Don’t be SAD this winter. Exercise to fight the winter blues!
When you’re experiencing the winter blues, exercise is probably the last thing you want to do, but research shows it can be one of the best things to improve your mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects an individual the same time each year. Although here in the mitten state we associate SAD with the winter months, it can actually affect individuals at any season. It is estimated that SAD affects as many as 1 in 20 individuals. Although the root cause of SAD is unknown, many experts believe lack of sunlight is a big contributor. The science behind it is that lack of sunlight (like in the winter months) may throw off our circadian rhythms, such as our sleep-wake cycle. Another likely cause is that lack of sunlight may result in low levels of serotonin, which directly impacts our mood.
So what does exercise have to do with it? It is well known that a single bout of exercise can significantly improve one’s mood and consistent exercise can help battle depression. Specifically, regular exercise is known to:
- Reduce anxiety and improve overall mood.
- Release “feel-good” brain chemicals (endorphins).
- Increase body temperature, which can provide calming effects.
- Improve confidence.
- Take your mind off of day-to-day worries.
So, why not give exercise a try? If nothing else, it’s a healthy way to stay active and cope with the gray days of the winter.
If you’re not sure where to start, give these mood-improving tips a try:
- Go for a brisk walk, jog or bike ride.
- Put in an exercise DVD and follow-along.
- Take an exercise class at your local fitness center.
- Call up a friend and exercise together.
- Put on some upbeat tunes and get dancing.
- Be active during the daytime (especially in the morning).
- Exercise in the sun or near a sunny window.
- Try a new winter activity like snowshoeing or skiing.
What sorts of mood-improving activities do you do to get through the winter months?
Photo credit: Jonathan Fox