The shelves at health food stores groan under their weight -- super vitamin pills, extracts, and other tablets and tonics that promise renewed zest and energy.
Not surprisingly, medical experts urge caution in using these products. Their advice: Instead of popping a pill to restore long-lost vigor, try propping a pillow under your head and getting to bed earlier. More sleep, regular exercise and better nutrition are natural ways to promote greater vitality.
It's simple. If you're basically healthy, all it takes to increase your energy level is a commitment to the "Big Three":
Eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods.
Get enough sleep.
Get your body moving with an exercise program.
With time at a premium, it's sometimes easier to skip meals or "graze" on whatever food is available. But you must discipline yourself to eat balanced meals that provide the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight, say medical experts.
The USDA's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a certain number of calories each day for three different levels of physical activity.
Food is fuel. If you don’t eat enough, you'll run out of energy; if you eat too much, the excess is stored as fat and you gain weight.
In addition to sufficient calories, you need to get adequate amounts of the three basic food groups. The Dietary Guidelines recommend people 19 years and older get:
10 to 35 percent of calories should be protein (beans, nuts, soybeans, meat, poultry, eggs or dairy products)
45 to 65 percent should be from fiber-rich carbohydrates
20 to 35 percent should be from fats (only 10 percent from saturated fats)
Depending on the amount of calories recommended for your age and activity level, to achieve these goals you should try to consume:
1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups per day of a variety of whole, fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruits
2 to 4 cups per day of a variety of different colored vegetables
5 to10 ounces of grains a day (at least 1/2 of which should be from whole grains)
3 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or other dairy products
5-6 ounce equivalents of protein such as lean meats, poultry, fish, and eggs
Before you start exercising, talk to your doctor about what's right for you. Experts recommend getting 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity above your usual activity on most days a week. Moderate aerobic activity is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing, but still allows you to carry on a conversation while exercising. If you are too out of breath to talk, you are exercising at a vigorous level.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sleep is needed for our nervous systems to work properly. Too little sleep leaves us drowsy and unable to concentrate the next day and impairs memory and physical performance. For most adults, 7 to 8 hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as 5 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day.
The bottom line is that you need enough sleep to stay fully alert during the entire time you are awake. If you're not sharp right up to bedtime, sleep experts say, you need more rest.
If your sleep is frequently interrupted by emotional or physical problems, or by medications you are taking, talk to your doctor. You and your doctor can work out a sleep strategy to help you regain alertness and energy.
The next time you're feeling run-down and think it's because you're not taking the right vitamin pills, consider the "Big Three" -- sleep, diet and exercise. These are the building blocks that will give you enough energy all day long.