Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as the “winter blues” or “winter depression” is a seasonal, but serious disorder. SAD usually begins in fall or winter when the days become shorter and remains until the brighter days of spring and early summer. Some people experience mild symptoms and others become so severely depressed they are unable to function normally. It affects up to 5% of Americans. Women are four times more likely than men to suffer from SAD. Children and adolescents can be affected but the onset of the condition typically occurs after age 20.
SAD is a real medical condition
The lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain, called the hypothalamus, from working properly. This affects your production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel tired, your production of serotonin, a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep, and your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm which affects how your body uses sunlight to time various daily functions.
The signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can be the same as those for major depression. They can include depression and low self-esteem, feelings of sadness, hopelessness and despair, feeling angry, irritable, stressed or anxious, changes in appetite and weight gain, trouble concentrating, fatigue and lack of energy, social withdrawal, and a weakened immune system.
It has been proven that regular exercise can be as effective as medication to fight seasonal depression. Regular, consistent exercise can boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals elevating your mood and reducing stress and anxiety. It can improve your sleep and boost your self-esteem, enhance your body image, help you maintain a healthy body weight and improve your immunity.
For the best benefit it is suggested that exercise be done during the daylight hours. It has been shown that one hour of physical activity/exercise outdoors has the same benefit as two and a half hours of light therapy, the most common form of treatment for this disorder.
There are a lot of ways to add exercise in your life. These include joining a group exercise, working out at home to exercise DVDs or using a piece of cardio equipment, joining a gym, engaging in a seasonal sport, and finding ways to add exercise to your daily activities. To incorporate safe and effective exercise, working with a personal trainer will keep you accountable.
Regular exercise has incredible effects on your overall health – especially your mood. Ensuring you keep up with that exercise during the dark winter months is a proven solution to warding off and combating those winter blues.