Do You Have Seasonal Depression? Try Exercising
As the warm weather comes to an end, the days get short, and my patience for Christmas music in October even shorter, it's hard to not hibernate under a blanket until spring.
For those who suffer from seasonal depression, finding the motivation to get up and moving during winter can be a challenge.
What's Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is also known as seasonal depression. It's a form of depression that coincides with the change of the seasons.
Related - Does Exercise Help Depression?
Those who have seasonal depression can feel guilt, despair, anxiousness, mood swings, fatigues, sleep disruptions, and overeating. For most, the symptoms start somewhere in the fall, they peak in the winter, and in spring they start to disappear.
Mental Health America estimates 5% of the U.S. population suffers from seasonal depression.
The shorter days cause a decrease in our serotonin. This is a neurotransmitter that regulates our mood, sleep, and increases in melatonin. Research suggests that melatonin levels are higher when the days are shorter, which throw our circadian rhythms out of whack. The lack of sleep along with suppressed serotonin make the depressive symptoms worse.
I know what it's like to be depressed — you don't have any thoughts of your goals, you don't want to do anything, and your motivation is gone. So it's no wonder when you are depressed you don't want to exercise. Donna M. Marino, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in Naperville, Illinois and she notes that exercise is one of the best ways to beat the winter blues.
“Exercise helps with the symptoms of SAD, but the symptoms of SAD make you not want to exercise,” she explains.
So here are four strategies you can use to improve your mood and keep your goals and workouts on track.
1.) Get Outside
Vitamin D is important, and our bodies produce it in response to being out in the sun. When we have lower UVB exposure during the winter months, our bodies will not produce as much vitamin D.
The PLOS One journal published a study that found vitamin D levels drop during the winter, but fall to their lowest levels in March. Spending time outside helps pump those vitamin levels up.
Getting some exercise outdoors is helpful, especially when the sun is out. Get a solid 15 minutes of outdoor time each day, and aim to be outdoors in the late afternoon — that's when the sun is the strongest.
While you're out, go to the store and grab some salmon, tuna, orange juice, or fortified milk to get some extra vitamin D.
2.) Get a Workout Partner
It's pretty easy to justify not going to workout when you don't have a partner. Go for a walk with a co-worker at lunch, meet up with some buddies for a hike, or race your friend on a bicycle. You will burn calories and your mood.
Studies suggest that adults who played in team sports reported improved physical health, positive mental health, and lower levels of stress.
Find yourself an accountability partner — someone you can workout with. Find something you actually like to do and do it. If you don't want to take up running, why would you train for a marathon?
3.) Get Plenty of Sleep
There is a solid connection between sleep and our mood. One of the newer studies published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found individuals who sleep fewer than eight hours per night were more apt to experience negative moods.
Want a good change of pace? Make it a priority to get at least eight hours of sleep and knock out a solid workout before you head to work.
4.) Watch Your Carbs
Craving carbohydrate-rich foods, including sweet and starchy foods, is a symptom of seasonal depression.
When we eat more carbs, our body increases our serotonin production. This makes you feel better... at least for a little bit.
Pick a variety of nutritious carbohydrates to eat so that you are providing your body with a well-rounded amount of vitamins and minerals. It's not hard to eat a lot of calories in sugar-laden foods, so you need to be sure to eat a balanced amount — eating too many carbs means you will miss out on proteins and nutritious fats.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbs make up between 45-65% of our total daily calories. That means you should limit yourself to no more than 1,300 grams of carbs on a 2000-calorie diet. Pick carb sources that are more nutritious like vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds.
Wrapping It Up
Once you see how much exercising can help your mood, you will start sleeping better and have more energy. This alone will keep you motivated through these long, cold days.