As the cold winter nights set in, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) will affect a huge number of people this season. From feelings of melancholy to difficulty sleeping, the disorder manifests itself in different ways for different people — but it can be frustrating and debilitating for many people experiencing the symptoms.
Here are some ways that combining exercise with more time outdoors can help sufferers.
5 Ways Exercise Can Help Fight SAD
1. You’ll Sleep Better
A lack of sleep acts as a significant contributor to our mood and regular exercise will help to ensure that your body is getting the workout it needs — ultimately allowing you to sleep better at night. Exercise allows your body to release endorphins and these chemicals trigger feelings of happiness and positivity. Even a slight improvement in mood will lessen the feeling of sadness that plagues sufferers and will allow you to enjoy a more restful sleep.
2. You’ll Have a Reason to Leave the House
When the cold nights set in, it can be tempting to wrap up and stay indoors whenever possible — but this sort of decline in motivation can lead to sufferers of SAD feeling isolated and can even exacerbate their symptoms. Taking part in regular exercise classes or joining a local gym will give you a reason to leave the house when you’d rather not. Try signing up for classes and groups that have regular slots. This way, you can establish a routine that encourages you to leave the house during the darker months.
3. You’ll Be Exposed to More Light
Introducing health supplements into your diet can be a great way to get the nutrients that your body lacks in the winter months but these shouldn’t be used to replace natural light. Light therapy — or regular exposure to light — is thought to be the best available treatment to help combat symptoms of SAD, with a lack of natural sunlight believed to cause an imbalance the body (1). Whenever possible, spend more time outdoors. Whether this involves braving the cold and walking to work or adding a weekly outdoor run to your exercise regime, your body will thank you for the exposure to sunlight.
4. You Won’t Feel Alone
As is true with any form of depression, SAD can leave sufferers feeling lonely and isolated. But the truth is that most of us will identify with at least some of the symptoms that go hand-in-hand with SAD (2). Getting involved in group activities and gym classes can help to elevate your mood, as you’ll be spending time with other people rather than focusing on your state of melancholia. This, in turn, will make you more likely to want to spend more time with other people.
5. You’ll Meet New People
It can be difficult for GPs to diagnose SAD because it’s often closely linked with more recognizable forms of depression and treated with antidepressants (3). This can be frustrating for sufferers who don’t fully understand why they feel the way they do. But talking through your feelings is thought to be one effective way of combatting the symptoms (4). Meeting new people through exercise groups is a great way to find people with similar interests and it’s highly likely you’ll meet people who can relate to the way you’re feeling.
While there is no “cure” for SAD, by spending more time outdoors and incorporating regular exercise into your daily routine, you’ll be helping to fight the symptoms that come with the season.
- “Seasonal affective disorder: an overview and update.” Roecklein, K.A. and Rohan, K.J. 2005.
- “Seasonal affective disorder.” Eagles, John M. 2003.
- “Somatic presentations of psychiatric illness in primary care setting.” Goldberg, D.P. and Bridges, K. 1988.