Mobility training is important for healthy aging because it helps make everyday tasks easier. Image Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/DigitalVision/GettyImages
When you look into your future, who do you want to see? Someone who’s full of life and chatting everyone up, telling vibrant stories about your past? Still signing up for 10Ks well into your seventh decade? Someone whose doctor tells them they have the heart of someone decades younger?
It’s possible to live longer and feel better if you have the right habits. Here’s what internal medicine doctors, registered dietitians and certified personal trainers do to make sure they age well:
“Consuming a wide variety of foods — whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, dairy and meat and non-meat protein — helps to fuel my body and have it running like a high-octane sports car,” he says. As Planells explains, variety beats boredom and ensures he’s getting a range of nutrients, including carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.
That’s on display with his protein choices, where he toggles between chicken, fish, pork and lamb, as well as snacking on nuts and seeds. In addition to being used to build and repair muscles and maintain the strength of your skeleton, protein is also important for the health of hair and nails, too, he says.
2. ‘I Get Some Sort of Movement in Every Day’
Eric Goldberg, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health and senior director of NYU Langone Internal Medicine Associates, heads out for a run first thing in the morning.”Establishing a strong baseline for fitness at a younger age has been shown to lead to healthier aging,” he tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Movement has looked different for him during the pandemic, and he’s had to make adjustments that would benefit his health the most during the changes of the past year. “I started to run more days of the week — but shorter distances — in order to combat the stress of the past year and to have some intentional movement each day, especially with longer days sitting on a screen,” Dr. Goldberg explains.
Not only does this buoy his physical and mental health today, but it protects against the risk of frailty in the future. Frailty is a syndrome where loss of muscle leads to weakness, slowness, poor endurance and a low level of physical activity, per the Medical University of South Carolina. People who have frailty are more likely to fall, be hospitalized and have an increased risk of mortality — but frailty is not inevitable with aging.
The key, Dr. Goldberg says, is to get into the habit so that this daily movement becomes more automatic. “Habits generally take a month to build, so consistency is essential. Once integrated into your routine, they are easier to maintain,” he says.
3. ‘I Commit to Sleep’
One of the best pieces of healthy aging and longevity advice can be the hardest one to follow: Prioritize sleep as best as you can. Brent Agin, MD, founder and medical director at Priority You MD in Clearwater, Florida, aims for 7 to 8 hours per night. “Quality of sleep is more important than quantity in most cases, so I don’t try to achieve a sleep cycle that’s unrealistic,” Dr. Agin tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Sleep, along with a nutrient-packed diet and regular exercise, is what Dr. Agin considers the three essentials for a healthy lifestyle. “Lifestyle is the driving force behind healthy aging,” he says.
If you know you’re lacking the sleep component, a good place to start is to aim to sleep more than six hours and then incrementally add on 15 minutes from there until you get to a duration that feels good to you. Sleeping fewer than six hours per night is associated with a higher risk of death from heart disease, stroke and cancer, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association.
4. ‘I Exercise According to the 3 Pillars’
There is actually no one right way to exercise, but for the most benefit, you should mix it up. “To make sure I’m prepared for healthy aging, I stick to the idea that my training is diverse and it covers the three pillars that I always go by: cardiovascular training for your heart, strength training for bone health and flexibility, and mobility training for balance,” Aleksandra Stacha-Fleming, certified personal trainer and founder of Longevity Lab NYC, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
The end goal isn’t a specific look or body type, but to allow your body to move freely and do what you need it to do. “Everyone who’s active knowns how good it feels to be able to do everyday tasks without being out of breath, such as being strong enough to shovel the snow out of your driveway or carry groceries home from the store,” Stacha-Fleming says. “To simply do the normal stuff of living freely is aging gracefully with strength, and we should work on that every day.”
Welcome to Fresh Food Fast, your source for creative, accessible recipes and nutrition tips to make eating healthier just a little bit easier — and more fun! Chia seeds may be small, but they’re incredibly rich in nutrients. A staple in the ancient Aztec and Maya diets, these seeds have been touted for their health benefits for centuries.
The antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds may promote heart health, support strong bones, and improve blood sugar management (1Trusted Source).
What’s more, chia seeds are versatile and can be used in many recipes. Personally, I embrace their gel-like consistency by mixing them with liquid and making chia pudding. Here are 7 health benefits of chia seeds, all supported by science.
1. Highly nutritious
Chia seeds are tiny black or white seeds from the plant Salvia hispanica L. They’re believed to be native to Central America (1Trusted Source).
Historically, Aztec and Mayan civilizations used the seeds in their diets, as well as for medicinal purposes, religious rituals, and cosmetics. Today, people all over the world enjoy chia seeds (2Trusted Source).
Ancient civilizations viewed chia seeds as highly nutritious — a belief that’s backed by modern science. In fact, just 1 ounce (28 grams or 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains (3Trusted Source):
protein: 4.7 grams
fat: 8.7 grams
alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): 5 grams
carbs: 11.9 grams
fiber: 9.8 grams
calcium: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
iron: 12% of the DV
magnesium: 23% of the DV
phosphorus: 20% of the DV
zinc: 12% of the DV
vitamin B1 (thiamine): 15% of the DV
vitamin B3 (niacin): 16% of the DV
This nutritional profile is particularly impressive considering that it’s for just a single serving of about two tablespoons.Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are highly nutritious. They’re packed with fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and various micronutrients.
Antioxidants not only protect the sensitive fats in chia seeds from going rancid but also benefit human health by neutralizing reactive molecules known as free radicals, which can damage cell compounds if they build up in your body (1Trusted Source).
The specific antioxidants in chia seeds include chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol. These may all have protective effects on your heart and liver, as well as anticancer properties (1Trusted Source).
For example, chlorogenic acid may help lower blood pressure, while caffeic acid has anti-inflammatory effects (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).Chia seeds are high in antioxidants. These compounds help protect the seed’s delicate fats while also offering health benefits to humans.
3. May support weight loss
The fiber and protein in chia seeds may benefit those trying to lose weight. One ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds has close to 10 grams of dietary fiber. That means they’re a whopping 35% fiber by weight (3Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
Although research on this topic is mixed, some studies suggest that eating fiber may play a role in preventing overweight and obesity (11).Additionally, the protein in chia seeds could help reduce appetite and food intake.
One study in 24 participants found that eating 0.33 ounces (7 grams) or 0.5 ounces (14 grams) of chia seeds mixed with yogurt for breakfast increased feelings of fullness and reduced food intake in the short term compared with eating chia-free yogurt (12Trusted Source).
Even so, studies examining the effectiveness of chia seeds for weight loss have observed mixed results.
In an older study from 2009 involving 90 people with overweight, consuming 50 grams of chia seed supplements per day for 12 weeks did not affect body weight or health markers like blood pressure and inflammation markers (13Trusted Source).
In contrast, a 6-month study involving 77 people with overweight or obesity and type 2 diabetes eating a reduced-calorie diet found that those who took chia seeds daily experienced significantly greater weight loss than those who received a placebo (14Trusted Source).
Though adding chia seeds to your diet is unlikely to cause weight loss on its own, it may be a useful addition to a balanced, nutritious diet if you’re trying to lose weight.Chia seeds are high in protein and fiber, both of which have been shown to aid weight loss. However, studies on chia seeds and weight loss have provided mixed results.
4. May lower your risk of heart disease
Given that chia seeds are high in fiber and omega-3s, consuming them may reduce your risk of heart disease.Soluble fiber, the kind primarily found in chia seeds, can help lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood. In turn, this can reduce your risk of heart disease (15Trusted Source).
Consuming ALA, the omega-3 fatty acid in chia seeds, has also been linked to decreased heart disease risk (16Trusted Source).Still, studies specifically examining the connection between chia seeds and heart health have had inconclusive results.Some rat studies have shown that chia seeds can lower certain heart disease risk factors, including high triglyceride and oxidative stress levels (17, 18).
A few human studies found that chia seed supplements significantly reduced blood pressure in people with hypertension, or high blood pressure, which is a strong risk factor for heart disease (19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).Overall, chia seeds may benefit heart health, but more research is needed.Chia seeds may reduce the risk of heart disease, likely due to the fiber and ALA they contain. However, more human research is needed.
5. Contain many important bone nutrients
Chia seeds are high in several nutrients that are important for bone health, including:
Many observational studies suggest that getting enough of these nutrients is important for maintaining good bone mineral density, an indicator of bone strength (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source).
In addition, ALA in chia seeds may play a role in bone health. Observational studies have found that consuming this nutrient could also be associated with increased bone mineral density (23Trusted Source).Therefore, it’s possible that regularly eating chia seeds could help keep your bones strong.
One animal study found that rats who received chia seeds daily for about 13 months had increased bone mineral content compared with a control group. The authors concluded that ALA may have contributed to this benefit (24Trusted Source).
However, besides animal studies, a limited number of studies have explored this topic, specifically. Ultimately, more human research is needed.Chia seeds are high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and ALA. All of these nutrients have been linked to improved bone mineral density.
6. May reduce blood sugar levels
Consuming chia seeds may help with blood sugar regulation, possibly due to their fiber content and other beneficial compounds.People with diabetes may experience high blood sugar levels. Consistently high fasting blood sugar levels are associated with an increased risk of several complications, including heart disease (25Trusted Source).
Promisingly, animal studies have found that chia seeds may improve insulin sensitivity. This might help stabilize blood sugar levels after meals (26, 1Trusted Source).Research in humans is sparse, but some older studies have shown promising results.
In particular, older research from 2010 and 2013 suggests that eating bread containing chia seeds helps lower post-meal rises in blood sugar among healthy adults, compared with eating bread without chia seeds (27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source). Nevertheless, more research is needed to learn more about the connection between these nutritious seeds and blood sugar regulation.Animal studies suggest that chia seeds may help with blood sugar management, but more human research is needed.
7. Easy to incorporate into your diet
Chia seeds are incredibly easy to incorporate into your diet. They taste rather bland, so you can add them to pretty much anything.You don’t need to grind, cook, or otherwise prepare them, making them a handy addition to recipes.
They can be eaten raw, soaked in juice, or added to oatmeal, pudding, smoothies, and baked goods. You can also sprinkle them on top of cereal, yogurt, vegetables, or rice dishes. Plus, they work wonders in homemade fritters as a binding agent.
Given their ability to absorb water and fat, you can use them to thicken sauces and as an egg substitute. They can also be mixed with water and turned into a gel.
The seeds appear to be well tolerated. Still, if you’re not used to eating a lot of fiber, you might experience digestive side effects like bloating or diarrhea if you eat too many seeds in one sitting.
A common dosage recommendation is 0.7 ounces (20 grams or about 1.5 tablespoons) of chia seeds twice per day. Remember to drink plenty of water to prevent any digestive side effects.Chia seeds are easy to prepare and often used as an egg substitute and added to oatmeal or smoothies.
The bottom line
Chia seeds are not only rich in minerals, omega-3 fat, antioxidants, and fiber but also easy to prepare.Studies suggest that they have various health benefits, ranging from weight loss to a reduced risk of heart disease. However, more research involving humans is needed before any firm conclusions can be made.
If you want to reap the possible benefits of chia seeds, consider incorporating them into your diet. They’re a great addition to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, baked goods, and more.
Dunn C (25 May 2015). “Is chia the next quinoa?”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 February 2016.Cheryl Kaiser, Matt Ernst (February 2016). “Chia”(PDF). University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Center for Crop Diversification Crop Profile. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
Coates, Wayne; Ayerza, Ricardo (1998). “Commercial production of chia in Northwestern Argentina”. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. 75 (10): 1417–1420. doi:10.1007/s11746-998-0192-7. S2CID95974159.Coates, Wayne; Ricardo Ayerza (1996). “Production potential of chia in northwestern Argentina”. Industrial Crops and Products. 5 (3): 229–233. doi:10.1016/0926-6690(96)89454-4.
Ayerza (h), Ricardo; Wayne Coates (2009). “Influence of environment on growing period and yield, protein, oil and α-linolenic content of three chia (Salvia hispanica L.) selections”. Industrial Crops and Products. 30 (2): 321–324. doi:10.1016/j.indcrop.2009.03.009. ISSN0926-6690.Cahill, Joseph P. (2003). “Ethnobotany of Chia, Salvia hispanica L. (Lamiaceae)”. Economic Botany. 57 (4): 604–618.
Borneo R, Aguirre A, León AE (2010). “Chia (Salvia hispanica L) gel can be used as egg or oil replacer in cake formulations”. J Am Diet Assoc. 110 (6): 946–9. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.011. PMID20497788.“Chia Seeds”. The Nutrition Source. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 19 March 2018. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
Ulbricht C, et al. (2009). “Chia (Salvia hispanica): a systematic review by the natural standard research collaboration”. Rev Recent Clin Trials. 4 (3): 168–74. doi:10.2174/157488709789957709. PMID20028328.de Souza Ferreira C, et al. (2015). “Effect of chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) consumption on cardiovascular risk factors in humans: a systematic review”. Nutr Hosp. 32 (5): 1909–18. doi:10.3305/nh.2015.32.5.9394. PMID26545644.
“A second apparently pre-Columbian cultivation area is known in southern Honduras and Nicaragua.”Jamboonsri, Watchareewan; Phillips, Timothy D.; Geneve, Robert L.; Cahill, Joseph P.; Hildebrand, David F. (2011). “Extending the range of an ancient crop, Salvia hispanica L.—a new ω3 source”. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. 59 (2): 171–178. doi:10.1007/s10722-011-9673-x. S2CID14751137.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, you’ve likely come across the practice of seed cycling, which involves eating specific seeds in the hopes of boosting fertility.
Of course, the irresistibly salty crunch of sunflower or pumpkin seeds makes them great snacks. But could those seeds actually do more for your health or even help balance hormone levels?
While seeds may be nutritious and tasty, experts are skeptical that seed cycling can produce real results. Here’s what you should know before you try it — and why you might want to go slow when adding seeds to your diet.
What is seed cycling?
The basic premise of seed cycling is that eating certain types of ground seeds (pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds) every day at different points in your menstrual cycle can affect hormone levels. And seed cycling proponents claim the practice may increase fertility and ease PMS symptoms.
“The theory — emphasis on the word theory — of seed cycling is that compounds called lignans can stimulate estrogen activity,” Whitney Linsenmeyer, a registered dietitian, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and assistant professor at Saint Louis University, told TODAY.
Lignans are a set of compounds found in seeds (especially flax seeds) that can have anti-inflammatory properties, TODAY explained previously. And there is some limited research, like this 2011 study in mice, that suggests lignans can interact with estrogen and even produce estrogen-like effects.
Other components in seeds, primarily fatty acids, “can serve as precursors to steroid hormones, potentially, or could impact inflammation,” Dr. Emily Jungheim, chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Northwestern Medicine, told TODAY.
It’s “possible” that eating more fatty acids could affect hormone levels and “create a more favorable environment for hormone signaling,” she said. There are few studies suggesting that eating sesame seeds and flax seeds can affect hormone levels in women.
But there are no randomized controlled trials on seed cycling specifically, Jungheim said. And infertility is more likely to be caused by other underlying health issues that can’t be solved with seeds, she added.
Does seed cycling improve fertility?
“The general idea that nutrition can impact your fertility is absolutely valid,” said Linsenmeyer, who is also an assistant professor at Saint Louis University. And there is some evidence that certain dietary factors (like unsaturated fats, whole grains, fish and vegetables) as well as being underweight or having obesity can make a difference.
“But there is no evidence that this specific practice — seed cycling — can impact fertility in any clinically significant way,” she said. “In terms of actually making a clinically significant impact on hormonal levels, there’s just no science there to support that,” Linsenmeyer said.
The truth is, “if somebody’s struggling with infertility, usually there’s some major thing that needs to be addressed,” Jungheim said. It might be that someone isn’t ovulating, that there’s an underlying health condition (like thyroid disease) making it more challenging to get pregnant or that their partner’s sperm count is too low, for instance.
But, if issues like those are causing fertility problems, eating a bunch of seeds isn’t likely to help. “There’s nothing I can think of physiologically or scientifically that would make it biologically feasible that eating a specific type of seed in one portion of the cycle would make you ovulate,” Jungheim said.
There may be other benefits to eating seeds, of course
“Seeds are very nutritious,” Linsenmeyer said. “So, the bottom line is yes — if you want to incorporate more seeds in your diet, go for it.” They can be a great source of fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids, she said.
But if you’re adding a lot of seeds to your diet at once, you may experience some gastrointestinal changes as your body adjusts to having more fiber. “Frankly, I would expect to see changes in bowel movements that might be just, like, startling to people,” Linsenmeyer said. “The insoluble fiber content adds a lot of bulk to the stool.”
You might also notice yourself feeling fuller sooner or not feeling as hungry when it comes time for your next meal due to the high fat content in seeds, she said.
All of that is why Linsenmeyer recommends people who are interested in adding more seeds to their diet do so gradually over the course of a week or two — and be sure to drink plenty of water.
Before you try seed cycling to boost fertility…
First, remember that it can take a while to get pregnant — and that is generally normal. “If you’re younger than 35, we generally recommend trying for a year,” Jungheim said, noting that over-the-counter ovulation prediction kits make it easier to know when you’re most fertile. For those over 35, she recommends checking in after six months.
But if you’re not having periods for three months in a row, that’s a sign that you may not be ovulating normally, Jungheim said, and you should talk with your doctor. Or, if you know you have a history of fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS or other issues that can affect fertility, it makes sense to check in with your doctor earlier on in the process, she said.
“I would encourage folks to get at least a diagnostic workup before turning to seed cycling,” Jungheim said. While treatments are not always covered by insurance, those initial tests usually are, she added. Early testing can screen for underlying (generally treatable) issues, like thyroid disease, and your diagnosis may be delayed if you’re spending time with seed cycling instead of talking to your doctor.
And recognize that there may also be emotional costs to pinning your hopes on something like seed cycling, Linsenmeyer added. “To me, the risk is getting somebody’s hopes up when there is no science to support the practice.”
Phipps, W. R.; Martini, M. C.; Lampe, J. W.; Slavin, J. L.; Kurzer, M. S. (November 1993). “Effect of flax seed ingestion on the menstrual cycle”. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 77 (5): 1215–1219. doi:10.1210/jcem.77.5.8077314. PMID8077314.
Let me guess: You’re eating clean, enjoying lots of fruits and vegetables, cutting out meat and are much more plant-based. You’ve also banned bread, cookies and cake from the house. There is just one problem: You can’t seem to stay awake and alert during the day.
On the surface this lifestyle may seem healthy, but it may include some behaviors that are actually zapping you of energy.
“Healthy eating can sometimes turn into something that is not so healthy and can drain you of energy if you are too restricted,” said Yasi Ansari, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson.
Here are a few ways a so-called “healthy” diet can make you sluggish — and what you can do to get your energy back on track.
Cutting too many calories
“If you are trying to lose weight and you reduce your calories too dramatically, this can leave you without the right amount of energy or fuel that you need to get through the day,” said Elizabeth DeRobertis, a registered dietitian and director of the Nutrition Center at Scarsdale Medical Group, White Plains Hospital.
Food provides the energy you need to stay focused and productive throughout the day. And though sometimes people think if they want to lose weight, they should eat as little as possible, this doesn’t work for the long term, said DeRobertis, the creator of the GPS Weight Loss Program, an online self-paced weight loss program. When someone becomes too restrictive with their intake, metabolism can slow down, and you may feel drained of energy. “You also end up too hungry … and end up overeating as a result,” DeRobertis said.
“If you are feeling low in energy, check in on the energy you’re taking in,” said Melissa Majumdar, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian and certified obesity and weight management specialist. “Start with adding an additional 1 to 2 ounces of lean protein, a half cup of whole grains, or 1 tablespoon of a healthy fat and reanalyze.”
Eating too infrequently
Going too long without eating can also make you feel tired. “Some people experience sleepiness or sluggishness as a sign to eat more instead of the traditional hunger cues,” said Majumdar, who is also the metabolic and bariatric coordinator at Emory University Hospital Midtown. “If two or three hours after a meal you are low in energy, plug in a balanced snack of fiber and protein, like fresh fruit with a handful of nuts or a small bag of edamame.”
“Identifying when your body starts to get hungry can help you better understand how to be most consistent with your nutrition and its timing to ensure your energy is stable throughout the day and you’re supporting your body in meeting its needs,” Ansari said.
Cutting too many carbs
Going low carb can also make you feel lousy. Not only can eating too few carbs make you feel tired and irritable from low blood sugar; it can also lead to dehydration, which can cause fatigue. “For every gram of carbohydrate stored in the body, there is approximately 2 to 3 grams of water retained,” DeRobertis explained. But when someone reduces their carbohydrate intake too dramatically, water is released, and it’s possible to become dehydrated.
“When someone feels a dip in energy in the afternoon, I always think of a plant that is wilted, and in need of water,” DeRobertis said. “When we water the plant, it perks back up. And I picture that is what happens to our cells when we are not well-hydrated enough during the day.”
Cutting carbs, especially cookies and sugary treats, is perfectly fine, but make sure you’re not skimping on fiber-rich carbs, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Not eating a balanced vegetarian diet
Banning animal proteins as part of a vegetarian diet isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but it’s important to be conscious about consuming a balanced intake of all nutrients.
“If someone chooses to eat in a vegetarian or vegan style, but they are not careful about obtaining enough vitamin B12 and iron (from supplements and plant sources), they may end up with anemia and a resulting feeling of fatigue,” DeRobertis explained.
Foods high in iron include beef, iron-fortified cereals, spinach and beans. If you consume plant sources of iron, it’s wise to add some vitamin C to enhance absorption. “An example might be a spinach salad with a small glass of orange juice or a lentil soup with chopped tomatoes,” Ansari said.
Vegans should also be aware of a possible vitamin B12 deficiency. “A B12 deficiency may take years to develop, so supplementing in advance if you don’t eat animal foods like meat, fish, eggs and dairy is key,” Majumdar said. Nutritional yeast can also add some vitamin B12 but would need to be eaten daily to provide enough, Majumdar added.
Eating too many carbs
Having too many carbohydrates in one sitting can also contribute to sluggishness.Even healthy carbohydrates turn to sugar in the body, and our pancreas, in response, produces insulin, to keep our blood sugar stable.
“If someone has too many carbohydrates in one sitting — even if it’s healthy carbs, like brown rice, beans, sweet potato, whole grain pasta, or quinoa — for some, too many can raise blood sugar, and high blood sugar makes us feel tired and lethargic,” DeRobertis said. (While this often happens among individuals with diabetes, it can happen to anyone who eats too many carbs in one sitting, she said.)
Pay attention to how you feel after different meal combinations, and if you notice that you feel tired after a high-carb meal, consider spacing out your carbohydrates during the day, DeRobertis advised.
Exercising too much
Overexercising can also make you feel tired. “How much is too much depends on the person, other demands in their life, stress levels, overall health and fitness levels, and the types of exercise,” Majumdar said.
Underfueling for a workout can also be a contributor to fatigue. “During exercise, the body typically burns a combination of fat and carbohydrates. If you are not eating enough carbohydrates, it is more difficult to fuel the workout, and if this pattern progresses, the body’s stored carbohydrates, called glycogen, aren’t restocked,” Majumdar said. This can leave you feeling drained, frustrated and demoralized with your workout, according to Majumdar.
“Take inventory of how you feel before and after exercise sessions and consider adding carbohydrates or calories to your intake, or reducing your exercise to keep energy levels balanced,” Majumdar said.
If exercise is eating into sleeping time, this can also impact energy levels. Getting an adequate amount of sleep not only gives you energy, it also helps the body to actively repair muscles and tissues used during exercise, according to Majumdar.
Professor Jeremy Bailenson examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on Zoom and other popular video chat platforms. (Image credit: Getty Images)
Even as more people are logging onto popular video chat platforms to connect with colleagues, family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford researchers have a warning for you: Those video calls are likely tiring you out.
Prompted by the recent boom in videoconferencing, communication Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on these platforms. Just as “Googling” is something akin to any web search, the term “Zooming” has become ubiquitous and a generic verb to replace videoconferencing. Virtual meetings have skyrocketed, with hundreds of millions happening daily, as social distancing protocols have kept people apart physically.
In the first peer-reviewed article that systematically deconstructs Zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective, published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior on Feb. 23, Bailenson has taken the medium apart and assessed Zoom on its individual technical aspects. He has identified four consequences of prolonged video chats that he says contribute to the feeling commonly known as “Zoom fatigue.”
Bailenson stressed that his goal is not to vilify any particular videoconferencing platform – he appreciates and uses tools like Zoom regularly – but to highlight how current implementations of videoconferencing technologies are exhausting and to suggest interface changes, many of which are simple to implement. Moreover, he provides suggestions for consumers and organizations on how to leverage the current features on videoconferences to decrease fatigue.
Below are four primary reasons why video chats fatigue humans, according to the study. Readers are also invited to participate in a research study aimed at developing a Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale (ZEF) Scale.
Four reasons why
1) Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.
Both the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens is unnatural.
In a normal meeting, people will variously be looking at the speaker, taking notes or looking elsewhere. But on Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time. A listener is treated nonverbally like a speaker, so even if you don’t speak once in a meeting, you are still looking at faces staring at you. The amount of eye contact is dramatically increased. “Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exists in our population,” Bailenson said. “When you’re standing up there and everybody’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.”
Another source of stress is that, depending on your monitor size and whether you’re using an external monitor, faces on videoconferencing calls can appear too large for comfort. “In general, for most setups, if it’s a one-on-one conversation when you’re with coworkers or even strangers on video, you’re seeing their face at a size which simulates a personal space that you normally experience when you’re with somebody intimately,” Bailenson said.
When someone’s face is that close to ours in real life, our brains interpret it as an intense situation that is either going to lead to mating or to conflict. “What’s happening, in effect, when you’re using Zoom for many, many hours is you’re in this hyper-aroused state,” Bailenson said.
Solution: Until the platforms change their interface, Bailenson recommends taking Zoom out of the full-screen option and reducing the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to minimize face size, and to use an external keyboard to allow an increase in the personal space bubble between oneself and the grid.
2)Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.
Most video platforms show a square of what you look like on camera during a chat. But that’s unnatural, Bailenson said. “In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that,” he added.
Bailenson cited studies showing that when you see a reflection of yourself, you are more critical of yourself. Many of us are now seeing ourselves on video chats for many hours every day. “It’s taxing on us. It’s stressful. And there’s lots of research showing that there are negative emotional consequences to seeing yourself in a mirror.”
Solution: Bailenson recommends that platforms change the default practice of beaming the video to both self and others, when it only needs to be sent to others. In the meantime, users should use the “hide self-view” button, which one can access by right-clicking their own photo, once they see their face is framed properly in the video.
In-person and audio phone conversations allow humans to walk around and move. But with videoconferencing, most cameras have a set field of view, meaning a person has to generally stay in the same spot. Movement is limited in ways that are not natural. “There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson said.
Solution: Bailenson recommends people think more about the room they’re videoconferencing in, where the camera is positioned and whether things like an external keyboard can help create distance or flexibility. For example, an external camera farther away from the screen will allow you to pace and doodle in virtual meetings just like we do in real ones. And of course, turning one’s video off periodically during meetings is a good ground rule to set for groups, just to give oneself a brief nonverbal rest.
4)The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.
Bailenson notes that in regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is quite natural and each of us naturally makes and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously. But in video chats, we have to work harder to send and receive signals.
In effect, Bailenson said, humans have taken one of the most natural things in the world – an in-person conversation – and transformed it into something that involves a lot of thought: “You’ve got to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.”
Gestures could also mean different things in a video meeting context. A sidelong glance to someone during an in-person meeting means something very different than a person on a video chat grid looking off-screen to their child who just walked into their home office.
Solution: During long stretches of meetings, give yourself an “audio only” break. “This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be nonverbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen,” Bailenson said, “so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”
Many organizations – including schools, large companies and government entities – have reached out to Stanford communication researchers to better understand how to create best practices for their particular videoconferencing setup and how to come up with institutional guidelines. Bailenson – along with Jeff Hancock, founding director of the Stanford Social Media Lab; Géraldine Fauville, former postdoctoral researcher at the VHIL; Mufan Luo; graduate student at Stanford; and Anna Queiroz, postdoc at VHIL – responded by devising the Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale, or ZEF Scale, to help measure how much fatigue people are experiencing in the workplace from videoconferencing.
The scale, detailed in a recent, not yet peer-reviewed paper published on the preprint website SSRN, advances research on how to measure fatigue from interpersonal technology, as well as what causes the fatigue. The scale is a 15-item questionnaire, which is freely available, and has been tested now across five separate studies over the past year with over 500 participants. It asks questions about a person’s general fatigue, physical fatigue, social fatigue, emotional fatigue and motivational fatigue. Some sample questions include:
How exhausted do you feel after videoconferencing?
How irritated do your eyes feel after videoconferencing?
How much do you tend to avoid social situations after videoconferencing?
How emotionally drained do you feel after videoconferencing?
How often do you feel too tired to do other things after videoconferencing?
Hancock said results from the scale can help change the technology so the stressors are reduced.
He notes that humans have been here before. “When we first had elevators, we didn’t know whether we should stare at each other or not in that space. More recently, ridesharing has brought up questions about whether you talk to the driver or not, or whether to get in the back seat or the passenger seat,” Hancock explained. “We had to evolve ways to make it work for us. We’re in that era now with videoconferencing, and understanding the mechanisms will help us understand the optimal way to do things for different settings, different organizations and different kinds of meetings.”
“Hopefully, our work will contribute to uncovering the roots of this problem and help people adapt their videoconference practices to alleviate ‘Zoom fatigue,’” added Fauville, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. “This could also inform videoconference platform designers to challenge and rethink some of the paradigm videoconferences have been built on.”
If you are interested in measuring your own Zoom fatigue, you can take the survey here and participate in the research project.