A lot of people in the UK suffer from S.A.D, also known as seasonal affective disorder, a mood disorder that causes otherwise positive people to have symptoms of depression ranging from mild to severe in the winter. Symptoms include excessive sleep, tiredness, lack of motivation, hopelessness and low moods, although the severity can range widely between people and from day to day. Whilst the exact cause isn’t known, it’s thought to be to do with low light levels reducing serotonin (the happy hormone) or increasing melatonin (the hormone that allows us to sleep at night). Whatever the cause, it’s an annoying fact of winter for a lot of people, but thankfully it can be managed and reduced. Even for those without SAD, doing some of these management techniques can help with general low mood found around winter.
Get enough sleep – but don’t overdo it!
In winter all I want to do is sleep sleep sleep – biologically scientists think that’s because there used to be less food around in winter and sleeping more would mean using less energy so you didn’t have to eat as much. But nowadays with tesco just down the road and deliveroo at the other end of a phone, we don’t exactly have any food shortages to worry about! Having a good sleep schedule is important at any time of year, but especially when there is no natural light to wake you up. Set yourself a strict bedtime and wake time and try not to deviate from this. That way you’ll be getting enough sleep without getting too much and feeling lethargic from it. I aim to be in bed by 10pm, asleep by 10:15pm and up by 5/6:am everyday. Sleeping more than 9h a night can leave you feeling more tired, and restricting sleep to 8-9h means that when you sleep, you sleep deeper – something we all want and need! (Have a read of our Blog on Sleep for more information)
Now winter is looming it can be hard to find the motivation to exercise but, with 168 hours in the week, spending two or three of them working out is one of the best ways to put you in a sunnier mood.
Each week, the average person spends 63 hours staring at computer screens, 45 hours sleeping, 14 hours on their phones making calls, browsing the internet, texting and listening to music and 4½ hours eating (not including dinners out, cocktail evenings or socialising with friends in bars and clubs). But given the great benefits that come from being active, surely it’s worth boosting the average time we spend exercising up from the average of 50 minutes a week!
Exercise is great for lifting your mood and relieving stress and its effects last long after you’ve hit the showers. It aids weight loss, boost cardiovascular fitness and improves general health and more particularly the immune system which needs to be in top form to fight those winter colds and flus.
Motivation can come in many forms – starting a new gym class or exercising with a buddy, thinking of how good you’ve felt after exercising in the past or booking in a couple of extra PT sessions are all ways that can help you to get active. There are also little changes you can make to your daily routine which will help get you moving – walking up the escalator rather than standing still or even taking the stairs, getting off the bus a stop earlier than usual or taking the long way round to get lunch.
Exercising in the sunshine (when there is some!) can help lift your mood, as it boosts your levels of serotonin, the chemical that makes us happy. But sunshine or not, whenever you exercise you will get a natural mood boost from the endorphins your body produces.
Exercising in the winter months could improve your immune system
The winter season brings with it extra colds, sniffles and flu. Exercise is a great way to help boost your immune system and fight off illness, as getting your blood pumping helps to circulate immune cells and detect and destroy infection more effectively. Although healthy eating plays a more vital role in immune system development and maintenance, regular exercise is
An important tool in avoiding those extra sick days over winter.
It can help you curb cravings
Diminished sunlight during winter makes serotonin, the mood-enhancing chemical in the brain, less active and unfortunately this shortage leaves you feeling tired and hungry, which can trigger cravings. Although there's nothing better than comfort food when it's cold, if you consume more calories than the body burns AND you skip your workouts, those excess calories will be stored on your body as fat and you will gain weight.
It's important for your wellbeing to stay active during the colder months It can give you a detoxing boost
During winter and the festive season a greater influx of food and alcohol places a greater toxic burden on our liver and it could really do with a bit of support. Moderate exercise increases the blood flow to the liver thereby improving its ability to detoxify waste.
Fresh air and LIGHT
With a lack of natural light being one cause of SAD and low moods, it’s not surprising that getting natural light is on my list of ways to improve symptoms. If you work full time you’ll be familiar with the sad reality of arriving at work in the dark and leaving in the dark, leaving you no time for some sunshine or even any light! Artificial light doesn’t have the right wavelengths to suppress melatonin enough so broad spectrum lights and natural light are the only two that will help with moods. I would 100% recommend getting outside for at least 20 minutes at lunchtime to make the most of the natural light and get some fresh air to keep you awake. I also have a sun lamp – a broad spectrum light that helps me to wake up and produce vitamin D in the winter – I turn it on as soon as I wake up and eat breakfast with it shining on me. I swear by it to help keep my body-clock in check when it always seems dark outside. If you really struggle with SAD I would recommend getting one of these and using it for 30 minutes every morning.
Whilst the winter can leave you reaching for the quickest pick-me-up, it’s important to remember that relying on unhealthy foods for energy can leave you feeling even more down after you eat them, often caused by a sugar crash. High carb meals, whilst delicious, should be saved for days of heavy exercise, as they cause the release of melatonin, which is often what makes you feel sleepy after a big meal. Avoid carb-heavy meals at your desk to avoid this, and try not to increase refined sugar intake, as the crash after your blood-sugar spikes can also cause low moods, not helping the situation. I try to avoid coffee in the winter because I know that if I start I will end up relying on it to feel normal, but on tired days I have some just after lunch to get through the afternoon. Research has shown that if you’re not a morning person, having coffee in the morning can mess up your body clock, making you feel weird and anxious, rather than alert.
So get active and beat those winter blues! Remember Summer Bodies are made in the winter...