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Harvard Health Publications -- Harvard Medical School HEALTHbeat
June 7, 2006

Dear HEALTHbeat subscriber,

If you’re like me, you’re intimately familiar with the mid-afternoon energy slump. While it’s tempting to turn to caffeine or sugar in hope of a quick energy burst, there are better ways to keep awake and productive. In this issue of HEALTHbeat we offer you nine ways to boost your energy … naturally.

Also, Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D., editor of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, talks about treatments for a painful problem, that affects feet, called plantar fasciitis.

Wishing you good health,

Nancy Ferrari
Managing Editor
Harvard Health Publications

In This Issue
1 9 tips to boost your natural energy
2 Notable from Harvard Medical School:
* Vitamins and Minerals:
   What you need to know
* Foot Care Basics:
   Preventing and treating
   common foot conditions
3 Question and Answer with Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D.:
What can I do about plantar fasciitis?

From Harvard Medical School
Boosting Your Energy

Fatigue is one of the most common complaints people bring to their doctors. The source of the problem can be difficult to pinpoint, as fatigue can result from a number of conditions including infection, depression, and certain diseases. But chronic fatigue can be overcome through a variety of treatments, good nutrition, medication, and exercise. In Boosting Your Energy, you will discover ways to conquer fatigue and increase your energy level so chronic exhaustion is a thing of the past.

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1\ 9 Ways to Boost Your Energy

Go to the store, and you’ll see a multitude of vitamins, herbs, and other supplements touted as energy boosters. Some are even added to soft drinks and other foods. But there’s little or no scientific evidence that energy boosters like ginseng, guarana, and chromium picolinate actually work. Thankfully, there are things you can do to enhance your own natural energy levels. Here are nine tips:

1. Control stress.

Stress-induced emotions consume huge amounts of energy. Talking with a friend or relative, joining a support group, or seeing a psychotherapist can all help diffuse stress. Relaxation therapies like meditation, self-hypnosis, yoga, and tai chi are also effective tools for reducing stress.

2. Lighten your load

One of the main reasons for fatigue is overwork. Overwork can include professional, family, and social obligations. Try to streamline your list of “must-do” activities. Set your priorities in terms of the most important tasks. Pare down those that are less important. Consider asking for extra help at work, if necessary.

3. Exercise

Exercise almost guarantees that you’ll sleep more soundly. It also gives your cells more energy to burn and circulates oxygen. And exercising causes your body to release epinephrine and norepinephrine, stress hormones that in modest amounts can make you feel energized. Even a brisk walk is a good start.

4. Avoid smoking

You know smoking threatens your health. But you may not know that smoking actually siphons off your energy by causing insomnia. The nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant, so it speeds the heart rate, raises blood pressure, and stimulates brain-wave activity associated with wakefulness, making it harder to fall asleep. And once you do fall asleep, its addictive power can kick in and awaken you with cravings.

5. Restrict your sleep

If you think you may be sleep-deprived, try getting less sleep. This advice may sound odd, but determining how much sleep you actually need can reduce the time you spend in bed not sleeping. This process makes it easier to fall asleep and promotes more restful sleep in the long run. Here’s how to do it:

  • Avoid napping during the day.
  • The first night, go to bed later than normal and get just four hours of sleep.
  • If you feel that you slept well during that four-hour period, add another 15–30 minutes of sleep the next night.
  • As long as you’re sleeping soundly the entire time you’re in bed, slowly keep adding sleep on successive nights.

6. Eat for energy

It’s better to eat small meals and snacks every few hours than three large meals a day. This approach can reduce your perception of fatigue because your brain needs a steady supply of nutrients.

Eating foods with a low glycemic index — whose sugars are absorbed slowly — may help you avoid the lag in energy that typically occurs after eating quickly absorbed sugars or refined starches. Foods with a low glycemic index include whole grains, high-fiber vegetables, nuts, and healthy oils such as olive oil. In general, high-carbohydrate foods have the highest glycemic indexes. Proteins and fats have glycemic indexes that are close to zero.

7. Use caffeine to your advantage

Caffeine does help increase alertness, so having a cup of coffee can help sharpen your mind. But to get the energizing effects of caffeine, you have to use it judiciously. It can cause insomnia, especially when consumed in large amounts or after 2 p.m.

8. Limit alcohol

One of the best hedges against the midafternoon slump is to avoid drinking alcohol at lunch. The sedative effect of alcohol is especially strong at midday. Similarly, avoid a five o’clock cocktail if you want to have energy in the evening. If you’re going to drink, do so in moderation at a time when you don’t mind having your energy wind down.

9. Drink water

What’s the only nutrient that has been shown to enhance performance for all but the most demanding endurance activities? It’s not some pricey sports drink. It’s water. If your body is short of fluids, one of the first signs is a feeling of fatigue.

For more information on the many things you can do to increase your natural energy, order our special health report, Boosting Your Energy, available at

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2\ Notable from Harvard Medical School
** Vitamins and Minerals: What you need to know

Are you one of the millions of American regularly taking a vitamin or mineral supplement? The Benefits and Risks of Vitamins and Minerals: What you need to know delves into what’s proven, what’s promising, and what may be a waste of money. You’ll find information to help guide your choices based on new recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and data from large-scale, long-term studies done at Harvard and other sites.

** Foot Care Basics: Preventing and treating common foot conditions

Do your arches ache or your toes feel sore and swollen? If so, you are not alone. About three out of four Americans will suffer some kind of foot ailment in their lifetimes, and there are at least 300 different types of foot problems. In Foot Care Basics, you’ll find ways to help prevent and treat common foot disorders, from bunions to foot fungus. It also offers advice to those who have health conditions that affect the feet, such as diabetes and arthritis.

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3\ Q&A: What can I do about plantar fasciitis?

Q: I have pain on the bottom of my foot that my doctor tells me is plantar fasciitis. It’s really interfering with my daily walking routine. What can I do?

A: Plantar fasciitis causes pain on the sole of the foot in front of the heel, sometimes radiating into the arch. The pain is most severe first thing in the morning. Symptoms may improve as tissues warm up, but they usually return after exercise, walking, or a long day on your feet. Plantar fasciitis is caused by degenerative changes and inflammation of the plantar fascia — bundles of tough connective tissue extending from the heel bone to the bones of the toes. Chronic strain or even stepping on a stone the wrong way may start the inflammatory process.

Time usually heals plantar fasciitis, but it can take weeks to months, and you have to curtail your activities. You should also cushion your heel. A podiatrist or an orthotic shop can make you a special shoe insert (orthotic). However, there’s no evidence these custom-made devices work better than the generic heel cushions you can find at your pharmacy. What matters most is that you wear a cushion in every pair of your shoes.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce inflammation. Stretching exercises to warm up tissues will also help. Before getting out of bed in the morning, flex your foot up and down and side to side.

If your pain doesn’t respond to these measures, your doctor or podiatrist may recommend injecting the spot with corticosteroids. Only an experienced clinician should perform this procedure, which can be painful. The risks include infection, skin damage, and even rupture of the plantar fascia. Some people with recalcitrant heel pain may get relief with extracorporeal shock wave therapy — pulsed sound waves applied to the foot.

A few people may need more drastic therapy, such as surgery or a cast to immobilize the foot. But if you’re patient and attentive to simpler measures, you’re unlikely to need these last resorts.

Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D.
Editor in Chief
Harvard Women’s Health Watch

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Harvard Medical School publishes authoritative special health reports on a wide range of topics. Each report delivers practical information on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of major health concerns in clear, easy-to-understand language. For more information on a specific topic, click the appropriate link below:

Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Bladder, Cholesterol, Depression, Diabetes, Digestion, Energy, Exercise, Eye Disease, Headache, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Memory, Menopause, Prostate, Sexuality, Sleep, Stroke, Vitamins

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Harvard Medical School offers special reports on over 50 health topics. Visit our Web site at to find reports of interest to you and your family.

Copyright 2006 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
To view our archive of past HEALTHbeat e-newsletters click here.
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