination. The ideal foods will create a slow, steady stream of healthy sugars and nutrients into your blood. The worst foods: Refined carbohydrates that create a sudden spike of blood sugar. Your body counters blasts of blood sugar with high amounts of insulin, which swiftly removes and stores excess blood sugar, leaving you once again low on the fuel you need to think and move.   Combine healthy proteins and fats with low glycemic carbohydrates that are unprocessed and are whole foods. 

    The key: For each of your three main meals and snacks, strive to eat healthy carbohydrates, proteins and fats in fairly balanced caloric proportions. By always combining your food this way, you’ll get a more even blood-sugar response that brings a smoother, more sustained energy delivery. You get weight-control benefits as well, since you’re always eating healthy foods and never getting to the point of extreme hunger.  An added bonus: High-protein foods break down into amino acids, which support the production of neurotransmitters, the chemical communicators between your cells. Many of these, such as dopamine, heighten alertness and energy.

  • Eat high quality. Consider the quality of what you put in your body. Unhealthy fats, especially, can impair brain function, which reduces your available energy. Your brain is 60 to 80 percent fat, with each cell membrane made of fatty acids. If you’ve created your membranes from healthy fats like olive oil, they’re resilient and flexible. Messages can go in and out quickly. Trans fats from sources like deep-fried foods and hydrogenated fats, however, are structurally different. They contribute to membranes that are harder, more brittle and susceptible to leaks and holes. Messages pass with difficulty, while vital cell structures, including the mitochondria, the cell’s energy factory, can slip out, leading to cell death. Some researchers believe this to be a significant cause of chronic fatigue. At the very least, poor-quality fats impair the production of available energy.

Food isn’t the only fuel for energy. Oxygen provides the spark that ignites the fuel. To train your body to use more oxygen, you must exercise.

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