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Beating the Winter Blues with Exercise and Other Tips

Feeling the winter blues? It could be more than you think. Season Affect Disorder is often called SAD. The acronym accurately describes what earlier sunsets and longer nights mean for up to 3 percent of the general population and up to 20 percent for those with a diagnosed depressive disorder. SAD is depression associated with late autumn and winter and is thought to be caused by a lack of light. Although the exact cause and science behind SAD are not known for certainty, there are some steps you can take to lessen its hold. Exercise stimulates brain chemicals that leave you feeling happier, more relaxed, and less anxious. The stimulation of these chemicals through exercise is one step you can take to combat SAD.

People who are predisposed to SAD may be triggered by a lack of sunshine. A few theories suggest:

  • Biological clock change: With less exposure to sunlight, the biological clock shifts. This internal clock regulates mood, sleep and hormones, and changes, which may make it difficult to regulate regulating moods.

  • Brain chemical imbalance: Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters send communications between nerves. These chemicals include serotonin, which contributes to feelings of happiness. People at risk of SAD may already have less serotonin activity. Since sunlight helps regulate serotonin, the lack of winter sun can make the situation worse. Serotonin levels can fall further, leading to mood changes.

  • Vitamin D deficit: Serotonin also gets a boost from vitamin D. Sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D, less sun in the winter can lead to a vitamin D deficiency thereby affecting serotonin levels.

  • Melatonin boost: Melatonin is a chemical in the brain that signals cues to sleep. The lack of sunlight might trigger a large increase in melatonin causing profound sleepiness through the winter.

Ways To Combat SAD

Scott Bea, PsyD, a psychologist who specializes in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), shares some useful tips for dealing with the condition naturally.

  • Consider updating your exercise regimen. In the colder months, it's more common for individuals to spend less time outdoors, which results in a drop in physical activity. It's possible that exercising might help alleviate symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). To counteract the inclination to become passive and inactive, Dr. Bea advises that people engage in physical activity which creates endorphins that release into the brain. It is thought that these endorphins can combat the dips in moods associated with SAD. There is a long list of physical activities and programs that can be completed inside. Yoga or bodyweight exercise routines will easily fit this bill. If you are looking for some cold weather adventure, consider a long nature hike or snow skiing.

  • Make plans with family and friends and stick to them. The colder months intensify our desire to snuggle in and remain at home, resulting in significantly less social engagement. If this describes you, Dr. Bea suggests engaging with people on a regular basis. Spending time with those who make us smile and laugh creates moments that combat SAD. At the very least, it can hopefully take you out of your funk.

  • Let the light in. Research has led experts to the conclusion that alterations in our exposure to sunshine trigger SAD. Based on recent findings, bright light therapy might be an effective treatment for SAD, although bigger trials are needed to confirm this. Light treatment boxes may produce up to 10,000 lux of light. Many health specialists, including Dr. Bea, propose treating SAD by sitting in front of a 10,000 lux light for 30 minutes every morning. The treatments are generally safe for most individuals; however, those with certain conditions such as diabetes and retinal damage should avoid Lightboxes for the treatment of SAD.

  • Eat for nutrition. Focus on healthy eating with a well-balanced diet that contains enough levels of vitamins and minerals as recommended. Even if you are craving sugary treats or starchy snacks, keeping a healthy and balanced diet can help to achieve more energy through the winter months.

*Consult your doctor if your winter blues last longer than two weeks. Other treatments such as medication or counseling might prove to be beneficial.

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