It’s easy to feel down when the weather gets cooler and the days get shorter, but for many the winter months can bring more than just a low mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, usually more apparent during winter. Although the exact cause is not fully understood, SAD is often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during this time of year. This can affect the production of certain chemicals in the brain, disrupting mood, sleeping cycle and appetite.
According to research from the BBC, about 5% of Brits suffer from SAD and many more feel worse off in the darker months compared to summer. There is some good news though, there are a number of things you can do to help combat the disorder, one being exercise.
Regular exercise can be beneficial for anyone suffering from any form of depression and is recommended by the NHS as a treatment. Exercise releases endorphins and helps increase your metabolism, which can improve feelings of wellbeing, energy levels and sleep. For SAD sufferers, outdoor exercise during the day has the added bonus of natural exposure to sunlight – killing two birds with one stone!
You don’t need to be an elite athlete or start an intensive workout programme to beat the winter blues, even a brisk ten-minute walk can help you clear your mind and relax. Whilst any form can help, low-impact aerobic activities are recommended by some health websites as being better suited to treating SAD. Why not try walking or cycling to work, going for a morning jog or something adventurous like trail running or climbing. If you wanted to try something new, you’ll be able to find the latest gear for all sorts of outdoor activities right here on Webtogs.
Exercising with a friend can also provide extra motivation to keep working out and the social interaction can help combat some SAD symptoms. It is important to note that although exercise is recommended to ease the effects of SAD, you should reach out to your GP first if you believe you have symptoms.
Light therapy is another drug-free treatment for SAD that has been proven effective by the British Association of Psychopharmacology and research groups around the world. It involves sitting by a special lamp called a light box that simulates the sunlight missing during the winter months. Another form of light therapy is a dawn simulator lamp that gradually lights up your bedroom as you wake up. You can pick one up here.
Exercise is not a cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder and should not be used as the only treatment. However, being more active and spending more time outside has helped many SAD sufferers improve their mood and general health. It might be tough to venture out into the cold when you’re feeling low in energy, but by motivating yourself to exercise you may start to see your symptoms improve.
If you want more information on depression related to SAD, please visit Mind or contact your local GP.