Winter Blues? Get Up and Move!
After a long, cold winter it’s normal to feel your energy and motivation sagging like a Minnesota roof under the weight of two feet of snow. Some people even succumb to depression at this time of year. Too little light and too much inactivity are bound to bring on the blues sooner or later. So what can be done to fight creeping depression? I have two words for you: Move. It.
That’s right: Exercise is an excellent way to combat depression. Of course, many factors affect mental health. We know that everything from sunlight, to vitamin D levels, to intake of omega-
3 fatty acids, to your personal support network can affect the chances that you may develop depression. So all of those things matter. People with higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids, from foods like wild salmon and tuna, for example, are less likely to develop depression. Likewise, people with higher levels of vitamin D (from exposure to sunlight, or supplements) also tend to be less likely to develop clinical depression.
But what about exercise? As it turns out, exercise is crucial not only for excellent physical health, but for mental health, too. The ability of physical activity to prevent or reduce the effects of depression is well documented. Some studies suggest that exercise helps reduce oxidative stress and has an impact on brain chemistry. To put in in layman’s terms: Exercise helps you feel better. There’s also evidence that just one bout of exercise can lower a mildly depressed person’s levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Afterwards, these people reported feeling less depressed.
If you think about it, it’s a no brainer. Have you ever felt overwhelmed, angry, blue, or stressed out and gone out for a walk to “clear your head”? If so, you’ve experienced the brain-chemical-altering effects of exercise.
Physical exercise helps reduce pain, improve mobility, decrease fatigue, and improve mood. Clinical depression is a common, and potentially serious, illness. It should not be ignored, and may require professional medical attention. But it’s also important to note that diet and exercise can play an important role in preventing and treating this illness.
Ida M1, Ida I, Wada N, Sohmiya M, Tazawa M, Shirakura K. A clinical study of the efficacy of a single session of individual exercise for depressive patients, assessed by the change in saliva free cortisol level. Biopsychosoc Med. 2013 Dec 6;7(1):18. doi: 10.1186/1751-0759-7-18.