How does the whole exercise-improves-energy thing work?
July 17, 2013 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm a newish mom who works from home. Mini-me sleeps through the night and we get plenty of rest, but I'm still utterly exhausted every day and it seems to be getting worse. I know it's time to start getting more exercise (I work from home now so I feel like I'm just on my butt all day every day) but I need delicious facts to convince my brain to go to the damn gym already. What type of exercise should I be doing and how long do I have to do it before I start to see an improvement in my energy levels?
posted by annekate to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I say just start doing what you like to do. Do you think running is fun? Buy a jogging stroller and a water bottle and get out there. Sign up for a spin class, or a yoga class. Try some weights. Hire a private trainer for one session, if you can afford it. Experiment. Getting fit should be fun. As for how long it will take before you start to see an improvement in your energy, I think it depends, but you might see it immediately.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:17 PM on July 17, 2013

You don't need to go to the gym. Take the mini-human to for a long-ish stroll. Start with around your block. If that's not safe, make a circuit at the mall. There are even mom groups that meet for mall walking. But really, you can walk anywhere you feel safe pushing a stroller.

A quick YouTube video about how 1/2 hour a day of walking is really good for you. If you get bored with walking, add something else. But for real, you can narrate your walk to the baby. Tell him/her everything you're seeing, or recount your day, or talk about the plans you have for that day or the next day depending on when you're walking.

What is important is that your kid grows up seeing healthy exercise patterns. And a half hour of gentle walking is very healthy. Nothing grueling or unpleasant is a big bonus. Kids shouldn't hear "exercise" and think "miserable."
posted by bilabial at 5:41 PM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

It may depend on the person, and there may be scientific studies out there, but for personal anecdote, I *never* felt energized at the end of a workout in the gym. I did it for years and was totally dedicated and never got the good feelings.

Then I started running and something clicked. It was exactly the right thing for me. Even when I only have time to do a short run, I get the rush and I feel bouncy on my feet all day. I stay awake all afternoon without that mid-day slump.

I also get it with this fitness bootcamp that I go to periodically. I can't go to it on a regular basis because I have a chronic illness that sidelines me a lot, but it's very energetic and pushes you *hard*. The first week or two that I did it, I was totally exhausted for the rest of the day, and then the energy part kicked in and I got that bouncy on my feet sensation again.

I get a different kind of energy with the yoga that I do. It's "warm" yoga, not Bikram, and it's challenging and great, and at the end of class I feel like I've been wrung out and all the impurities have been squeezed out of me, and after class I need to recuperate a bit, but after about a week of consistent practice, yoga days had that energy surge, too.

So I agree with roomthreeseventeen and say, do what you *want* to do and see what happens. I see you're in SF. If you're interested in info on the bootcamp I go to or the yoga studio, or a fitness program in the east bay started by my niece specifically for new moms, send me a memail & I'll get it to you.
posted by janey47 at 5:44 PM on July 17, 2013

Do you have a smartphone? I'm a fellow work-from-home mom and I've found yoga and strength training apps a great way to get a little exercise in during the day without having to venture outside. And as bonus, you don't have to dress for the gym to workout.

Some that I've really liked for Android are: I've found that short 5-10 minute workouts once a day, ideally post-lunch, really help me keep going. I started having more energy after about a week of doing this every day. I'd also recommend trying to walk as much as you can. As a work at home person, it's easy to walk very little each day. One thing you might want to invest in is a pedometer with the goal of building up to 10,000 steps a day.
posted by JuliaKM at 5:47 PM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I got good results starting slow, walking. The main thing was to go every day, and not be too concerned about how far or fast I went. You will not lose a lot of weight by doing this, but I found that after a few weeks I felt more energetic, spryer, and younger and better generally.
posted by thelonius at 5:48 PM on July 17, 2013

Just as a data point, this has never ever worked for me. Exercise has other benefits, it makes me calm, it lifts my mood, it helps me sleep at night, it makes my butt firm, whatever, but it always, always makes me more tired. After a run and a shower I often fall asleep if I'm not at work.

Hopefully you are not like me, but the exercise = energy trope is just not universal.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:48 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you breastfeeding? If so, that expends a lot of calories - you might need to eat more. My friend scoffs at the idea that breastfeeding encourages weight loss, because she was utterly without energy and miserable unless she ate about 500 extra calories a day. It was only when she upped her calories that she had enough energy to work out at all.
posted by gatorae at 6:01 PM on July 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: The type of exercise that increases my energy levels is usually 30 minutes or less, not too high intensity, repeated maybe 3x/week to 5x/week. It's also best in the afternoon, like right after work. Or after lunch. (Not right before sleep, for sure. And early morning can make me tired at work.) Like, 5 minute warmup, run 20 minutes with music, 5 minute cooldown/stretch. Or instead of running, do 30 minutes of yoga. Works best if you can just do it from home... put on shoes and go for a run, or do yoga in the living room.

On the contrary, high intensity exercise (2 hrs at the gym lifting heavy) makes me exhausted. I need to sleep a lot more when I'm doing that, because I think my body needs more sleep time for muscle building. Just going over to the gym can also be exhausting. Lights, people, blah. Occasional heavy lifting, though, or occasional intense exercise, can make me sleep better and improve my energy that way. Just not all the time.

If you want to ease into it, you can alternate exercise with meditation. Exercise for 30 minutes one day, and meditate around the same time of day, the next day. Part of the benefit is by making yourself stop what you're doing and either exercise and meditate. This is good for quelling your racing thoughts and any anxiety you might have. It's partly about the physical activity, and partly about taking a short period of time out of the day to relax the brain and "get away."

Another thing that gives me endless energy is homemade green juices, like buy a juicer and juice up 2lbs kale, 1lb carrots, 2lbs celery, 1 cucumber, 1 apple, 1/2 inch of ginger, and some lemon juice. That makes tons of juice, which I drink all day for energy. Regular juicing pumps me so full of nutrients that my energy levels get really high. YMMV on that. I know it's a little weird. I find it's more sustainable and healthy feeling than coffee.
posted by htid at 6:10 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

You sound utterly iron deficient, which is COMMON after pregnancy.

Take supplements. Start exercising a week or two after you start taking the supplements.
posted by jbenben at 9:31 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely take a multivitamin if you aren't already. I was shocked at the difference it made.

What worked for me WRT exercise was getting a couple of sets of free weights and using them for 10 or 15 minutes at a time throughout the day. I also do crunches and squats. When I get bored I trade up for heavier weights and go on Pinterest to find new moves or routines.

Basically my attention span is crap, but doing something hard for a few minutes at a time makes me feel much more energetic overall.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 9:00 AM on July 18, 2013

When I started staying home with my son, I had the same thing going on. I found that walking several times a week really energized me. My son didn't like being in a stroller, so I put him in a back carrier and we'd do walks. After about 6 months I had a ton more energy, and we started doing hikes at that point. At one point when he got up to about 30 pounds we were still hiking about 2-3 times a week for an hour or more, and I had all the energy in the world. When we stopped, it took about 6-9 months before I realized that most of that energy was gone.

I will also suggest juicing as a good way to give your body everything it needs to feel great. My favorite is kale, beets, carrots, apple, ginger, lime. You can usually find a juicer used at a thrift shop like the Good Will for 10 bucks or less, rather than spending 100 or more to get a new one. That made a significant difference for the better with my energy levels.
posted by markblasco at 8:44 PM on July 18, 2013

So, here's what works for me. I like to run 3x a week first thing in the morning. This helps me feel like I've gotten something useful done, even if things go sideways at work. Doing something physical also decreases my anxiety levels and makes it easier to fall asleep that evening, which makes me feel better the next day, etc., etc.

Plus, a recent memory of what I have to physically do to burn some number of calories is a good nudge for me when I'm trying to decide between a healthy food item (which I'll feel better for have eaten) and an unhealthy food item (which will make me devote the afternoon to wishing for a nap).

It's not so much that I run and then have magic energy, it's that getting the exercise makes me feel a little bit better heading into the day, which makes dealing with the rest of the day go a little more easily, so I'm less inclined to eat a bunch of crap, so I feel better overall, and I sleep better.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:55 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

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