Healthy reps: Beating the Winter Blues
Edition: January 2013 - Vol 21 Number 01
Winter days may be long and dreary, but they don’t have to be a downer. Exercise, a healthy diet and – believe it or not – spending more time outdoors – may actually boost one’s energy level and motivation.
As many as 15 million Americans – three-fourths of them women – suffer from seasonal affective disorder, a depressive condition that often leads to low energy, carbohydrate cravings and weight gain, according to an online ABC News report (January 29, 2012). The combination of long days and scant sunlight can alter one’s circadian rhythm, draining one of the mood-boosting hormone, serotonin, says the report. Investing in a light box can help elevate serotonin levels and reset one’s internal clock to spring/summer schedule. Similarly, scheduling a fun getaway or routine trips to the spa can help readjust one’s attitude. Then there’s the black-box approach – an electrical ionizer machine designed to mimic summer air.
Fitness instructor and health educator Nicole Nichols agrees that it’s possible to combat the winter blues (sparkpeople.com), and a good place to start is by exercising, she points out. That, and much more. Following are 10 tips she offers for beating the winter blues:
- Exercise. It’s great for relieving stress, and the effects of a good workout can last several hours.
- Eat healthy. Refined and processed foods (e.g., white bread, rice, sugar, etc.) are devoid of essential nutrients, can deplete energy levels and affect one’s mood. They have been linked to depression, mood swings and lack of concentration. Healthier choices – such as wheat breads, brown rice, vegetables and fruit – help stabilize blood sugar and energy levels.
- Get more sunlight. Sunlight exposure provides people with vitamin D, as well as releases neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. Keeping the shades up during the day; sitting near a window in restaurants or other establishments; changing out light bulbs for full-spectrum bulbs, which mimic natural light; and spending more time outdoors can be mood-boosting.
- Act healthy. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a link between healthy behaviors and increased happiness. Women who exhibited positive behavior, such as exercise or avoiding smoking, reportedly had fewer sad days than those who behaved in less healthy ways.
- Avoid binge drinking. Alcohol is a depressant and, as such, can adversely affect one’s mood.
- Plan ahead. Planning something exciting – a weekend trip or a day at the spa – can be uplifting, even in the dead of winter.
- Take it easy. Everybody needs time off. Taking a few minutes each day to do nothing, reading a book or magazine, watching a favorite TV program, joining a yoga class or sleeping in on weekends can alleviate stress.
- Go with it. If you can’t beat ‘em, join em. Or, at least try a winter sport, such as ice skating, sledding, skiing or snowboarding. Staying active and seeing winter in a positive light can boost one’s spirits.
- Get support. Staying connected to family and friends – especially when one needs encouragement – can be energizing.
- Get enough sleep. Often, sleep is the first thing to go when people get busy. Sticking to a consistent bedtime and aiming for seven or eight hours of sleep each night helps maintain a strong energy level.