Stop relying on caffeine to get you through the day - Helen Foster investigates the high-energy boosts that come naturally
Tiredness is the plague of the 20th century. Latest figures show that a staggering 86 per cent of us feel tired all the time. "People are exhausted and they think it's normal because everyone else they know feels the same," says Dr Charles Innes at The Health Partnership. "But of course it's not normal. It's the result of a modern world which the body really wasn't designed to deal with. Nowadays too many of us take in diminished levels of energy-giving nutrients because of bad diet, while expending almost unlimited amounts because our lives are so hectic."

To make matters worse, nutritionist Patrick Holford says that our systems are simultaneously struggling to cope with the 2,000 or more chemicals that we are regularly exposed to and that our minds are overloaded as well, processing around 6,000 thoughts a day. Then there's the sleep debt that almost all of us live with; we lack, on average, two hours' quality kip at any given time. Eventually we do get used to feeling this way, but according to the experts we really should stop and take action. "Mentally you may well adapt to feeling tired all the time," says Innes, "but your body won't and after a while fatigue will make you ill."

The four experts we spoke to offer alternative methods for improving energy levels, and all are energy boosters that are designed to pick you up quickly (or even instantly). We also asked the knackered and the shattered to give them a test run.

THE SHIATSU MASSAGE

JANE WARKIN, 37, GRAPHIC DESIGNER

THE TREATMENT

While no complementary therapy will change long-term energy levels in just one session, a shiatsu massage can help as a pick-me-up, says therapist Yuki Umiguchi, who works at Holmes Place Chelsea and The Grove in Kensington, London. "Even one treatment causes the release of endorphins in the body and leaves you feeling lighter," she says. "And as you have more and more treatments shiatsu actually regulates the body's energy (or chi), balancing the body and reducing tiredness."

According to shiatsu principles, chi flows through 12 energy pathways in the body. If chi flows too fast or is weak, our bodies are thrown out of balance and physical symptoms such as fatigue can occur. Practitioners use techniques including stretching, manipulation or massage of the muscles and acupressure to balance the energies. "In most cases fatigue is related to problems in the stomach and spleen," says Umiguchi. "And the most common causes of such problems are bad diet and hurried or irregular eating, emotional problems and overwork."

THE VERDICT

Jane Warkin had two shiatsu sessions five days apart.

"I'm currently trying to start my own business so I'm constantly thinking about what to do next. It was scary to hear Yuki blame my fatigue on 'over- thinking' - she knew nothing about me. During the treatment she used light massage, acupressure and magnet therapy and I walked out feeling clear- headed and alive for the first time in months. She also released the tension in my shoulders, something even violent massage hasn't managed before. While I'm still tired generally, I felt better immediately after each treatment. Yuki explained it would take six to 12 treatments to balance my energy and beat fatigue. I'm going to give it a go."

THE HERB

MARJORIE PHILLIPS, 46, CARER FOR HER SICK MOTHER

THE TREATMENT

"There are many natural substances that can improve energy, but one of the most exciting is called rhodiola," says Alice Jordan, technical adviser at Solgar. "This belongs to the same family as ginseng, but we believe it to be considerably more powerful." Rhodiola is one of a group of herbs called adaptogens - so named because they help the body's hormones to adapt to pressures such as stress, physical exertion, overwork, mental distress or even just too many late nights. "They do this by regulating the chemicals used to deal with the stress and ensuring that your body has the maximum chance of fighting back," Jordan says. "In studies of fatigue sufferers taking the herb, 64 per cent reported that symptoms decreased or even disappeared."

It is also reported to regulate sleep patterns by preventing the destruction of the chemicals that control sleep. There are no set rules about how long the changes take but, according to Jordan, "All the studies have shown discernible effects in two to three weeks."

THE VERDICT

Marjorie Phillips took three rhodiola pills a day.

"The past few weeks caring for my mother has really taken it out of me. I was waking up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep and finding it impossible to switch off. I felt everything was suffering but I could hardly say to my mum 'sorry, I'm tired'. I was near the end of my tether, but this really did seem to help. By day four I had the first full night's sleep I've had in a month and things seemed easier to deal with. By day 10 I definitely had more energy and the edge had been taken off my stress. This could be because I was sleeping better but who cares? I feel more like myself again and that's all that matters."

THE EXERCISE PLAN

SHONA SMITH, 27, STAFF NURSE

THE TREATMENT

"Any activity at all will increase circulation and boost the amount of energising oxygen that reaches the brain," says Rachel Greenstreet, fitness adviser at Spires Health Club in Canterbury. But when it comes to maximising instant energy potential, not all exercise is equal.

"Moderate to hard activity really increases the body's ability to make energy," Greenstreet explains. "Firing up endorphins boosts energy fast and triggering them takes 20-30 minutes of fairly hard cardiovascular work - you need to run, cycle, or powerwalk. In other words you need to do anything that'll make you sweat and get your heart rate up. If you want an instant burst, going for a gentle amble on the treadmill just won't work. You have to push yourself."

The result will be an energy burst that lasts two to three hours. "If you want to wake up before socialising, exercise in the afternoon or early evening," Greenstreet says. "And if you need the energy to go to work, morning workouts are best."

Drink plenty of water and pack a banana. "Dehydration cuts energy by 40 per cent and if you don't eat carbohydrates within an hour of exercising, your blood sugar will drop and leave you exhausted - which rather defeats the object."

THE VERDICT

Shona Smith tried exercising four times a week.

"Getting up at 5.30am then standing on my feet all day means I wake up shattered and stay tired; come 8pm I just need to go to sleep. I've never exercised before but, frankly, I can't walk around feeling this dreadful much longer. I made myself go every morning at 6am. It wasn't easy; I had to exercise at 65-80 per cent of my maximum heartbeat which meant fairly fast jogging and it hurt, but within five to ten minutes I felt so much better that I forced myself to stick at it for 30. When I left the gym I felt brilliant. I had more energy throughout the day and my mood was better. The only thing it didn't do was alter my bedtime. I still fell asleep at 8pm but I slept better. I'm going to stick at this."

THE ENERGY BREAK

MARK DE LARA, 31, STORE BUYER

THE TREATMENT

According to Bradford Keeney, author of The Energy Break (Newleaf, pounds 7.99), fatigue is caused because we've forgotten how to tap into our main energy source: the vibrations emitted by the Earth. "We think that when we're tired we need food or stimulants," he says. "We don't. We need retuning just like a musical instrument."

Keeney explains that we can retune our bodies through movements such as rocking or shaking. Apparently, these help our bodies to tap into the surrounding energy and absorb the vitality they need. To feel it for yourself, sit with your feet on the floor and gently lift one heel. Your calf muscle will start to shake - and that, according to Keeney, is an indication that your body is energising. New age claptrap? Maybe not. Research at the University of California revealed that the body is actually surrounded by a magnetic field - and that each individual's field "vibrates" at its own frequency.

It's also been proven that the Earth emits energy at a rate of 7.83 cycles per second and that when our bodies are in a state of relaxation, we emit energy at that exact same speed. The idea of the book is to teach you how to use this to vitalise yourself.

THE VERDICT

Mark De Lara took an "energy break" every day.

"I have to travel all over the United Kingdom for my work, and not only does the travelling exhaust me, but it also makes it impossible to do anything about it. I was therefore quite intrigued by the idea of the 'energy break'.

"The idea is that you go somewhere quiet and start rocking or moving your body until you fall into a natural rhythm, which you then keep up for 10 minutes or so.

"At first I felt ridiculous, but I stuck at it and am amazed to say that it did do something. I can only describe it as the same feeling you get when you're dancing - all of a sudden, energy seems to take you over and you just wake up. It's all very strange."

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