Energy conservation is often overlooked as a wellness component for mature adults and those with respiratory challenges. Managing our energy minimizes muscle fatigue, joint stress and wear, and physical pain caused through daily tasks. The primary goal is to make movements more efficient and to perform daily tasks in a more thought out manner for an individual to manage their biological energy levels.
Conservation principles have been developed to help make conserving our energy practical and real world. A method called the 4 P’s was established and is used by therapeutic and fitness professionals across various disciplines to help keep individuals safe and engaged. The 4 P’s are: Prioritize, Plan, Pace and Position. We will discuss these principles further with some strategies to help aide each. We will also discuss breathing strategies which can enhance our energy levels.
Prioritizing tasks and events throughout our day is part of an organizational process. When we consciously are aware of the types of tasks and when they are needed to be done, it helps us manage our efforts better.
- Determine what is truly important so that you make sure it is completed.
- Alternating light work and heavy work helps provide intermittent recovery periods from the more strenuous tasks.
Planning for anything does take a little time and effort. The result is staying involved and completing an event or task yourself.
- Talk with your doctor about tasks that fatigue you or make you short of breath.
- Thinking ahead before a task begins can help you eliminate extra movement reducing physical strain.
- Assess your living spaces so that modifying areas in your home helps reduce strain with daily tasks. Modifying kitchen cabinets and relocating foods and certain wares can prevent a lot of overhead reaching.
- Recognize what times of the day you function best.
- Prioritize tasks based on their immediacy allows you to have control of your day and allows you to factor in rest periods to recuperate.
Pacing yourself means that you are being a good steward to the amount of physical energy put forth for a given task.
- Give yourself time to do the task without trying to hurry. This dynamic coincides with the Planning Strategy. Thinking ahead allows you to plan for rest breaks so that the task still gets completed.
- Understand that it is okay to stop and rest gathering your breath and energy as needed. Do not push yourself to the point of exhaustion. Fatigue onset can happen suddenly.
- Pay attention to how you feel starting an activity as well as when performing it. Listen to your body. Do not ignore signs of fatigue such as muscle aches, reduced motivation, drowsiness, and difficulty focusing.
Good posture while seated or standing and using good body mechanics for lifting, pushing, or pulling is important. Body mechanics dictates how much physical energy our body muscle expend to complete a physical task.
- Avoid strenuous postures such as slouching the torso forward or leaning whether seated or standing. If you are seated, you can rest your elbows on a table and gently lean on them.
- Good posture comes from having the shoulders back and the chest up whether seated or standing.
- When lifting, keeps heavy objects closer to the body as to displace the weight across more muscles and joints.
- Use your legs to lift straight up, avoid twisting and lifting.
- If doing tasks seated, make sure to sit back in the chair fully and feet on the floor. Occasionally get up and move around because even good posture can get tiring.
- If possible, sit in a chair for certain activities such as folding laundry, cutting vegetables or organizing drawers.
- Take periodic breaks if standing for too long.
- Avoid full body extensions, repetitive overhead lifting or tasks that require a lot of stooping to the ground.
Breathing to Conserve or Regain Energy
Breathing is primarily an involuntary act that keeps our body oxygenated. We take it for granted because we do it without thinking generally. For managing our energy levels with our daily tasks breathing, and regulating it is essential.
The basic technique of breathing is relatively straight forward. Slowly inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. When we inhale, it is relatively quick at a count of 1 seconds. For exhalation, we breathe out at a count of 2 seconds usually. This allows us to get oxygen into the body and helps expel carbon dioxide.
If you are performing a task and start to become fatigued and short of breath, there are techniques which can help you re-regulate your breathing. Techniques such as Regulated or purposeful breathing and Pursed lip breathing can help you regain the rhythm of your breath but also help draw in more air by opening the airways longer and expelling excess carbon dioxide which may be making your feel more fatigued.
Regulated or purposeful breathing is simply breathing but being more consciously aware of it. As you are going through a daily task requiring physical exertion be aware of any shortness of breath and work to maintain a regular breath cycle. If you feel that your straining during a task and holding your breath, stop as soon as possible and resume normal breathing. Consciously monitor yourself or listen to others who comment that you may be holding your breath.
Pursed lip breathing (figure 1) is a technique in which an individual inhales air through their nose and then purses their lips together as if blowing bubbles and exhales in a controlled breath. The exhalation is purposeful as it helps create better back pressure in our airways allowing them to stay open longer. This technique can be used for a variety of tasks that can cause shortness of breath such as lifting heavy objects. During a lift, make sure to inhale as you grasp the object. As you start to lift, purse the lips together and exhale in a controlled manner.
Make sure to consult your doctor related to any concerns you have regarding your physical health. If you experience unusual fatigue, dizziness or shortness of breath do not wait to call. The techniques presented are recommendations and do not take the place of your doctor’s specific medical orders.