Winter is tough for a lot of people – an estimated 1 in 5 (yup, that’s a full 20%) of North Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, known as SAD.
According to Psychology Today, the symptoms of SAD include sleepiness, carb cravings, difficulty concentrating, feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability, weight gain, lethargy, decreased libido, and hyperphagia (increased consumption of food).
The prevalence of SAD has been linked to the lack of sunshine during the winter months. Depending on the severity of symptoms, there are several treatment options available – including light therapy and, in some cases, medications – and you should absolutely talk to your doctor if you are suffering.
But know this: for minor cases of the ‘winter blues’, exercise can help.
While it’s tempting to hibernate if you’re feeling blue or low on energy, it’s important to get up and get moving. Because it produces endorphins, a natural pain killer and feel-good hormone, exercise can ward off feelings of irritability, sluggishness, and even sadness. It can also boost confidence, increase metabolism, and provide an outlet for stress release – which can factor into long-term mental health.
Don’t feel overwhelmed by this – a stress-busting workout doesn’t have to be a complicated one, and it’s absolutely ok to start small.
The most important thing you can do is MOVE. Take the stairs. Park far away. Walk to the grocery store. It will improve your circulation and get blood flowing to your brain, which has positive effects, and also release those oh-so-important endorphins which can have a pain-numbing effect.
While any movement is good, aim for a minimum of 12 minutes at a brisk/vigorous pace. If you can go longer, do – you’ll reap the greatest endorphin-related benefits if you can keep your cardio going for 30 minutes.
We have a tendency to want to stay inside in the winter but do it outside if you can! If you bundle up properly, the fresh air will feel great. Use the winter as an opportunity to try something new – snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or skating, perhaps.
If you can keep busy, get outside, and get that heart rate up, the winter might just feel a little more bearable – and will almost certainly go by a tiny bit faster.
If you’d like to book a free consultation and mini workout to get a feel for how good a workout can make you feel (especially when you don’t have to go out in the cold to get to the gym!), please reach out and book one – we serve the city of Toronto and some areas outside the city .
Poul Nielsen is the owner and operator of Nielsen Fitness, Toronto's leading team of in-home personal trainers. He has 18 years' experience in the fitness industry and has taught courses in Fitness and Lifestyle Management at George Brown College.
In addition to exercise (obviously), he loves spending time with his family, playing the guitar, strong coffee - and dark chocolate!