Beat lockdown lethargy

Tackle your lack of energy with these diet and supplement suggestions

We are currently living in strange and stressful times. Our usual routine of the school run and the commute to work has been replaced with a home-schooling and working-from-home set-up. Meetings and social events are being carried out on webcams and our regular gym routine seems like a distant memory. It’s no wonder that many people are feeling utterly exhausted and depleted.

Stress and anxiety

“Studies have demonstrated that inactivity, stress and the mental tiredness that they cause impact negatively upon physical capacity and energy levels,” says Mike Wakeman from www.vitmedics.com. “Stress and anxiety also adversely affect sleep, which further leads to increased feelings of fatigue and low energy levels. These issues can be compounded if people have been unable to exercise as they would normally have done, for example, at the gym as a result of the lockdown. So, typically energy levels might be depleted, and the motivation to restart engaging in higher levels of activity could be lacking now that restrictions appear to be lifting.”

Suzie Sawyer, clinical nutritionist from www.feelaliveuk.com says: “We often feel more invigorated and energetic just by being around energetic and engaging people, especially family and friends. Our social interaction has been severely lacking and for some people who have been totally isolated, seeing no one for a while can make you feel really lacklustre, often depressed, which affects energy levels.”

Coping mechanisms

“Clearly there is heightened anxiety and many people are worried on all manner of levels right now, and for very good reason,” says Suzie. “Whilst the immune system can update its protective effects on the body in the short-term, longer-term stress and anxiety raises cortisol levels which suppress production of white blood cells, needed to fight infections. Additionally, vitamins C and B5 are needed to produce stress hormones secreted by the adrenal glands; these nutrients get used up more quickly during stressful times. However, the great news is there’s much we can do to protect our immune system, relieve anxiety and to feel more balanced. Here are a few tips:

  • The mineral magnesium activates one of our calming brain neurotransmitters, GABA. Green leafy vegetables and whole grain foods are rich in magnesium so broccoli, kale and oats are your friends right now.
  • Taking Epsom salt baths is another great way of increasing magnesium levels and helping you sleep better and relieve anxiety.
  • Certain adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola rosea help the body better cope with stress and instill feelings of calm and balance.
  • Make sure you’re supporting the immune system by eating plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables (frozen is fine if you can’t get fresh) as they’re rich in immune-boosting and stress-busting vitamin C. If you feel you’re protecting yourself as much as possible, this may help alleviate some of the anxiety and worry about the virus.
  • It’s been said many times, but watching the news definitely heightens worry and anxiety. Instead, catch up on some box-sets, read a book or do some yoga or Pilates at home.”

How to get back on track

“No diet or nutrient will cure or protect against illnesses, but there are ways we can update our diets to get our health on track,” says Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS; www.hsis.org). Here are her top five tips for helping to support your immune function and increase your energy levels.

  • 1. Support immune function with the right balance of vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C and zinc, as well as vitamin A and D, are known to support normal immune function. Studies show that when vitamin C and zinc are taken in combination at the start of a cold, they can knock a couple of days off your symptoms. Consider a daily multivitamin and multimineral supplement and eat plenty of citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, kale, fish and whole grains.

  • 2. B vitamins have a vital role in helping the body to extract energy from our foods, particularly carbohydrates. A ‘B complex’ supplement, containing thiamin, riboflavin, B6, B12, folic acid and niacin is a good option, particularly if you are vegetarian or vegan. B vitamins are found naturally in soy, eggs, meat, seeds and fish.

  • 3. Wellbeing can be boosted by taking daily exercises, such as brisk walking, dancing or gym classes. This creates endorphin chemicals in the brain which make us feel more positive. Support your active lifestyle by choosing foods and drinks rich in polyphenols which support blood vessel function, such as colourful fruits and vegetables, orange juice, tea and small amounts of dark chocolate.

  • 4. Mental function depends on the ease of chemical messages jumping from one brain junction to another, called synapses. Studies show that the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in marine oils help to make this process more effective. Omega-3s can be found in oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, or fish oil supplements. Algae supplements are available for vegetarians.

  • 5. While we might be feeling sleepier and more sluggish due to spending so much time indoors, this can often be helped by getting better quality sleep, not necessarily more sleep! Switch off all screen-based entertainment at least an hour before bed, do some relaxing meditation and then enjoy a warm milky drink. Dairy foods contain an amino acid, called tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin and help regulate sleep. You can also take a supplement containing 5-HTP or drink a chamomile or valerian tea before bed.

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