What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression triggered by the change in seasons. Every year, around the same time, SAD sufferers experience depression that lasts until the end of the season. It is most common during autumn and winter due to the cold, dark days (the condition is also known as ‘winter depression’).
Many people experience symptoms like weight gain, over sleeping, lack of energy, social withdrawal and feelings of sadness. Although we don’t know the exact cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder, doctors believe there are certain factors that can contribute to the condition. These include an imbalance in melatonin, body-clock disruption and a drop in serotonin.
Exercise is a great way to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can help to regulate your sleep pattern, increase serotonin and can help to lower blood pressure.
Keep reading to find out more about how exercise can help to ease the symptoms of SAD.
A boost in endorphins
Endorphins are proteins that reduce pain and emotional stress and trigger “good” feelings. A recent study conducted by Gardner found that shorter bouts of moderate-intensity exercise, 15 to 20 minutes a couple of times a week, can bring about a steady state increase in endorphins. This function is often known as ‘runners high’, although any cardio-based activity, such as tennis, swimming or exercise classes can contribute to the same feeling.
Any form of exercise, particularly if undertaken during daylight hours, will likely bring significant benefits to those who suffer from depression and other symptoms associated with SAD. Try opting to walk to work or to the local shop instead of driving, go for a jog on your lunch break or hit the gym.
Regular physical activity can increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in your brain, which is linked to a variety of cognitive benefits. In fact, numerous studies have found that due to this increase in serotonin exercise boosts mood, lowers stress levels and can even improve brain power.
If serotonin can’t do its job, mental health problems can arise. George Papakostas, MD, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital says “Serotonin connects this superhighway between thoughts, emotions, and defenses. When this info highway becomes dysregulated, you can have a mood or anxiety disorder.”
Lowers blood pressure
High blood pressure is a common symptom of anxiety, depression, stress and excessive weight gain. Exercise is a great way to help lower blood pressure by making your heart stronger and maintaining a healthy weight. Additionally, working exercise into your lifestyle, along with eating a healthy diet, can help lower your blood pressure and help to prevent symptoms of SAD such as stress, low mood and lack of energy.
Aim to be consistent with your workouts, getting in 150 minutes of physical activity per week by making exercise a regular part of your life. And it doesn’t have to feel like a chore! There are so many different types of exercise to make it fun for everyone. Whether its hiking, weight training, joining a class or going for a walk, there’s something for everyone.