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Beating the winter blues

02 Jan 2011

One in 15 of us becomes depressed in winter and suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Millions more have low spirits or ‘the winter blues’ during the winter months.

So if the short, dark days are getting you down, what can you do to feel like yourself again?

Not a myth

Despite the fact that millions of us say we’ve suffered a winter-related low mood, the idea remains that the winter blues is just a myth. But there’s sound scientific evidence to support the idea that the season can affect our moods.

Most scientists believe that the problem is related to the way the body responds to daylight. Alison Kerry, from the mental health charity MIND, says:

“With SAD, one theory is that light entering the eye causes changes in hormone levels in the body. In our bodies, light functions to stop the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making us wake up.

“It’s thought that SAD sufferers are affected by shorter daylight hours in the winter. They produce higher melatonin, causing lethargy and symptoms of depression.”

If you’re going through a bout of winter blues, lack of daylight is probably playing a part.

Lighten up

If the winter blues is about lack of daylight, it’s no surprise that treatment involves getting more light into your life. If you feel low in winter, get outside as often as you can, especially on bright days. Sitting by a window can also help.

You might be tempted to escape the dark winter days with a holiday somewhere sunny. This can be effective for some, but other SAD sufferers have found that their condition gets worse when they return to the UK. See your GP for more advice.

It’s also important to eat well during the winter. Winter blues can make you crave sugary foods and carbohydrates such as chocolate, pasta and bread, but don’t forget to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, too.

Read more about how to get five portions a day of fruit and vegetables into your diet.

Get active

There is another weapon against the seasonal slump: keeping active.

Dr Andrew McCulloch is chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, which has produced a report the mental health benefits of exercise. He says, “There’s convincing evidence that 30 minutes’ vigorous exercise three times a week is effective against depression, and anecdotal evidence that lighter exercise will have a beneficial effect too.

“If you have a tendency towards SAD, outdoor exercise will be have a double benefit, because you’ll gain some daylight.”

Activity is believed to change the level of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin in the brain. It can also help by providing a pleasant change of scene, and helping you to meet new people.

If you’re suffering from SAD, your GP might be able to refer you to an exercise scheme. But if winter blues is your problem, why not get out and exercise independently? 

MIND says research has shown that a one-hour walk in the middle of the day is an effective way to beat the winter blues.

The Ramblers’ Association offers a Festival of Winter Walks with routes ranging from three to 10 miles. They’re a great way to enjoy some moderate, daylight activity.

So what are you waiting for? Get outside and exercise the winter blues away.

Read more about getting fit whatever your age.

Source: NHS Choices
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