Moving from somewhere warm and sunny like south Texas to the frozen tundra that many affectionately refer to as the Midwest can definitely take a toll on how your body reacts. When I first moved here, I thought I was just very homesick (which I was), but there was something more. You see, living in south Texas where the sun is always shining, my body was never at a loss of Vitamin D or serotonin. I noticed this season was different. After some researching trying to find an “easy” solution, I found information on SAD, seasonal affective disorder. This is basically what people refer to as the Winter Blues or Winter Depression.
Surprisingly enough the “easy” answer was exercise. Research has shown that 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least 3 times a week help fight the winter blues. This doesn’t happen just because you get out of the house, but for so many other reasons. The greater supply of oxygen and getting outdoors has many benefits. In fact, just being able to see greenery and nature, nature’s natural oxygen source, can trick your mind into releasing serotonin, or the mood enhancing chemical. Eco-psychologists have tested patients trying to heal a part of their body. They learned that those patients that have a window with a view of greenery and nature heal at a much faster rate that those with a view of a brick wall.
This greater supply of oxygen, whether that comes from cardio or strength training benefits your entire body. This oxygen results in increased circulation which makes you feel warmer. It also helps boost digestion. Hands and/or feet cold? This increase of oxygen supply will help with that too. Warming up the body through increased oxygen supply can also loosen up stiff joints and make muscles supple.
When your body works vigorously, your brain begins to release more endorphins. These are the “feel-good” chemicals your brain produces. Many refer to this as a runner’s high. This release of endorphins helps battle symptoms of depression or SAD. Another chemical released by your brain is serotonin. Vitamin D and sunlight help with serotonin. With the diminishing amount of sunlight this time of year, our body produces less serotonin. Low serotonin levels can increase cravings. Working out and helping your body with Vitamin D and oxygen boost your serotonin levels.
Many people ask about whether or not to workout if your sick. My personal opinion is no. I believe a body needs time to rest and heal, but that may not be a big concern if you exercise to fight the winter blues. As your heart rate increases, your blood begins to pump more vigorously. This increased blood pump circulates your cells at a faster rate, helping to beat illness to the punch with the use of immune cells. It keeps the good stuff going in your body and keeps you healthy.
One thing I have notices that also significantly helps my winter blues is time in the sauna after a good workout. It releases muscle tension, warms you to the core, and all that sweat, well that’s good ol’ fashion detox. This sweat session helps your body detoxify waste and helps to keep your insides clean.
If you choose to work out outdoors, be sure to stay hydrated. You can get dehydrated in the cold weather just as easily as in warm weather. Drink plenty of fluids. Also, dress in layers. You may be cold at the beginning, but a vigorous workout can increase your body temperature by 30 degrees so be prepared to make sure you are in layers you can remove if needed and that you are wearing moisture wicking fabric to avoid catching a chill as you sweat.
Winter blues and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) are difficult to deal with if you don’t have an outlet. Make exercise your outlet and use the great products from Performance Inspired to help keep you in tip top shape and all types of health: physical, emotional, and mental.