It’s long been known that exercise has a positive impact on depression by increasing the serotonin level in the body. Exercise also buoys the spirits of those affected by SAD (seasonal affective disorder) but having the will power to exercise is very difficult for persons afflicted with this seasonal illness. The person with SAD will generally crave more carbohydrates, thus leading to weight gain and sluggishness. The person with SAD will crave more sleep. The person with SAD will lack motivation. So how to get moving?
1. If you know you are likely to be depressed during the winter months, make an exercise plan in warmer months of the year that you will be likely to continue. It should be something that you enjoy and something easy to do when the weather is bad. If you’re a walker, check out walking programs in malls or gyms. If you’re a swimmer, find an indoor brightly-lit swimming pool. If you like to play tennis, find some indoor tennis courts.
2. Exercise with a buddy. It’s easy to not go to the gym if it’s just you, but when another person is waiting there for you, it becomes an appointment. Make sure every exercise session includes time to talk. It’s fine to run on a treadmill, but do some walking and chatting laps with your friend as well. Talk therapy is beneficial for almost any kind of depression.
3. Keep it light. From your home to the workplace to the exercise place, light is your friend. Teen athletes often find their performance falling off during the winter months because the shorter days make them want to sleep more and lead to lethargy. Try sitting in front of your light box (yes, you should have one in your home) for 30 minutes before you go out to exercise. Take advantage of any sunny days there are. Even if it’s cold outside, the sunshine will do you good. The Scottish have an expression – “There is no such thing as bad weather, just wrong clothing.” So even if it’s below zero, bundle up and get out in the daylight. Dimly-lit yoga rooms are not for you in winter. You need to choose indoor exercise areas that are flooded with light.
4. Add music to your routine. Music is a powerful mood booster so do your exercise routines to your favorite songs. If you like to dance, step it up in the winter. Now is a good time to learn how to do everything from Salsa to Square Dance. You can also sing while you exercise – it will give your lungs a good workout and lighten your mood.
5. Break your exercise up into several periods. Because depression lasts all day and night, the more often you can stimulate your body to produce serotonin the better. Perhaps, you’ll want to work out early in the morning, take a walk during your lunch hour, and go to a dance class in the evening. (one precaution – don’t exercise heavily right before going to bed as it may interfere with sleep). The frequent exercise will also benefit your metabolism, keeping it burning calories at a higher rate. You’ll likely lose weight and that in itself will make you happier.
By stepping up your exercise routine in winter, you can increase your overall physical and mental health. When spring comes – and it will – you’ll be in great shape to enjoy the longer days.