As the days get shorter and darker, people may feel affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The mood drop that occurs with the change in light is likely associated with decreased levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, in the body. If you are affected by SAD, it is important to continue your exercise routine as exercise boosts mood. A Baylor College of Medicine expert explains how to alternate your workout routine during the darker months.
“With seasonal affective disorder, it is desirable to continue exercising or perhaps even increase your exercise,” says Dr. James McDeavitt, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor. “Relatively sustained aerobic exercise has a positive effect on mood, but you don’t just need to run or do aerobics – you can do things like yoga, tai chi or meditation , which help to relieve the symptoms of depression.”
If you like to run or do other workouts outside, it’s still safe to do so before sunrise or after sunset as long as you make yourself visible. McDeavitt recommends wearing reflective clothing as well as a flashing light that can clip onto your clothes or shoes. He also suggests leaving your headphones at home and listening to the surroundings and your surroundings.
“There is a balance. Find a place that is isolated enough to be protected from traffic while ensuring that enough people are around you to feel safe. You can also take personal protection with you,” he said.
Try to find a predictable running surface, such as a well-paved track or road, to avoid injury when running in low light conditions.
Incorporate resistance training into your home exercise routine using dumbbells or resistance bands. You can duplicate most resistance exercises only with elastic resistance bands. Other bodyweight workouts that can be done comfortably at home include pushups, planks, and squats. If you can afford it, you can buy a home aerobic machine, such as a stationary bike or a treadmill.
“It’s important to maintain your routine seasonally. Even if you regularly run outdoors in the spring and have to move indoors for the winter, don’t ruin your training,” McDeavitt said.
He also recommends including a mindfulness component to your training, such as engaging in a stretching program a few times a week or doing yoga or tai chi.
“There are things you can do inside that not only give you physical benefits, but also emotional benefits,” he said.
It takes about three months of consistent practice of an activity to develop a habit. When you stop the activity, you’re probably switching off the habit faster than you built it. It is crucial to maintain an exercise habit by blocking out time for it daily.
“You experience low levels of serotonin and dopamine in SAD, depression, or other conditions, but there’s a benefit to increasing neurotransmitter levels through exercise,” McDeavitt said.
If you have symptoms of depression, seasonal or otherwise, talk to your primary care provider and seek help. By dialing 988 from across the United States, you will be connected to the Suicide & Crisis Helpline, offering confidential support to those in distress.