Is it OK to exercise when I’m tired?
Tiredness can be caused by a number of things – diet, illness, stress, lack of sleep, fibromyalgia, low iron, the menopause and more. One cause of tiredness that people often overlook, however, is a lack of activity.
It may seem strange, but tiredness and fatigue can often be beaten, not by resting, but by exercising.
Fatigue can be the result of a vicious cycle. We often feel too tired to exercise in the morning or after work but this lack of activity only makes us feel more sluggish and, as a result, less inclined to exercise. Getting into the habit of exercising regularly can be difficult but, the more you do it, the more energetic you will feel.
I understand that, in today's world, finding time to fit in exercise can be difficult. We are often so busy commuting, working, looking after our family and socialising that we can't find the time to go to the gym or an exercise class. Therefore, on this page, I give advice on some simple exercises that fit easily into a busy schedule.
First, though, let's take a look at why exercise makes you feel less tired.
Does exercise make you less tired?
Exercise actually causes changes in your body at a cellular level.
As many of us may remember from secondary-school Biology, the mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. This is where chemical processes take place to obtain energy from food – or the molecules that were once food.
The more you exercise, the more mitochondria your body creates. This means the rate at which you burn food and obtain energy will increase. This is great for feeding your muscles as you exercise, but it also means that you can metabolise energy more efficiently even when you aren't exercising.
Exercise also stimulates the release of hormones called endorphins. These hormones have a number of physiological functions, including helping to make us feel happy. In fact, they have a similar effect to morphine.
This feeling of positivity is helpful when your tiredness and lethargy is caused by, or exacerbated by, low mood. That good feeling also gives you motivation to exercise again to get the same rush of endorphins.
What exercise is best for energy?
Most research indicates that regular, low-intensity exercise can be highly beneficial for fatigue. Exercise should be active enough to wake your body and mind up and encourage the production of energy, but not so strenuous that it will drain your energy supplies.
In other words, don't make your first bit of exercise in 6 months a 10-mile run up a hill! In fact, one study found that regular, low-intensity exercise decreased fatigue by 65%, whereas moderate intensity exercise only reduced it by 49%.1 So, it pays to take things easy!
Let's take a look at your options.
1. Exercise videos
The great thing about exercise videos is that there are a variety to choose from. This means they can accommodate all interests, fitness levels and experience.
Also, exercise videos are something you can easily follow in your living room, and there is no need for any fancy equipment.
Have a look at some of our easy exercise videos to get started.
A really easy way to work squats into your daily routine is to do them while brushing your teeth. Just two minutes of gentle squats can wake your body up in the morning or in the evening after sitting down all day.
This activity can wake up the mind too, though, because the opposing motions of squatting and brushing can be challenging for many (think rubbing your belly while patting your head).
This is easy to fit into your day, plus you can adjust the pace to fit your own fitness levels. Even a 10-minute walk will help boost your energy levels, but 20 minutes is ideal. Some people find that parking further away from work is an easy way to fit a 10-minute walk in twice a day. Alternatively, get off the bus a stop earlier.
4. Mini bootcamp
You can complete a mini bootcamp from home by combining a number of exercises that suit you.
You could start with 20 star jumps, 10 sit ups and 10 press ups and build it from there. If press ups are too difficult, try lowering your knees so you're on all fours, then cross your ankles and lift your feet off the ground. This puts a bit more weight on your knees instead of your arms.
Use the bottom step of your staircase to do step-ups – simply step on and off the step, alternating the leading leg every 10 steps. To make this a little more challenging, try holding a tin of beans or bottle of water in each hand and, keeping your elbows tucked in at your sides, pulling your hands up towards your shoulders as you step up, and lowering them as you step down.
If you struggle to find time to exercise because of demanding young children or toddlers, get them involved! Go outside for a game of tag, or, if you have a games console, there are loads of active games you could play, like WiiFit or Just Dance.
When you feel your fitness building, you can start increasing the intensity of your exercise. This can be more time-consuming because moderate exercise requires the heart rate to increase for longer. However, most of the low-intensity exercises listed above can be modified to increase their intensity, simply by doing them faster or for longer.
Here are some more exercises to move onto once your fatigue dissipates enough.
Depending on how far you live from your workplace, cycling there and back can provide a refreshing start and end to the working day. This should leave you feeling energised at the start of the day, as well as helping you to feel productive once the working day is over.
If this is too much, take a gentle cycle at the weekend around your local park. By doing this on a regular basis, you can gradually build up the distance you are able to go each time.
2. Start jogging
Going for a run can be daunting for someone who hasn't been running in a long time, but the NHS have a great app called Couch to 5K that is designed to help you run a 5K in just 9 weeks.
It provides a very gentle introduction to running with week 1 alternating between 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking. Each session takes half an hour – a 5-minute warm up, a 20-minute jog/walk and then a 5-minute cool down.
3. Take a class
Set aside some time in your week for a class or club. You could try a sport like football, squash, tennis or netball, or a fitness class like Zumba.
You may be more motivated to go if there is a social aspect involved, so why not gather some friends and head out together?
If you're more of a gym person, try to set aside an hour or two a week to go, maybe on the way home from work.
How else can I boost my energy?
As well as incorporating exercise into your daily routine to improve energy levels, there are other lifestyle and diet factors that can have an influence.
Try Balance Mineral Drink. This helps fight fatigue by balancing the pH in your body. If pH drops too low and becomes more acidic, the enzymes and hormones that keep your body functioning will struggle to work. This means that you won't be getting the maximum nutrients and energy out of your food, and you may also end up constipated or bloated. Balance also contains magnesium which is an essential mineral for fighting fatigue.
Make sure you get plenty of good quality sleep. This can involve going to bed earlier, making your bedroom darker, and restricting your use of technology in the evening. Read our sleep hygiene tips for more information on getting better sleep.
Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is a common cause of tiredness because we need water to metabolise energy from food properly, but also to transport nutrients and oxygen around the body.
Think about diet. If you're beginning to increase your activity levels, you need to ensure that your diet is providing you with sufficient nutrients and energy, to prevent fatigue from worsening. Read our article on fighting fatigue with food for some tips on what to eat, and what not to eat.
Originally published 12 September 2016 (updated 6th December 2019)