Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a seasonal depressive disorder that normally occurs in the autumn and winter months when daily sunlight is limited. This is because the lack of sunlight affects our level of hormones, melatonin and serotonin, in the part of the brain that controls mood, sleep and appetite.
Exercise has been proven to help people combat the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Not only does exercise improve mood but it has also been shown to reduce stress, which often exacerbates feelings of depression brought on by Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Studies have shown that one-hour of aerobic exercise outdoors (even on a cloudy day) can help reduce the feelings of depression. Moderate exercise such as a brisk walk, running, cycling or hiking has proven to help suffers of Seasonal Affective Disorder feel remarkably better during the autumn and winter months.
Research has also shown that regular moderate exercise reduces the risk of infection compared with a sedentary lifestyle. During moderate-to-vigorous exercise (e.g., brisk walking, cycling, swimming, sports play), several positive changes occur in our immune system, including the reduction of stress hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol can suppress our immunity, making us more susceptible to infection and illness.
To reduce the psychological effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder and to boost your immunity through the autumn and winter months, try out the following activities:
- A brisk lunch-time walk can increase your exposure to sunlight, enhancing both your mood and immunity
- Cycling to work can ensure you are exposed to sun-light in the morning boosting your mood for the day ahead
- If you cannot get outside during the day why not try a group fitness session either in the morning or evening. Taking part in a group fitness class can be an excellent mood booster. When you feel good, you think more rationally, make better food choices thus enhance your immunity. It is an all round health and well-being concept.
The autumn and winter months can play havoc on our mental health as well as our immune health however by exercising moderately for 30-40mins daily you can significantly reduce these effects and feel great.