Wake up! Spend Energy to Make Energy

Posted by Maureen Harris on

Ever read the Phantom Tollbooth (or see the movie) as a kid?  Remember the scene in which the main characters are eating soup, getting hungrier and hungrier with each bowl?  How can this be?  Well, the magic of fiction, mostly.  But, there is something to this.  Ever had the experience where you're not really hungry, but you have a 15 minute break and you're not going to have another chance to eat for five hours minimum, so you eat?  And 10 minutes later, you're ravenous?  What the heck, right?!

The seemingly paradoxical relationship between eating a small snack and elevating hunger is similar to that between expending energy and diminishing fatigue. Spend energy, become more energetic?  You bet!

Your body adapts to inputs from the environment on a long-term scale (think getting stronger from your training sessions, losing fat by dieting).  Tell your body you don't need your glutes or postural muscles like rhomboids (those super cool muscles between your shoulder blades) while you're slumped over at your desk, and, after getting this memo for months and years on end, these important muscles will go on an extended vacation.  

Your body adapts to inputs on a short-term scale as well.  Tell your body it's not going to get food for a while, and your appetite will downregulate.  Give it a snack, and your appetite revs! Get up and move, and your body gets primed for more action.  Tell your body to sit tight, you're not going anywhere for a while, and you'll enter a semi-comatose state to save energy.

You've probably experienced this shutting down phenomenon.  Maybe you're feeling half-conscious right now, reading this through half-open eyes while you’re sitting at your desk at work, Excel or Outlook a quick alt-tab away.

If so, I challenge you to get up and take a quick walk.  Or do 10 air squats.  Or 5 pushups. Or some cross crawls (assuming you're wearing pants!).  Feel a bit more alive? 

Or did you not try it?  Look, I can SEE you sitting there, rolling your eyes and saying "Yeah, I know, I know, I know!"  

We all kind of accept that moving will wake us up, but often we don't really accept it. Or we rationalize it away.

  • I'm too busy to take a break.
  • I'm so tired that no quantity of coffee in the WORLD can revive me!  What are some squats going to do?
  • I'd rather just complain about how tired I am!

Here's the thing though.  An individual movement break can be as short as 15-30 seconds. SECONDS! We're talking about a time investment of literally 2-10 minutes over the course of your entire day.  So what do you have to lose? 

And even if you slip up one day and go a solid eight hours without separating your butt from the chair, remember that a short movement break will invigorate you before you head out of the office. After a long day, it is totally expected that you will feel tired and think that going to the gym is the last thing you could possibly handle. You’re so wiped out, anything more taxing than a Netflix binge might just push you over the edge.

Except that that may not be true.

Challenge that assumption, and test that hypothesis out! Take a quick walk. Or promise yourself that you’ll go to the gym and do just your warm-up before calling it a day.

Maybe you truly are too tired, in which case go home and go to bed and give yourself some quality recovery time. But chances are good that once you get moving, you’ll find a hidden reserve of energy to both power your training session as well as give you a boost of energy for the rest of your night.

If you need a visual or a “why,” consider the role that our muscles play in helping the heart to pump blood. Sit like a statue and, between the decline in your heart rate and the lack of assistance from your muscles, your blood will circulate much more slowly and can even stagnate and pool in areas. Get up to move, and literally get the blood flowing again. You can imagine how relevant a lack of fresh blood, along with the oxygen and glucose it carries, can be for energy production!

When muscles contract, they assist the heart in circulating blood throughout your body. Image credit: http://www.nakedscience.org/

Remember learning about inertia in Physics class?  We often think about it in terms of objects at rest tending to stay at rest.  But the inverse applies as well: objects in motion tend to stay in motion.  Use this principle to stay active and keep your energy high throughout the day. Or to jumpstart your energy after a sustained sedentary period.

Image credit: https://eternastudies.tumblr.com/


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