Darkness and Cold trigger many of us into a state of hibernation and retreat. While this is a normal response, for some it can create a feeling of reduced wellbeing. Luckily, to exercise in winter, doesn’t only keep us fit, and warm. It also helps us combat winter depression and tiredness. And this is how!
Causes of Winter Depression
While feeling tired and weary during the dark, grey and cold season of the year is quite a common experience, for some it is more than that.
For around 14% of the US population or around 1 of 10 people generally, what is called “seasonal affective disorder” becomes a factor that really reduces their life quality.
However, whether severe or light – the symptoms are similar: depression, low energy levels, fatigue, and the habit to eat more food.
Luckily, also the solutions that we can implement to improve our general health are the same no matter how severe the form of winter depression is.
Simply speaking, what determines whether we are experiencing winter depression or not is how our body responds to light, our stock of certain vitamins and nutrients – as well as our levels of activity and time outside.
It feels like the most natural and logical response of our body.
I think it is funny that we as humans have actually coined a disorder for this type of phenomena.
Doesn’t that sound so much like us?
Always wanting to categorize and name everything. And always wanting everything to be positive and cheerful. And if it’s not – well then it is a disease.
It really is time to allow ourselves to live in more alignment with our natural rhythms, and support ourselves in the best way we can during those times.
So how does light and our level of activity impact our wellbeing and energy levels?
Less Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is related to anything from lower energy levels up to depression, inflammation, and bone loss.
Vitamin D is the vitamin that is actually produced in our cells as a response to natural light.
The more our bare skin is exposed to sunlight, the more it will produce this micronutrient.
You need to expose your skin for about half the time it takes for it to burn. Around 15 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the skin type.
Saying that it is necessary to expose quite a large surface area of your skin to reach sufficient Vitamin D supplies.
Naturally, when it is cold we tend to wear more clothes and only show our face and hands to the daylight.
In addition, daylight time is much shorter and we tend to spend much more time indoors.
So less chance for our body to expose itself to the sunlight and produce this precious vitamin.
Vitamin D is present only in the smallest amounts in foods like fat fish, beef or egg yolk. So the only other way to consume it other than sunlight is through supplements.
In this way, spending more time outside, be it through exercise or walking can be one way of supporting Vitamin D intake and combating depression throughout the winter.
Melatonin is produced in our brain and helps our body regulate sleep rhythms. It tells us when to sleep and when to wake up.
Naturally, melatonin levels rise when it gets dark, indicating that it is time to go to bed, and slowly decrease as the sun rises and more light is received by our pineal gland.
Of course, when there is less daylight and we stay indoors for longer periods of time, our body will produce more melatonin, making us more sleepy and tired.
Again, spending more time outside is the perfect solution, this time for reducing melatonin production.
How Work Outs in Winter can help drastically improve winter depression
Fight one hormone with another: While melatonin makes you sleepy and tired, serotonin gets you active and happy.
Serotonin is naturally produced when we move or do exercise.
Exercise in the afternoon to overcome “early evening tiredness”. This will also help to have a deeper and more restorative sleep when it is actually time for you to sleep.
Or exercise outside in bright daylight, for example in the lunch break to reap the full effect: More Vitamin D, Less Melatonin and More Seratonin! Yay!
Even a one hour walk during the day can already have wonderful effects.
Exercise – good and well, but how do you get yourself to do it (or anything) when you are already super tired? Here is how:
- First of all: Get warm: If you are too cold, you may just want to get cozy under the next blanket. Instead, crank up the heat and feel comfortable in your home. Once your body doesn’t need to spend energy on warming it up, you will have more energy for other things – like exercise
- Second: Hydrate: Drink plenty of liquid. Hot water or teas are great because they will continue to warm you up from the inside out. But also, don’t forget about juices: They can be an amazing source of extra nutrition and energy in the winter. Drinking also helps with metabolism – and keeps your inner workings moving.
- Don’t feel like going out at all? And especially not for exercise? Start at home! Find some fun online classes, do your favorite exercises or a custom-made routine for you. These are really easy to do at home: Yoga, HIIT – or just have fun and Dance to your favorite music – yes, this counts too!
- Gyms and Classes: Find yourself a nice warming workout. Gyms sometimes have a wellness area too. Find one with a Sauna to escape the cold!
- Another good trick is to simply stay active during the day: Are you working on a computer? Try to work in standing!
- Do you have errands to do? Or meetings to attend to? Walk short distances. You can also cycle them. But be careful with ice and pack up well.
- Do walks: 1- hour at lunch or in the evening is enough already
- And for the super motivated ones: You can still keep up with your running routine. That is wonderful if you do! Just make sure to wear proper clothes. Protect your ears, neck, and hands. Pack some tissues. And watch out for puddles or wet leaves.
Going outside for a class, a walk or running won’t even enter your mind when it’s cold or you are busy? No worries at all! Here is a special tip for you:
Intermittent Running in your everyday Life.
I love this tip so much because it brings exercise into your
everyday life, without needing to plan a special time for it.
Going somewhere? Do a 30 seconds sprint! Then continue walking.
Or run for a longer period of time. Then walk again.
On the weekend I was late for a massage. Google Maps told me it would take me 38 minutes, but I only had 30 minutes until the appointment.
Luckily, I was wearing the right gear – and I was freezing! So I decided to run part of the distance. With breaks in between.
As a result, I ended up being there 10 minutes early, without running at all for the last 15 minutes so I wouldn’t be sweating for the appointment.
This was a three times win:
- I finally made myself do some exercise again (hadn’t done any in over a week)
- Within a short period of time, I was no longer freezing
- And I made it there on time!!
I loved it so much, that I did the same on my way back home – just so I wouldn’t be so cold!
This is how you can do it:
- Wear trainers and sports attire like clothes for errands
- Do you have only a short distance to work? Wear your sports attire, carry your business clothing on your back (nicely folded, wrinkle-free).
- Do the same as I did: Do intermittent running. And don’t run for the last 10-15 minutes before your arrival so you are all nice and clean! And change before you enter.
Not an option for you at your workplace? Not a problem!
Go to work as you do, but bring your sportswear with you. Use part of the lunch break for a walk, a run or intermittent running!
Your energy levels will be up. As will be your ideas and creativity. Your boss will love it.
With these tips, there should be no reason why your winter won’t be much more active this year – and you can say bye-bye to winter depression!
Disclaimer: Please note, there are many other forms of depression, that are not caused by little light or movement. If you are experiencing depression on an ongoing basis, and small changes in your behavior don’t help, or you don’t even see yourself able to start them, please take support by reaching out first to people who are trained to help you with this.