The onset of February can mark spike in the numbers of Americans suffering from SAD, "Seasonal Affective Disorder", also known as the winter blues.
Certified Personal Trainer Mary Beth Knight of Revolution Fitness offers tips on how to spot and treat the winter blues.
Research shows that between 10 and 20 percent of the population of the U.S. is affected by either mild to severe symptoms related to the winter blues and those living in northern climates are even more susceptible due to long, harsh winters.
Symptoms typically associated with SAD are:
- Weight gain
- Drop in energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Cravings for sweet & starchy foods
- Irritability and anxiety
- Loss of interest in activities
The Mayo clinic suggests that the mental health condition SAD can be the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Factors contributing to the imbalance are:
- A disruption in your natural circadian rhythm (the body's internal sleep/wake alarm clock) which can lead to feelings of depression
- A drop in serotonin and melatonin levels both of which contribute to proper sleep patterns and mood
- Lack of sunlight which slows the body's production of Vitamin D
- Lack of B-6, foliate and B-12 vitamins which are critical in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other functions in the brain.
The good news is that a few simple lifestyle changes can help to reset your body's internal clock, up your vitamin d production, provide the necessary B vitamins and increase your energy while helping to prevent unwanted weight gain. Try these simple changes to decrease SAD symptoms;
Instead of consuming a high fat/high calorie snack to curb the starchy or sweet food cravings, opt for a vitamin infused beverage that tastes sweet but isn't packed with calories such as Vitamin Water zero's mega-c grape-raspberry flavored beverage which offers vitamin C, zinc and 40 percent of your daily needs of vitamin B3, B5, B6 and B12 with zero calories per 8 fluid ounce serving. Staying hydrated during the winter can improve your energy levels and the B vitamin complex provides your brain with the necessary vitamins for optimal mood and performance.
Supplement your diet with a Vitamin D to make up for the lack of D production during the gray days of winter, or consider using a light box or light visor for 30 minutes daily. Northern Light Technologies offers a travel version which is only 12 inches tall and comes with a carrying case making it easy to set on a desk at home or the office.
Moderate exercise is a known mood enhancer due to its ability to balance the chemicals in the brain, including serotonin. Choose your intensity wisely, aerobic (moderate) exercise will produce more energy than it uses, leaving you with more energy than before exercise. Intense exercise also produces energy but tends to use it all for the activity itself, leaving one more fatigued post exercise. The amount of exercise should also be considered. The symptoms of SAD may exist daily, for exercise to alleviate the symptoms one must participate in it daily. Choose the number of minutes based upon what could be completed today, tomorrow and everyday thereafter. Those new to exercise should begin with 20 minutes daily and increase to 30 minutes after two weeks of consistent exercise. As always, consult with your physician prior to beginning any exercise routine.
Lastly, be consistent in your approach to alleviate symptoms, participating in lifestyle changes should take place daily to achieve the desired affect on the body.