Top Ways to Get Your Energy Back — Now

February 21, 2010 12:00 AM by Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD

You’re grumpy at the groundhog (who needed extra weeks of winter?) and a little short with your spouse, and you have been spending more time with the mac-and-cheese casserole than the treadmill. Winter can do that. But it doesn’t have to. Use these strategies to cuff the classic energy thieves that are still hanging around this time of year, and get your mojo back before spring hits:

Energy thief #1: Short, dark days.
What happens: Short days can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — neurochemical changes in your brain due to lack of sunlight. This results in depression in up to 6% of Americans (the further north you go, the more likely you are to be a SAD sufferer). From late fall until spring, people with SAD become depressed, sleep too much, withdraw from friends, and battle low energy and relentless carb cravings.
Turn it around: Light therapy — sitting in front of a special box that shines ultra bright lights — has long been considered to be the best way to combat SAD. But a new University of Vermont study reveals that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be even better. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps people outsmart depression by teaching them to change their negative ways of thinking. In fact, in this study, CBT alone was able to stomp out SAD with a success rate of 81% (compared with 49% for CBT plus light therapy and 32% for light therapy alone). Why wouldn’t more therapies be better? Researchers surmise that trying to balance two therapies was just too confusing, but CBT alone allowed people to focus on the coping skills they needed to banish their winter blues.

Energy thief #2: You can’t get enough comfort.
What happens: When the mercury heads south, we crave calories, carbs (they help our brains make the calming neurotransmitter serotonin), and fat. In fact, a 2006 University of Massachusetts Medical School study found that once the days become shorter, we pack away an average of 86 extra calories a day and weigh more than at any other time of year. We also snarf down more total and artery-clogging saturated fat.
Turn it around: Just cozy up to good-for-you carbs and healthy omega-3 and omega-9 fats that will satisfy your biology and your brain without packing on a gratuitous layer of blubber.

Trade meatloaf and pot roast for hearty whole grains like whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, or try polenta, a veggie burger, or salmon. Or warm up with a satisfying bean-based vegetable chili or Tuscan white bean soup. Since beans and whole grains are digested slowly, they’ll keep you full longer, so you’ll eat less overall. And if it seems like there are slim pickings in the produce department, now is actually the prime time to load up on nutrient-packed starches, including sweet potatoes and winter squash (roast or bake them with a drizzle of olive oil). Finish your feast with seasonal winter fruit (think apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines, or even frozen berries) topped with a sprinkle of heart-healthy walnuts or almonds and you’ll get all the carbs and fats your body craves — but you’ll do it the healthy way.

Energy thief #3: You stay in. On the couch.
What happens: Your workout plan bites the dust. We log less exercise in winter than any other time of year, with a paltry 45% of Americans and 36% of Canadians keeping active. Pretty ironic, since exercise can lift you out of the winter doldrums by boosting energy, improving mood, and helping you sleep better.
Turn it around: Start with your schedule. Make regular exercise appointments on your calendar the same way you’d ink in any other non-negotiable activity. But give yourself a bit of a break: Don’t think exercise needs to be a hard-core trip to the gym. Taking the dog for an extra-long walk or doing crunches and lifting weights in front of the TV count, too. Still uninspired? Try the 10-minute rule. Make a deal with yourself to get moving for at least 10 minutes. Chances are, once you start, you’ll feel so much better that you’ll keep going.

A “Bad” Habit That Helps You Live Longer?

Some of us just can’t live without our morning coffee fix. And some of us may be feeling a little guilty about that.

Not to worry. Your morning cup of joe could actually be helping you live longer. A recent study has linked coffee drinking to a reduced risk of death, regardless of the cause.

Healthy or Not, Here I Come!
Over the years, research has produced mixed results on the health benefits of coffee. But a recent study was a win for the earthy brew. Heavy java drinkers (2 or more cups per day) experienced a modest decrease in all-cause mortality, including death from heart disease. We can probably credit the antioxidant-rich beans used to brew the stuff. In fact, Americans drink so much coffee that it’s one of our top sources of antioxidants. 

Reality Check
So what are the caveats for coffee drinking? There are only a few. If you are sensitive to caffeine, you don’t need to be told not to be a java junkie. And unfiltered coffee can raise blood fats, so use paper filters and ditch the French press. Although it remains to be seen if coffee has a long-term impact on blood pressure, we know it can cause a temporary spike, so go easy if you have high blood pressure. And — as always — do everything in moderation. A pot-a-day habit probably doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Self-Help Strategies to help you along in Cope With Major Depression

Build on other depression treatments with small steps to feel better every day.

In addition to the scientifically supported treatments for major depression — antidepressants, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two — there are other steps you can take to help lift your mood and support your recovery. Although clinical depression can rob you of energy, motivation, and the desire to do things that you once enjoyed, remember that inactivity can make depression worse. Staying active will distract you from negative thoughts, and it’s one of the best things you can do to cope with major depressive disorder (MDD).

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recommends these self-help strategies to ease the burden on yourself while you’re depressed:

  • Don’t wait to seek treatment for major depression. The earlier you start treatment, the better (and faster) your recovery will be.
  • Set realistic goals. Treating major depression isn’t a quick fix, and improvement can be subtle. For example, you may start sleeping better or eating better before your mood brightens.
  • Stay active. Whether it’s exercise, cooking, going to the movies, or dinner with friends, return to activities you once enjoyed. As your treatment starts to take effect, you’ll find yourself enjoying your favorite activities again.
  • Be around other people. Isolating yourself from others worsens major depression, but spending time with family and friends helps boost your mood so you can stick with your treatment program.
  • Don’t let everyday activities overwhelm you. Divide major tasks into smaller chunks, set priorities, and do what you can.
  • Don’t accept roles with a great deal of responsibility, which can be overwhelming when you’re depressed.
  • Recognize negative thinking as a symptom of clinical depression. Try to reframe negative thoughts in a positive light.
  • Don’t engage in self-blame while experiencing depressed mood.
  • Postpone major life decisions until you get relief from depressive symptoms. Don’t change jobs, relocate, enter into or end a primary relationship, or make major financial choices when you’re in the grip of major depression.
  • Each day, make it a point to identify one positive reason to make it through the day.

4 Foods for Better Immunity

Your immune system is responsible for helping fight off everything from the common cold to cancer. A tall order!

Send in some reinforcements so it doesn’t get battle fatigue. Here are four foods your immune system loves.

Sweet, Creamy, Steamy, Crunchy . . . Oranges, yogurt, tea, and pumpkin seeds are the order of the day when it comes to giving your immune system a treat, according to experts Michael Roizen, MD, and Mehmet Oz, MD, authors of the best-selling (and now newly expanded and updated) YOU: The Owner’s Manual. Here’s how these four superfoods help:

  • Oranges are chock-full of vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin that helps your immune system fend off disease-causing invaders. Other good C options: bell peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, and broccoli. Or take 400 milligrams of vitamin C three times daily.
  • Yogurt (unpasteurized) contains Lactobacillus acidophilus — a healthy bacterium that helps thwart fungus-related infections. Or take a 20-milligram acidophilus supplement twice daily.
  • Tea is full of flavonoids, powerful vitamin-like substances that reduce immune-system aging. You’ll also find them in oats, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, apples, and berries.
  • Pumpkin seeds are great year round, not just at Halloween, because they contain zinc — a nutrient that’s been shown to help reduce the average length of the common cold.

A Healthier Way to Stay Energized

Say “get iron,” and most people think they need a side of beef — or at least a hefty plateful — to stave off fatigue and refuel their immune system. The fact is, you don’t need red meat at all to get plenty of iron to power you through your fusion yoga class, four client presentations, dinner with your in-laws (but you might need some red wine here), a walk with the dog, and maybe another type of romp or two in a day.

Too much red meat can overload you with heme iron, a form of the mineral that can boost your risk of type 2 diabetes. We know you already know that meat can overload you with saturated fat.

Fortunately, heme iron is far easier to dodge than the perfume-spritzing people at the mall. Plant-based foods contain only nonheme iron, which is free of any dirty links to diabetes. It’s pretty easy for men to get what they need — about 8 milligrams (mg) of iron a day — from food: A cup of cooked spinach alone contains 6.4 mg, versus 3.4 mg for a burger. Other good options: kidney beans (3.6 mg per half cup), oatmeal (3.4 mg per cup), and almonds (1 mg per ounce).

However, premenopausal women need about 18 mg a day, so taking a multi with iron is smart, especially since iron from plants tends to be harder to absorb than iron from meat. Help your body soak it up with these tricks:

1. Eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods. (Think oatmeal and OJ, chili with beans. See? It’s easy.)

2. Calcium blocks absorption of iron, so separate your calcium supplement and your spinach by a few hours.

3. Coffee and tea interfere with iron, so keep those apart, too.

Nutrition Boosters for Fruit and Veggies

I’ve been rather tired these last few weeks.  Could be some of the things going on at work however searching the net I found some interesting articles and info. I already knew that fruit and veggies are good for you but I always asked myself if fresh fruit and veggies have more vitamins, minerals and phytochemical then the frozen fruit and veggies, after all frozen fruit and veggies are cheaper and don’t spoil within a matter of days.

Fresh fruit and veggies come packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Or do they? Turns out it might depend on how you treat them. And no doubt you’ve wondered if you could be doing your produce pals some kind of disservice in the journey from the grocery store to your stomach.

Does microwaving really zap vitamins and minerals? Is it better to buy fresh instead of frozen? Is your body able to absorb all the good-for-you nutrition, anyway?

Here are a few simple steps to help you get the most from your produce-packed meals.

Fresh vs. Frozen

Q. I’ve always thought fresh is best when it comes to fruit and vegetables, but now my daughter tells me frozen foods have more nutrients. Who’s right?

A. You’re both right. It’s true that fresh fruit and vegetables tend to taste better and have more nutritional value than frozen or canned. But that’s not always the case.

Fresh is best when it really is farm-fresh and ripe. But many commercial fruits and veggies are picked before peak ripeness — which also means before their nutritional peak — to avoid spoilage during transport and storage. And just a few days after harvest, fruits and vegetables begin to lose some of their nutritive goodness. What’s more, the longer they sit on the shelf — during transport, in the supermarket, and in your fridge — the fewer nutrients they have left to pass on to you.

On the other hand, vegetables and fruit intended for freezing are usually picked closer to the peak of ripeness and are flash-frozen immediately after harvest. The processing does deplete some nutrients, but it locks in the rest for up to 12 months. So in some instances, frozen fruit and veggies may actually have more of the vitamins and minerals your body needs.

Quick Tip: To help retain the highest levels of vitamin C, don’t thaw frozen veggies before cooking. Studies show that vegetables cooked directly from frozen retain more vitamin C than vegetables that are thawed first.

For nutrient-rich fresh fruit and veggies, buy what’s in season and grown locally. And eat it within a few days of purchase. Find your local farmers market with this list from the USDA.

To Microwave or Not to Microwave

Q. Does microwaving really zap all the vitamins and minerals from vegetables? If so, what’s the best way to cook them?

A. The jury’s still out on this one. Although some studies suggest the microwave is to blame for sucking nutrients out of food, others point a finger at the water in which they are cooked.

For most vegetables and fruit, any type of cooking lowers the nutrient content. So for now, a good rule of thumb is: Less is more.

  • Leave skin on whenever possible. Many fruits and vegetables hold most of their antioxidants in their skins. Simply wash well before cooking/eating.
  • Lightly steam vegetables instead of boiling, sauteing, or roasting. Better yet, go raw with a fresh salad.
  • If you prefer to blanch your veggies, dip them into boiling water for the least amount of time possible.

The exception is the red tomato. Cooking actually increases its level of lycopene — an antioxidant thought to help prevent certain types of cancer, heart disease, and vision loss.

Quick Tip: Drizzle your vegetables with a bit of olive oil to help your body better absorb the vitamins and minerals.