When we’re feeling tired, run down, fatigued, or drained, exercise often seems unappealing. Feeling tired seems like a valid reason to avoid exercise. After all, if it’s an effort just to drag yourself from the car inside to the couch, there’s surely not enough extra energy to take a brisk walk, go swimming, or hit the gym–right?
But you probably picked up from the way I asked that this isn’t right, that how much energy we feel at a given moment isn’t really a reliable indicator of how much energy we could have in other circumstances. Certainly the exhaustion you feel after running a marathon means your body is tapped out, but at the end of a long day or in the middle of a lazy morning, feeling tired very often is only an indicator that our bodies haven’t received a signal that much energy is needed for the moment. Exercise can send just that kind of signal.
According to Tom Rath and Jim Harter in their book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, “A comprehensive analysis of more than 70 trials found that exercising is much more effective at eliminating fatigue than prescription drugs used for this purpose” (emphasis theirs). Exercise cranks up metabolism, helping to consume fat, build muscle, and create short-term and long-term energy.
In my own experience, this ability of exercise to make me feel more energized when tired came as a surprise. As I began to gain competency in Taekwondo over the last few years and was able to participated in advanced classes, I began going four to six hours a week. In order to keep that schedule up, many of the evenings I planned to go to Taekwondo turned out to be evenings when I felt dead tired. I tried going anyway, and to my surprise, my exhaustion almost always lifted by about ten minutes into the first class of the evening, and unless I was doing a very strenuous workout, I kept feeling energetic even after class.
Photo by Jean-Christophe Dichant