Got the 'Winter Blues'? Exercise Can Help
A good workout can boost mood, making it an ideal routine as the days get shorter and darker.
If you're one of the millions affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and you feel tired, unmotivated, down on life and crave carbs and sweets, staying active can help. An expert from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston offers some tips for maintaining an exercise routine.
“With seasonal affective disorder, it is desirable to continue to exercise or maybe even increase your exercise,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. “Relatively sustained aerobic exercise effects mood positively, but you don't just have to run or do aerobics — you can do things like yoga, tai chi or meditation, which help with symptoms of depression.”
Habits are built through consistency, he emphasized. It takes about three months to form one. Taking a winter break will likely cause a person to lose the habit faster than he or she can build it.
“You experience low serotonin and dopamine levels in SAD, depression or other conditions, but there is a benefit to boosting neurotransmitter levels through exercise,” McDeavitt said in a Baylor news release.
To exercise outdoors safely in winter, wear reflective clothing and a clip-on light that blinks. Leave earbuds at home so you can be more aware of what's around you, he added.
Predictable running surfaces such as a track or well-paved road may be the best way to avoid injury in low-light conditions.
“There is a balance. Find somewhere isolated enough to be protected from traffic while also making sure enough people are around you to feel safe," McDeavitt advised. "You can also carry personal protection with you.”
Those who prefer exercising indoors can use dumbbells or elastic resistance bands to get some good resistance training, he noted.
Pushups, planks and squats are other good body weight workouts. If you can afford it, McDeavitt suggested, buy a treadmill or stationary bike to use at home.
“There is value to seasonally maintaining your routine. Even if you regularly run outdoors in the spring and have to move indoors for the winter, don't blow off your workout,” McDeavitt said.
To boost mood, add a mindfulness component such as yoga, tai chi or stretching.
“There are things you can do indoors that not only give you physical benefits, but emotional benefits as well,” McDeavitt said.
If you're feeling symptoms of SAD or any type of depression, speak to your primary care provider and seek help. For those in distress in the United States, dial 988 to be connected to the Suicide and Crisis Hotline, which provides confidential support.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on SAD.
SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, Nov. 9, 2022