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Instant Energy

It's an ironic glitch of nature that we parents, the ones most in need of energy, never have enough. The good news: There are simple, quick  -- even fun  -- steps you can take to get more pep (and resorting to Starbucks isn't even one of them!):


You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: Exercise is the ultimate way to revive. As it pumps up your heart rate, it can brighten your mood, boost your memory, and help you focus and concentrate. "Research shows that the more energy you expend, the more you get back," says Pamela Peeke, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland.

You needn't run a marathon to reap some of the benefits: Take the stairs, run an errand on your bike instead of driving, play "catch me" with your toddler, walk laps around the soccer field as you watch your child's game. Bonuses: You'll sleep better and be less susceptible to colds and other bugs.


Energy reserves are lowest in the morning. Think about it: It's been 8 to 12 hours since you've last eaten. "If you don't eat first thing, your body will be running on fumes," says registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer, author of Food & Mood. Even a nutritious lunch won't give you the oomph you'd have gotten from the right meal in the AM.

Some fast and easy nutrition-packed breakfasts:

  • A bowl of whole-grain cereal with milk, and a banana or orange juice

  • An English muffin with jam or peanut butter, and a nectarine

  • A smoothie, blended from 1 cup milk, 1/2 can apricots, 1/2 cup orange juice, and 2 tablespoons toasted wheat germ.


Water play is a great refresher. Soak a bunch of foam rubber balls or large sponges, and play dodgeball, basketball, or a simple game of catch with your family. Or give everyone a little bucket or plastic cup and start a wild round of water tag. My son thinks it's funny when I sprawl out in our backyard wading pool, or park a chair under the lawn sprinkler on hot afternoons; to me, it's bliss.


Exposure to light  -- whether natural or artificial  -- boosts energy and mood, and helps us sleep. "Our brains use light to regulate our bodies," says Ann McDowell, M.D., medical director of the Sleep Wake Disorder Center at Flowers Hospital, in Dothan, AL. "If we don't get enough, it feels like jet lag." So try to take a walk outside before work or at lunch, exercise in your backyard, or just grab a lawn chair or blanket and read the paper.


We all have some stylish outfit in our wardrobe that makes us feel especially pulled together. Wearing my sleek black power suit, my favorite jeans and lime-green sweater, or a pair of chunky-heeled boots always helps me feel on top of my game, whether I'm facing an important meeting or a day of shuttling my preschooler to activities around town.


Make it a point to meet with friends regularly for lunch or coffee. Mark your calendar and keep the appointment just as you would a trip to the doctor, says Amy Flowers, Ph.D., a psychologist at Focal Pointe Women, a women's health and services center in Macon, GA. "It recharges you to laugh, commiserate, and share feelings with a pal," she says. "Taking this time for yourself almost feels like playing hooky. It's delicious."


Sleep deprivation may go hand in hand with new parenthood, but you can help make up for lost nighttime hours by napping whenever the baby does. Forget about laundry and other chores  -- go lie down.

As your kids get older and spend more time out of the house, take advantage of solitary hours with an afternoon rest. If you can't fall asleep (or if you're at work), put your feet up and close your eyes for 10 minutes.


"Positive moods help trigger the release of endorphins, which rev you up," says Flowers. She suggests keeping a journal: "Every day write down three things you're thankful for, whether little things, like 'I'm glad somebody did the dishes,' or big ones, like 'I'm glad my family is healthy.' You'll realize that there's plenty in your life to feel good about."

A quick fix: Smile, even if you have to force it. Research shows that "faking" happiness by grinning can trick your mind into actually feeling it.


Kids aren't the only ones who benefit from a vivid imagination  -- imagery techniques work for adults too. Close your eyes for a few minutes and think of energy as a bright light. Then imagine that light filling your body and recharging you.


Doughnuts, candy bars, caffeine: These may give you a temporary lift, but then they let you crash, leaving you draggier than you were before. To really fuel up, choose a snack with both carbohydrates and protein. "The combination satisfies longer than either does alone, and it prevents blood-sugar slumps," says Somer. Smart mid-afternoon nibbles:  -- A piece of fruit, and a slice of turkey or cheese on bread or crackers  -- A bowl of popcorn and a glass of milk  -- Peanut butter on a rice cake or English muffin.


Soak in a bubble bath, get your hair cut, do your nails, buy a new lipstick: When you look good on the outside, you feel better on the inside.

"For me, getting a facial takes off a layer of stress," says Nancy Davis, mother of a 5- and an 8-year-old in Pelham, NY. "I feel like I can face the world again."

Don't want to spring for a professional treatment? A simple at-home eye "lift" from Margaux Glaser, of Carmel, CA, founder of the Al Benessere line of spa products: Put a few drops of rosewater on two cotton swabs, and place them over your eyelids for 15 minutes.


"Music is second only to physical activity for changing a bad mood," says Robert Thayer, Ph.D., author of Origin of Everyday Moods. Rhythms that make you move your body give the added effect of exercise.

As a mother of a 4- and a 6-year-old, Lisa Yakomin's nightclub days are long gone. But when she's worn out at the end of a hectic day, this mom from Woodcliff Lake, NJ, pops in an old club-mix CD and dances around with her kids. "It invigorates all of us," she says, "and reminds me of a time when I had energy to spare."


Feeling fatigued may actually be a sign you're dehydrated. "You really do need at least eight glasses of water a day," says Somer. "Your urine should be almost clear. And try to drink before you're thirsty; otherwise, you've probably waited too long." Fill a one-quart bottle with water, and keep it on your desk, the kitchen counter, or in the car. When you've emptied it twice, you know you've reached your quota. Fruit juice is fine as well, but avoid caffeinated beverages, which dehydrate.


Relax the body and concentrate the mind, says Miriam Belov, founder of The Wellness Agenda, a New York City company that runs a seminar for mind/ body, health, and fitness. "Once you're calm, you can think more clearly, prioritize your to-do lists, and get on with your day," she says.

Belov's technique:

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair, keeping your spine straight, and inhale calmly and deeply into the abdominal area. Slowly breathe out. Imagine breathing in energy and out stress.

  2. Slowly move your shoulders up, and roll them forward and back down again. Then do the same thing in reverse. "As you do this, let go of tension and all of the 'shoulds,' all of the things that you think you ought to be doing," says Belov.

  3. Breathe in, and choose a word to concentrate on, such as "peace." Just a few minutes of meditating should leave you feeling revitalized.

Amy Zintl writes about health for a variety of magazines. She is the mother of two and lives in Rockland County, NY.