Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder with Fitness and Nutrition

Written by  Monday, 05 December 2016 19:33

As we’ve previously discussed, our Northeast winters tend to drain our motivation for regular exercise. Cold temperatures and a lack of sun are partly to blame, but if we become more sedentary this time of year, we also place ourselves at risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a type of depression that’s common during the winter months, affecting an estimated 16 million Americans. The good news is that there are documented ways, which work to keep symptoms at bay.

The reality is that exercising can be just as effective in treating SAD as medication is for other mood disorders. Moderate exercise—such as walking or jogging—releases endorphins and serotonin, boosting your overall mood. So although it may be cold, it’s still important to get outside and get as much sun and fresh air as possible. Make it a priority to get your runs in each morning if possible (as it’s dark by the time many of us leave work) and keep the feeling with you throughout the day.

On those days when you can’t get outside, find other ways to get your heart rate up and your neurotransmitters firing. Sitting on the couch, watching Netflix isn’t going to do a lot to boost your mood, and it’s definitely not going to burn any calories. Instead, break up your T.V. time with short, quick exercises. Fitness Artist Kayla Radliff and I recently demonstrated some of these high-intensity workouts on WNYT. 

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Along with exercise, diet can help you manage the symptoms of SAD. One study showed that people with SAD selectively eat more carbohydrates, particularly sweets but also starch-rich foods. This not only adds extra calories to the diet, but can worsen symptoms for those already feeling the effects of SAD. Serotonin is derived from the amino acid tryptophan, so do your best to incorporate foods rich in this chemical throughout the winter months. Lots of lean meats, fish, fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, nuts and seeds should do the trick.

Keep in mind that SAD shares many symptoms with major depressive disorder (MDD), and diet and exercise are just two suggested treatment options. In more severe cases, medication may be needed, so please consult a physician if needed. If you know someone prone to SAD, encourage them to prioritize exercise and balanced eating. By working together, we can make it through the “winter blues.”

And that includes us. Fitness Artist is always here to help clients reach their fitness and nutrition goals, and will even be expanding its nutrition offerings this January. Stay tuned!