What is vitality?
The Webster-Merriam Dictionary defines vitality as "the state of being strong and active; energy."
And this is in line with what one usually imagines when asked to define it, as do its synonyms: liveliness, animation, high-spiritedness, vivacity, buoyance, verve, vigour, forcefulness, drive, elan, passion and zest.
The word "Vitality" derives from the Latin word "vita" which means "life", so vitality is being alive in the fullest sense of the word.
The following definitons also describe vitality very well:
- "Vitality refers to the experience of having energy available to one's self.", (Tummers et al., 2018) ( 1 )
- "Vitality [is] a subjective feeling of aliveness and energy", (Muraven, Gagne and Rosman, 2008) ( 2 )
- "The ability of a person to set ambitions appropriate for one's life situation and being able to realise these goals" Westendorp and Schalwijk, (2014) ( 3 )
Vitality is coupled to the concept of engagement, especially vigor, that is, unleashing positive energy in one's daily activities and being resilient in the face of adversity.
You can easily identify a vital person: they are mentally strong, they are less stressed, they enjoy working with communicative leaders and with great autonomy. Vital people are full of positive energy. (1)
Vitality is also linked to happiness, involvement, persistence and commitment in one's day-to-day activities.
It is rooted in feelings of freedom, motivation and autonomy. In this sense, Muraven, Gagne and Rosman, 2008 (2) point out that it reflects your internal well-being and is therefore influenced by your health both mental and physical. Your personality and affective situation also acts upon your vitality:
Quite logically, people who suffer from chronic pain have lower vitalty than those who don't and self motivation is strongly associated with vitality (as in obese patients that lose weight for instance).
Westendorp and Schalwijk, (2014) ( 3 ) mention some of vitality's attributes:
- sense of purpose
As you can see, these are mostly subjective or emotional concepts and it is clear that they are all essential for living a happy and satisfactory life.
Vitality is also flexible, adaptable, it requires adapting to the circumstances of life in each of its stages, overcoming handicaps, and the hurdles of daily life.
Yet the concept of vitality also involves energy, the force that keeps us going, and this brings us to its opposite: fatigue.
What is Fatigue?
"Fatigue has been defined as the subjective experience of tiredness or lack of energy" ( 4 ). But normal tiredness which can be solved by resting or a good's night sleep is not the same as fatigue.
While feeling tired is not such an unpleasant situation, fatigue is definitively unpleasant. It may not even be related to physical or mental exertion and, sleep or rest don't cure it.
There are many possible causes of fatigue:
What can cause fatigue?
Feeling fatigued? Rule out Celiac Disease
Celiac disease (CD) is caused by an immune response launched by the body of susceptible individuals when they eat food containing gluten, a protein found in several cereals (wheat, barley and rye).
This immune system's reaction damages the small intestine reducing its ability to absorb nutrients (vitamins and minerals) it causes a series of long-term digestive problems and chronic inflammation.
This malabsorption of nutrients and the symptoms of the disease affect the patients' quality of life and one of the most frequently reported symptoms is fatigue.
A study by Jordá FC and López Vivancos J. (2010) ( 5 ) found that fatigue was significantly worse in untreated CD patients and that it affected their quality of life. "Fatigue severity was also greater in patients with worse quality of life".
Fortunately CD can be easily treated by avoiding gluten: eating a gluten-free diet is the only cure for this disease.
0.5 to 1% of Americans suffer from Celiac Disease, many don't even know they do. The digestive symptoms can be quite mild sometimes, but not the fatigue and weakness it produces.
Take home point
Feeling fatigued? Maybe you suffer from Celiac Disease. Perhaps you should check with your doctor.
Fatigue in the workplace
In 2017, a team led by D. M. Rose (4) analyzed the links between work fatigue, work conditions and other possible factors. To do so, they reviewed 7,930 people participating in a German health study, all of them employed, both men and women. They found that work related strains were associated with fatigue:
- More than one out of every four participants suffered from fatigue (27.5%)
- Fatigue was strongly linked to work overload, lack of vacation or leisure time and frequent overtime hours
- Frequent conflicts with boss or colleagues increased fatigue
- More women than men suffered from fatigue and also those with "lower vocational training, socioeconomic status and income and those with shorter working hours per week."
- Being ill or having poor lifestyle habits (smokers or overweight people) was also associated with fatigue.
Take home point
To beat fatigue caused by your jop: avoid being a workaholic, take time off, go on a vacation. Loose weight, quit smoking and improve your interpersonal relationships at work.
Illnesses that can cause fatigue
Some health conditions can make you feel fatigued (among other symptoms) and so can certain treatments and medications: ( 16 )
- Reumathoid arthritis
- Painkillers, andidepressants, andhisitamines
- Medical treatment (ie. radiation, chemotherapy) or surgery
Worrying can wear you out
Stress at work or due to personal problems, anxiety, depression, bereavement, gloomy mood and social withdrawal can all provoke a sensation of exhaustion and fatigue.
Poor Lifestyle habits
Unhealthy befavior can sap your energy and leave you exhausted. Check out these lifestyle habits and try to correct them:
- Alcohol. Drinking alcohol affects your mood and may interact with your medications. Go dry to avoid depression and the downturns of booze.
- Caffeine. A bit of caffeine may actually promote vitality, but too much of it (think coffee, tee, cola sodas) can interfere with your sleep. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages after 4 PM.
- Unhealthy Food. Food rich in sugar and fat will add pounds and empty calories. Obesity is linked to fatigue. Try to eat a balanced diet.
- Staying up late at night. Try to keep constant sleeping hours (go to bed and get up at the same time every day), sleeping quality is also linked to feeling vital.
- Smoking. Tobacco can cause many diseases in your heart and lungs and also saps vital energy. Don't smoke
Take home point
Adopt healthy lifestyle habits to defeat fatigue.
Physical Activity to ward of Fatigue
Exercise for energy
Office workers spend a lot of time sitting at their desks doing sedentary tasks. Since being physically active improves mood and well-ing and also fights fatigue, our desk jobs, sitting down most of the day gazing at a computer screen must have the opposite effect.
Bergouignan (2016) ( 6 ) studied a group of sedentary adults and divided them into three groups:
- Spent their 6-hour work shift sitting down at their desks
- Sat at their desks but added a 30-minute moderate intensity walk on a treadmill.
- Also sat for 6 hours but every hour they walked for 5-minutes on a treadmill (also a moderate intensity walk)
The outcome: Those who walked on the treadmill (groups 2 and 3) increased self-perceived energy and vigor compared to those in group 1 (the ones who sat down all day).
The group that got up every hour and walked for 5 minutes "improved mood, decreased levels of fatigue and reduced food cravings at the end of the day" compared to the sedentary group and group 2 (those who only walked once each day, during 30 minutes).
The authors conclude that spreading out physical activity throughout the day improves energy, decreases fatigue, enhances good mood and reduces appetite.
Take home point
Get up and take a short 5-minute walk every hour to improve your overall energy, mood and wellbeing at work.
Exercise and physical activity
When you feel worn out, getting up and doing exercise seems counter-intuitive but a new analysis by University of Georgia ( 7 ) shows that engaging in regular exercise increases energy levels and reduces fatigue.
The study involved 70 controlled trials and over 6,800 subjects (including healthy adults, cancer patients, people suffering from heart disease and diabetes).
It found that fatigue levels dropped in sedentary people that exercised in comparison to those who didn't.
The positive effect of exercise is probably due to the neurochemicals that are generated in the brain such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine as a consequence of physical activity. Exercise boosts the output of mood-enhacing neurotransmitters.
More Energy Boosting Tips
You may be asking yourself how can I improve my vitality? or how can I restore my energy naturally?
But don't think along the lines of supplements or medications, you can enhance your vitality with simple natural boosters:
A couple of cups of coffee or tea per day will keep you physically active
A recent study (Torquati et al., 2018) ( 8 )involving 7,580 Australian women, reported that those who drank 1 to 2 cups of coffee per day were 14% more likely to fulfill the weekly physical activity goals of 500 minutes ⁄ week than those who drank less than one cup a day (if they drank 1 - 2 cups of tea, they were 26% more likely to meet the goal.
For higher doses of caffeine, drinking more than 2 cups of coffee didn't have any impact on promoting activity, but women drinking more than 3 cups of tea on the other hand were 9% more likely to fulfill their physical activity targets than those drinking less than one.
The authors concluded that Caffeine reduces the perception of fatigue, and increases the feeling of vitality and energy, which will encourage you to exercise.
Take home point
Sip tea or coffee (1 to 2 cups each day) to dampen fatigue, enhance vitality and become more active.
Add protein to your diet to retain vitality as you age
Muscle mass peaks between 20 and 30 years of age, and then declines by about 0.5 to 1% each year (8% per decade). By the time you are 70 to 80 years old, you will retain about 70% of the muscle mass you had when you were thirty, and by the time you are in your eighties, it will have dropped to less than 50%.
Loss of muscle mass leads to a loss in strength and vitality. Strength decreases even faster than muscle mass: aroung 3-4% in men and 2.3 to 3% in women.
Many older adults don't eat enough protein in their diet and that is a serious issue as it may lead to increased muscle loss and as a consequence physical inactivity.
Poor nutrition coupled to lack of exercise accelerates muscle mass decline, so eating an adequate amount of protein is crucial.
A paper by Witar et al., (2016) ( 9 ) addresses this issue and came up with the following recommendations to grow older with health and vitality:
- Resistance exercise training, aerobic exercise (carrying groceries or doing chores at home) or high intensity interval training (HIT) all help to increase and maintain muscle mass and strenth in both older men and women
- The current daily allowance recommendation for protein (0.8 g ⁄ kg of body mass per day) is too low, and older adults should aim at a 1.2 to 1.5 g ⁄ kg of body mass daily.
- The daily goal of protein intake should be spread out throgh the day's three meals to optimize its uptake for muscle building: eat 0.4 - 0.5 g ⁄ kg of BM per day
- Some polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish oils (omega-3) such as EPA and DHA in combination with protein help maximize muscle protein synthesis.
- Adding fat and carbs to the diet could improve the body's use of the essential amino acids found in protein to build muscle, even if the protein intake is insufficient.
Take home point
Eat the right amount of protein and do exercise, you will maintain muscle mass, strenght and vitality for longer.
But eating too much protein won't help
Aging also causes the cells' powerhouses, the mitochondria to reduce their output of ATP, a molecule that is the energy source for cellular functions. Lower ATP output contributes to a drop in vitality in elder people. A team led by Stephane Warland (2008) ( 10 ) ran a test to see if an increased protein intake (beyond the recommended daily intakes) improved muscle mass and mitochondrial function.
They examined a group of healthy young (average age 24.3 years) and old people (average age 70 years) and split them into two groups, one eating the usual diet, the other eating a diet with twice the protein content.
- "No increase in whole body or muscle protein synthesis" in either old or young subjects
- As expected, muscle mitochondrial ATP production was lower by 35 to 40% in older people when compared to younger people in both diet groups.
- "The high-protein diet had no stimulatory effect" on ATP production in old and young subjects
Take home point
A High protein diet will not improve your vitality (or your muscle mass).
Sleep and Vitality
Antje Schmitt and team ( 11 ) investigated the role of daily vitality and the quantity and quality of sleep. They found that sleep quality (not quantity) had the greatest influence on daily vitality.
Take home point
It is not about sleeping longer, but about sleep quality.
Read more about how to sleep better and wake up relaxed and fresh:
Take a walk in the outdoors
A research team led by Richard Ryan (2010) ( 12 ) conducted a series of experiments in which the subjects (537 college students) were exposed to natural and artificial environments, this not only included taking a walk along a tree-lined river bank, but also looking at photographs or imagining themselves both indoors and outdoors, in contact with nature.
The trial then recorded the participants' energy levels and mood.
Ryan found that those who had spent more time in actual or imagined natural settings had higher levels of energy than those who had visualized or been in man-made ones.
"Being outside in nature for just 20 minutes in a day was enough to significantly boost vitality levels".
So it is Nature, our original cradle, where we feel best. Our modern lives isolate us from it, but we should try to reconnect with it, by actively interacting with it: cycling, hiking, walking in the park, a forest, gazing at trees, a pond, the horizon by the sea.
Photographs with natural scenery or even a plant on our desk also enhance our contact with nature and energize us.
Being overweight can cause not only physical but also psychological problems such as depression or anxiety. Charles Swencionis, et al., (2013) ( 13 ) examined how the wellbeing and vitality of a group of 588 obese or overweight subjects evolved as they followed a weight-loss program over a 12-month period.
The group as a whole lost 5 lbs. at the end of the study (2.2 kg), and this weight loss improved not only their anxiety and depression levels (lower), psychologial wellbeing and self control (higher), it also reflected on their vitality, which was in fact contributed the largest percentage of variance in their psychological well-being change.
Take home point
Losing weight improves your overall well-being and increases your vitality dramatically.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
If your energy levels are low, ad you feel constantly fatigued for several weeks, it is time to visit your healthcare provider.
Your physician may ask questions about your sleeping habits, diet, physical activity and may order some lab tests.
In the UK, over 10% of patients calling on their doctors report at least one month of substantial fatigue (Harvey, 2009) ( 14 ) and the causes are not always easily identifiable: "only 8% of patients presenting with fatigue had a blood-test detectable somatic illness", so the lab tests may not reveal the underlying cause for your lack of energy.
Generally the cause of your decreased vitality will be one of the factors mentioned in this article (lack of exercise, being overweight, sleep problems), but there is also the chance that the cause remains unexplained, and that is what is diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) (if it lasts for more than 6 months).
CFS does not have any specific treatments, and full recovery is rare.
CFS may be accompanied by other symptoms such as headaches, memory lapses, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, and tenderness of the lymph nodes.
Some treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may help reduce CFS' effects.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, causes
Many factors may intrerplay in predisposing you to CFS, and then triggering it: women are more predisposed to it, having suffered from a psychiatric disorder, emotional instability or suffering from a disabling illness during childhood or being an over-active child or adolescent are all factors that increase your risk of suffering from CFS.
It is more frequent among those aged 40 to 50 years old.
Its causes remain a mystery, but viral infections -such as Epstein-Barr Virus -which causes mononucleosis ( 15 ), hormonal imbalances and immune disorders may trigger CFS, but no clear links have yet been established.
Lack of vitality, vigor and energy is quite common: depression, anxiety and stress can sap our energy. Workplace stress and our sedentary lifestyles coupled to obesity also cause fatigue.
Being more active, getting up and doing more physical activity, losing weight and dropping unhealthy lifestyle habits (alcohol, smoking, eating junk food) can erradicate fatigue and improve our quality of life.
Cite this article:
A. Whittall. ©2018. Energy & Vitality. Patagonia Wellness, Nov. 05 2018. http://www.patagoniawellness.com/wellness/energy-vitality.html
Subject: Energy and Vitality: tips on how to recover your energy and vitality naturally, with exercise, a balanced diet, weight loss a healthy lifestyle and sleep. This can eliminate fatigue restore vitality and improve quality of life.
References and Further Reading
(1) Lars Tummers, Bram Steijn, Barbara Nevicka, and Madelon Heerema, (2018). The Effects of Leadership and Job Autonomy on Vitality: Survey and Experimental Evidence. Rev Public Pers Adm. 2018 Sep; 38(3): 355-377. 2016 Oct 4. doi: [10.1177/0734371X16671980]
(2) Mark Muraven, Marylene Gagne, and Heather Rosman (2008). Helpful Self-Control: Autonomy Support, Vitality, and Depletion. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2008 May; 44(3): 573-585. doi: [10.1016/j.jesp.2007.10.008]
(3) Rudi G. J. Westendorp and Frank H. Schalkwijk, (2014). When longevity meets vitality. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Vol 73:3 August 2014 , pp. 407-412
(4) D. M. Rose, et al., (2017). Associations of fatigue to work-related stress, mental and physical health in an employed community sample. BMC Psychiatry. 2017; 17: 167. 2017 May 5. doi: [10.1186/s12888-017-1237-y]
(5) Jordá FC and López Vivancos J., (2010). Fatigue as a determinant of health in patients with celiac disease. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2010 Jul;44(6):423-7. doi: 10.1097/MCG.0b013e3181c41d12
(6) Audrey Bergouignan et al., (2016). Effect of frequent interruptions of prolonged sitting on self-perceived levels of energy, mood, food cravings and cognitive function. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2016; 13: 113. 2016 Nov 3. doi: [10.1186/s12966-016-0437-z]
(7) University of Georgia. Regular Exercise Plays A Consistent And Significant Role In Reducing Fatigue. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 November 2006
(8) Luciana Torquati, Geeske Peeters, Wendy J. Brown, and Tina L. Skinner, (2018). A Daily Cup of Tea or Coffee May Keep You Moving: Association between Tea and Coffee Consumption and Physical Activity. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Sep; 15(9): 1812. 2018 Aug 22. doi: [10.3390/ijerph15091812]
(9) Oliver C. Witar, Chris McGlory, D. Lee Hamilton and Stuart M. Phillips, (2016). Growing older with health and vitality: a nexus of physical activity, exercise and nutrition. Biogerontology June 2016, Vol 17:3, pp 529-546
(10) Stephane Walrand, et al., (2008). Functional impact of high protein intake on healthy elderly people. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Oct; 295(4): E921-E928. 2008 Aug 12. doi: [10.1152/ajpendo.90536.2008]
(11) Schmitt, Antje,Belschak, Frank D.,Den Hartog, Deanne N., (2017). Feeling vital after a good night’s sleep: The interplay of energetic resources and self-efficacy for daily proactivity. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol 22(4), Oct 2017, 443-454
(12) Richard M. Ryan, Netta Weinstein, Jessey Bernstein, Kirk Warren Brown, Louis Mistretta, Marylene Gagne, (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2010; 30 (2): 159 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2009.10.009
(13) Charles Swencionis, et al., (2013). Weight Change, Psychological Well-Being, and Vitality in Adults Participating in a Cognitive-Behavioral Weight Loss Program. Health Psychol. 2013 Apr; 32(4): 439-446. 2012 Aug 13. doi: [10.1037/a0029186]
(14) Samuel B Harvey, (2009). Tired all the time: can new research on fatigue help clinicians?. Br J Gen Pract. 2009 Apr 1; 59(561): 237-239, doi: [10.3399/bjgp09X420284]
(15) Cort Johnson, (2018). The Autoimmune Virus? Groundbreaking EBV Finding Could Help Explain ME/CFS. April 30, 2018 Simmaron Research Inc.
(16) NIH, National Institute on Aging (2016). Fatigue in Older Adults. Accessed 02.Nov.2018