When it is cold, dark and rainy, it can be hard to stay up mentally. Granted, we don’t have weather like this often (hence the featured image!) and don’t have to deal with it as Brisbane Personal Trainers, here in Queensland (thank God!), it is still worth a chat because SAD is a real thing that can happen in fact, anywhere. Yes Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is more common in the cold climates of the Northern Hemisphere for sure, but the fact that we get so spoilt for beautiful weather here, means we are probably more sensitive and therefore more likely to go in to a bit of a tail spin when the sun goes behind a cloud led alone when it rains and stays dark and gloomy for weeks on end! I know that I fall in to the low tolerance category that is for sure. I think it all stems back to the time on how bad I perceived it was, when I lived on my boat and it rained in Sydney (the old girl leaked like a sieve, had no real heating and I had to row out to it as it was on a mooring). At this time of my life I earned 100% of my living from coaching tennis which also required good weather. So it was basically a lose, lose, lose situation – cold, wet, and no money! No wonder I got a bit down when the clouds came rolling in and the heavens opened up.
Okay I don’t want to make light of depression because it is a serious thing but even major depressive disorder is likely to improve in some way from exercise but especially mild and moderate depression has been shown to be affected positively from exercise. Whoops, I just let it slip. Yes exercise is the number one of the simple ways to improve your mood in Winter. I know you probably already guessed that I might say this, given what we do here at Best Practice Personal Training and how often I wax lyrical about it, but let’s get in to a bit more juicy detail about this phenomenon and of course the other 4 simple ways to improve your mood this Winter.
So how exactly does exercise affect our mood? What is the mechanism at play?
The exact link is still controversial but that is always the case when it comes to “proving” things with science. There are always studies to refute and support various hypotheses often at the same time, so don’t ever expect to find 100% support for what ever idea you might have. The weight of evidence however, is firmly in the corner of exercise being a great mood enhancer. It is thought that exercise helps release feel good chemicals from the brain, like serotonin and endorphins. If you have never experienced this then you are missing out. I know a good Brisbane Personal Trainer that could help 🙂 The second thing that exercise does is distract from negative thoughts and dwelling on things that don’t make us feel so good. It is hard to be thinking of anything else when the body is working hard. Sometimes it is just about getting the next breath, i.e. no space for any thought led alone negative ones.
The number two of improving mood is light, any kind of light. The need for light therapy in places that only see light for a very short period of the whole day is really high, like Sweden in December, where they may not even see daylight at all if it is an overcast…day! The prevalence of SAD is a significant problem. I realise that this is very far removed from our Winter, where for example the rainiest day of the Winter so far still had hours of sunshine. We really can’t complain but if you are a shift worker then the light therapy concept is worth investigating even here because it is used to really good effect in lifting mood and energy in many people in Scandinavia. Again it seems to be the all-influencing hormones which get messed up by low light and are corrected quite effectively using this method.
Number three is laughter. I know what you are thinking. How do I laugh if my mood is not so hot? Good question. The answer of course is to put yourself in situations where historically you will laugh. I know that watching Seinfeld makes me laugh or a re-run of any of the Monty Python movies or I have a friend who is always telling jokes and I see as the funniest guy on the planet. The trick here is to be pro-active in finding things, situations or people to help lift your mood if you are feeling the Winter blues.
Number four is getting outside. This is where it is usually very easy for us here in good old Queensland to acheive that feat. It is not like we have to put on layers of clothes or we don’t have much space. The favourable effect here again on the hormones is thought to be due to the exposure to light and high quality light at that. Being outdoors in sunlight offers 20-100,000 Lux (a standard unit of light) versus 100 lux in a standard living room light. That is a massive difference and the resulting effect on the body is huge. So here is my thing. Get outside, do some exercise and make it fun with your friends so you laugh. That my friends is a triple whammy. You could then finish it all with number 5 which I think you are going to REALLY like.
Number five is…wait for it…..Chocolate! How can the news be so good? Just hold on a bit before you run off and stock up the entire pantry with all versions of Cadbury’s chocolate bars. The favourable effects from chocolate relate mostly to dark chocolate and to a pretty small amount, anywhere from 1-3 ounces. It is thought to be the flavanols and methylxanthines (polyphenols) that stimulate both serotonin and endorphins in brain, that lead to the calm and contentedness feel that chocolate brings. Just remember that the higher the cocoa percentage the better which I can tell you from experience takes some readjustment to your taste buds compared to milk chocolate. Not to be alarmist or anything, but I know those of you out there who really ran with the studies that said Resveratrol was a magic anti-oxidant for great health which fortuitously is available from red wine. Again it is worth noting that the dose required for beneficial effects from Resveratrol means you would have to run the risk of alcoholism. Damn. We knew the news wasn’t ALL GOOD.
The better way is moderation and grouping beneficial things together like suggested above to hopefully get a magnified effect. A good game of tip footy with some funny friends on a sunny day followed by some dark chocolate in front of a warm fire accompanied by a glass of high quality red. Caveat again on the red. Some can be relaxing, too much and you will create the problem you are aiming to avoid.