Does exercise stop you feeling tired?
Research published in the Psychological Bulletin analysed 70 studies on exercise and fatigue. These involved more than 6,800 people.1 In over 90% of these studies it was found that regular exercise improved fatigue when compared to groups that did not exercise.
This is, in part, down to the fact that exercise helps us metabolise energy more efficiently. The more we exercise, for example, the greater the numbers of mitochondria your body is actually able to create. This is the part of each cell where chemical processes take place to convert food into energy. This means the rate at which we burn food and obtain energy increases when we are active.
As you will soon see, though, there are a number of other ways in which exercise can contribute to better energy levels and reduced fatigue.
The 5 ways exercise can improve your energy
1. Releases ‘feel good’ endorphins
During exercise, the central nervous system and pituitary glands release chemicals called endorphins. These are produced to reduce stress and pain, though they can trigger positive feelings as well. This happy state of mind can make you feel more energised and reduce feelings of fatigue.
2. Helps improves quality of sleep
Studies show that exercise can improve overall sleep quality, as well as conditions including chronic insomnia.2 There are many reasons why exercise can have this positive effect. Burning energy through exercise, for example, can make sleep come quicker when your head hits the pillow at night.
Also, as we know, the release of endorphins during exercise triggers positive feelings and these can make it easier to fall asleep. After all, you’re less likely to toss and turn for hours on end, contemplating everyday concerns, if you are feeling good.
Exercise also raises the body’s temperature which then drops when the workout ends. This fall in temperature can make it easier to fall asleep, especially if the workout is done in the late afternoon or evening.
If we are getting a better sleep at night then this will, in turn, help us feel more energised and less tired during the day.
3. Improves concentration and alertness
Research shows that the hippocampus grows when people exercise regularly. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that deals with learning and memory and so this explains why these things may improve with regular workouts.
In addition, research shows that exercise can help with concentration. A German study found that just 10 minutes of practising coordination skills, like bouncing two balls at the same time, improved the attention span of German teenagers.3
4. Helps manage stress
When it is done over a period of time, and on a regular basis, any form of exercise – be it walking, running or gardening - may help to regulate our stress response. Research has highlighted that, the more physical activity people do, the less likely they are to experience psychological problems like stress and anxiety.4 This may be, in part, to do with endorphins which help to relieve feelings of stress.
5. Improves heart health
Extreme fatigue can be a sign of heart issues as, when the heart isn’t functioning at 100%, it is less able to pump blood and oxygen around the body. Fatigue and tiredness can also be a side effect of heart medication, though, should you already have a diagnosis.
According to the British Heart Foundation, if you are working long hours, or are regularly staying up late, then it is unlikely a heart problem is to blame. However, if your routine hasn’t changed and you suddenly experience severe fatigue, you should get checked out by a doctor.5
Overall, exercise has a positive impact on heart health as it can help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It also trains the heart to work more efficiently in terms of getting more oxygen to the brain and other organs.
If you have been diagnosed with a heart condition then there is no reason to give up exercise altogether, just be sure to seek medical advice about what activity is appropriate first.
How much exercise do you really need?
From this we can see that we definitely should exercise when tired – there are just so many benefits to gain! How much should we be doing, however, when we are feeling low in energy?
It is generally recommended that we get about 150 minutes of moderately strenuous exercise per week (this could be anything that gets you out of breath). You can split this up into small, easy-to-do chunks or, if it works better for you, try a few longer stints of activity. If you are doing more strenuous exercises (like running) aim to do 75 minutes of exercise a week.
Best exercises to do when you are tired
The University of Georgia recruited 36 volunteers who did not exercise regularly but who suffered from fatigue.6 One group had to do 20 minutes of moderately strenuous aerobic exercise 3 times a week for 6 weeks. The second had to do low intensity workouts for the same period, whilst a control group did not do any exercise.
The active groups both had a 20% increase in energy levels at the end of the study compared to the control group. It is important to note that researchers actually found that intense exercise isn’t the best way to reduce fatigue. Those doing low intensity workouts reported a 65% drop in fatigue compared to 49% in the other active group. This suggests that regular, gentle exercise is more beneficial than doing an intense workout.
So, when it comes to exercising when you’re tired, start with something small and gentle like a short walk every day. This is easy to incorporate into your routine – simply walk instead of driving where possible, or use steps instead of a lift or escalator. Activities like cycling and swimming are also low impact, though, should you want a bit more variety.
If you need a little extra support in getting started, there are various free apps that can help you along. The NHS has one called couch to 5K which is a 9 week plan to help people get more active. You can track your progress through this and follow coaching by athletes including sprinter Michael Johnson.
After a few weeks, when your fitness levels improve, you can gradually add more strenuous exercises into your weekly routine. An exercise class is a good option as, not only is this a good workout, it is a social activity which should boost your motivation to keep going!
Top tips for getting more active:
- Change your routine – go for a walk after dinner instead of sitting down to watch television in the evening
- Get the family involved – take a walk in the park, or play tag in the garden
- Take a look at our Get Active hub - here you will find exercise videos you can easily follow at home, as well as a range of blogs offering further advice and tips on staying active. We offer information on how to do more exercise in the morning, for example, when most people are at their most fatigued. There is also advice on how to exercise more after work when, once again, people are often a little weary.
Keep your energy up after a workout
We lose nutrients through exercise so it is important to replace these after a workout to keep problems like fatigue at bay. A healthy diet is one way to do this (think fresh fruit and veg, or nuts and seeds which are packed with important vitamins and minerals) but you could also turn to Balance Mineral Drink.
Balance helps stabilise pH levels throughout the body, which means that enzymes and hormones are able to function optimally and, in turn, you can also get the most out of your food in terms of nutrients and energy.
Otherwise, if we aren't supporting a suitable internal environment, this can potentially lead to various problems including tiredness and digestive complaints, such as constipation and bloating. As well as this, Balance contains magnesium which is helpful for fighting fatigue more directly.