Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dark Winter Days Getting You Down? No need to be SAD

Christmas and New Years have long faded and now the reality of "we still have a ways to go with winter" has set in.  Whether or not Wiarton Willie saw his shadow at the beginning of the month, if you live in Canada there is a good chance you will feel like spring is still a long way away.

Lack of sunlight, lingering low pressure weather systems (think heavy grey clouds that seem to hang overhead for days at a time), and a lull in social occasions all contribute to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.  The good news is that it is seasonal, so that once we turn the corner of the Vernal Equinox our mood naturally starts to lift.

Symptoms are akin to a mild to moderate level of depression, or just generally feeling "blah" or "blue".  A consultation with a psychologist or psychiatrist will give you greater insight into your particular situation, but before reaching for the Prozac consider this:  physical activity is as effective as pharmaceutical intervention*.  A famous study spearheaded by James Blumenthal, reviewed in the Biomedical Journal of Medicine (March 2000) revealed that patients suffering from depression not only felt significantly better with exercise (compared to the control group using drugs) but that long-term recovery was far better in the exercise group (only 8% relapse) compared to the medication group (approximately 38% relapse after 6 months).

Exercise is free, it improves your health and fitness, has no adverse side effects, and stimulates production of the body's NATURAL feel-good brain chemicals - endorphins and enkephalins.  Plus there is no stigma attached to being an exerciser, whereas using psychotropic drugs is not something that most people want others to know about them.

The best time for most people to exercise for the purpose of mood enhancement is first thing in the morning.  Exercising early in the day gives you a psychological kickstart, has metabolic benefits and avoids the dilemma of finding time** to squeeze it in later once the day is in full swing.

Have a chat with a certified personal trainer or exercise specialist to help you set up a realistic and enjoyable game plan to enhance your happiness factor.

* Some cases of depression respond more favourably to the combination of exercise and pharmacological intervention.
** You will never "find time" to exercise, you have to MAKE time.