Chances are, if you’re like most other people living in any industrialized country anywhere in the world, your daily routine is hectic and stressful.
You may suffer from constant fatigue, have trouble focusing, and you’re at least occasionally moody. In fact, you may be experiencing what we often refer to in lifestyle research as a uniquely modern type of fatigue that we call “burnout.”
When we ask people about the source of their fatigue – what makes them feel “tired” – we find a great many factors that lead people to feel a lack of energy. Many of the factors that lead to feelings of low energy are the same factors that lead to poor health, including lack of sleep, inadequate diet, sedentary lifestyle, and excessive stress. As a scientist and lifestyle researcher, I find it interesting that people will often label their lack of mental focus as “tiredness” – and their high stress levels as “fatigue” – and their suppressed mood as “exhaustion” – no wonder we’re all so tired!
But what if things were different? What if you could reverse burnout—or avoid it altogether? Suppose, instead of feeling fatigued, you felt physically energized and mentally alert? What if you enjoyed feeling “relaxed alertness” instead of feeling tense, anxious, and irritable? Imagine feeling “in the zone” – compared to the millions of people who constantly feel tired, stressed, and depressed? If you achieved such a level of physical energy and mental acuity, your condition could only be described as being the opposite of “burnout” – and you would have people lined up around the block to get it for themselves.
This state of overall well-being—the opposite of burnout—has also received a name from lifestyle researchers – we refer to it as “vigor” – and I’ve spent the last decade of my career studying and educating about it.
Outside the research community, however, very few people have heard of the term “vigor” used as a measure of health. And in your own vocabulary, the word may only turn up when you’re talking about vigorous exercise or reading cookbook instructions that tell you to shake liquids vigorously.
But “vigor” actually has an official definition in scientific circles: “a three-tiered sustained mood state characterized by physical energy, mental acuity, and emotional well-being.”
This chart may help you see this definition a little more clearly—and it also underscores the differences between vigor and burnout.
Vigor vs. Burnout
Vigor / Burnout

Physical Energy (energy) / Physical Fatigue (fatigue)

Mental Acuity (focus) / Mental Exhaustion (brain fog)

Cognitive Liveliness (Happy & Resilient) / Cognitive Weariness (Exhausted & Worn Out)

Vigor is a true measure of wellness, because it encompasses much more than simply feeling “energetic,” being in a “good mood,” or having a “sharp” mind. People with high levels of vigor are those “can-do” individuals who feel like getting things done—whether they are running a marathon or just cleaning out the garage. They’re uniquely motivated and have the capacity to accomplish what they set out to do, because they’re not weighed down by feeling exhausted or unfocused.
Unfortunately, for a lot of people, “vigor” is a state that they have not experienced in many years, but that does not mean they cannot reclaim it.
Vigor in Ancient Medicine
The term “vigor,” as used in today’s modern lifestyle research, actually has very old roots in traditional systems of ancient medicine. The modern scientific concept of vigor is somewhat comparable to the ancient descriptions of vitality and wellness from traditional medicine systems around the world. Nearly every ancient culture has typically held a common belief that true health stems from a strong “life force” in the body. Other names for this life force, or vigor, include:
*          Qi (traditional Chinese medicine; pronounced “chee”)
*          Prana (Ayurvedic/Indian medicine)
*          Ki (Kampo/Japanese medicine)
*          Ka (Egyptian medicine)
*          Mana (Polynesian medicine)
*          Pneuma (ancient Greek medicine)
Practitioners of traditional medicine might have restored “life force” in their patients by improving their nutrition or administering herbal medicines. These natural therapies often “worked,” and patients felt better as a result. What these ancient healers did not fully appreciate was “how” their therapies were working to actually alter biochemical processes in the body and modulate internal biochemistry such as oxidative stress and physiological functions such as neurotransmitter balance and blood flow.