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Beating the Winter Blues

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Is this seemingly-endless winter getting you down? You’re not alone. The Associated Press wrote a whole column on cabin fever, last month. Toronto heralded the first of March with yet another snowfall, and temperatures have continued to drop since.

With conditions like these, it’s easy to fall into a seasonal depression. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a mood disorder that strikes some at certain times of the year. In the winter, it’s characterized by lethargy, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, decreased sex drive, and other classic symptoms of major depression. Sometimes, the winter can exacerbate existing mood disorders, and certain people with bipolar disorder may notice a “seasonal pattern,” with a change in season triggering a new cycle of affect and behaviour. Either way, the longer the winter lasts, the longer the feeling sticks around.

The good news is that exercise can help. As the Toronto Star points out, one factor in seasonal affective disorder is a lack of activity, both physical and social. It’s tempting to stay in and not see people when it’s so cold, and it’s equally tempting to avoid any exercise. After all, who wants to drive to the gym in the snow? But these choices can have serious consequences for brain chemistry. Exercise creates endorphins, and endorphins have a positive impact on the brain. So much so that the Mayo Clinic advises that people with chronic depression try exercise to alleviate symptoms. Evidence is mounting that depression and obesity are comorbid, meaning that they often present at the same time, although the exactly link between them is unclear.

While experts don’t know which exercises are best for people experiencing SAD or other mood disorders, they do know that even small amounts of exercise can help. So, even if you’re not able to meet your usual goals during the winter — or during periods of sadness, no matter when they may strike — just try to get up and move. In about twenty minutes, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.