The Winter Blues

For some of us winters are a sad time. Literally! Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a condition that surfaces when the chill sets in and the sun loses its sheen. It is more commonly known as winter depression, seasonal depression or whimsically the winter blues. The phase is actually a mood disorder for some people who enjoy absolutely normal mental health otherwise. But come winters and they begin to exhibit symptoms of depression.

This distinctive mood disorder recurs like clockwork in colder months for persons affected by the syndrome. They are usually in great condition for the rest of the year. Recognized as a specific disorder, this condition was earlier overlooked due to uncertainty and doubts. But now SAD is identified as a major depressive disorder. People suffering from it exhibit feelings of hopelessness, disinterest and withdrawal from social interaction. Sleep patterns and eating habits get affected making them feel lethargic and agitated.

It is normal for SAD people to over-sleep, over-eat or not eat at all. Waking up in the morning is difficult and they may experience a craving for carbohydrates. However every individual case may be different but insomnia and weight gain or conversely weight loss appears to add to their anxiety. Very often listlessness sweeps down making them averse to activity. The reduction of sunlight also adds to their difficulties to deal with themselves in the cold weather.

Some of us tend to feel low during the winter months but not all of us may be affected by SAD. It is believed that SAD is related to a lack of serotonin that plays its part in the disruptive malady. Serotonin in the brain regulates anxiety, happiness, and mood. Low levels of the chemical are associated with depression-like behavior. Another view is that lack of melatonin production in dim winter light affects the body’s control over the inherent circadian clock resulting in a slowdown or disturbed psyches.

People susceptible to SAD may therefore suffer from personality related afflictions. Correlations have been found between winter depression and personality traits like neuroticism, inability to cope and avoidance of normal living. Winter blues are now clearly associated with these four specific patterns:

  • Depressive episodes occurring at a particular time of year.
  • Remissions or mania/hypomania at the same characteristic time year.
  • Patterns last beyond couple of years with no non-seasonal depressive episodes.
  • Seasonal depressive episodes outnumber other depressive episodes in a lifetime.

Cloud cover contributes to negative effects of SAD. Seasonal mood variations related to light or rather lack of light are effectively rectified by using bright-light therapy. With clear evidence that SAD patients are affected by delay in their circadian rhythm, bright light treatment corrects such conditions. Also, winter blues may not have people feeling terribly depressed but perhaps simply experiencing lack of energy in performing everyday activities. Such blue feelings can be extinguished by exercise and increased outdoor activity.

People need to take advantage of sunny days to improve their mood and energy levels. When the sun is not out then indoor bright-light therapy can be made use of.   Light therapy can also consist of exposure to sunlight by spending more time outside when the sun is out. For more troubled patients antidepressants are effective. Depending on the patient’s condition light treatment or anti-depressants may be used alternately to improve the disorder.

In winters people also suffer from low vitamin D levels as they do not get enough ultraviolet-B on their skin. An alternative to using bright lights is to take vitamin D supplements. However, studies do not show a link between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms. Physical exercise is effective for containing depression. Patients exposed to exercise along with bright light therapy whether natural or otherwise seem to make quick recovery. So chalk out your winter exercise schedule outdoors or indoors in brightly lit gyms and see your blues disappear.

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Raise Dopamine – Get Moving

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Why do many of us not feel like exercising despite promising ourselves to get going? When it comes to the crunch why do we feel all de-motivated? Our alarms get shut and we prefer the shut eye when it comes to stepping out of bed. Studies now suggest that Dopamine is to blame!! Now what exactly is Dopamine?

Well Dopamine is an organic chemical of that plays several important roles in the brain and body. It is an amine synthesized by removing a carboxyl group from a molecule of its precursor chemical L-DOPA, which is synthesized in the brain and kidneys. Dopamine is also synthesized in plants and most multicellular animals.

So what precisely is the role of dopamine in the brain? The truth is it functions as a neurotransmitter – a chemical released by neurons or nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior.

Most types of rewards increase the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs increase dopamine neuronal activity. Other brain dopamine pathways are involved in motor control and in controlling the release of various hormones. These pathways and cell groups form a dopamine system which is neuromodulatory.

It is true for many of us that working out a disciplined exercise regimen is one of the most difficult things to do. Now scientific research offers the reason why we lack motivation to accomplish the most simplest of acts that ought to come so naturally to us. Despite knowing full well the best benefits of physical activity we still remain unmoved! It is believed that regular exercise can reduce risks associated with severe illnesses that include diabetes and certain heart diseases. In fact exercise can even raise out levels f endorphins in the brain improving our mental health and even longevity. If one is looking to control weight the benefits are remarkable.

Well here is research that suggests that maybe dopamine can explain lack of physical activity. The premise explains that something else contributes to physical inactivity. It is actually a hypothesis that states that a dysfunction in dopamine system might be responsible for lack of will power for physical activity. It appears dopamine is critical for movement.

Low dopamine levels can lead to lack of motivation, fatigue, addictive behavior, mood swings and memory loss. Learn how to increase dopamine naturally. Here’s a list of foods, drinks, and spices known to increase dopamine – almonds, apples, avocado, bananas, beets, chocolate, coffee, fava beans, green leafy vegetables, green tea, lima beans, oatmeal, sesame and pumpkin seeds, turmeric, watermelon, and wheat germ. You may naturally enhance dopamine levels with natural probiotics like yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut that will also be beneficial.

Stay Fit – Become A Weekend Warrior

HERD Foundation

Stay Fit – Enjoy Exercising on Weekends

Today’s Times of India reports an alarming study conducted at University of California San Diego that summates – sitting down for long periods of time isn’t just bad for your metabolism, it can make you age quicker too. It is decidedly disturbing for men and women who spend long hours working on computers. The study suggests that sitting down for more than ten hours a day without regular exercise make cells age prematurely.

Dr Aladdin Shadyab, key researcher with Department of Family Medicine and Public Health states, “Our study found cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle. Chronological age doesn’t always match biological age”. The women in the study were part of Women’s Health Initiative that was conducting an investigation to determine chronic diseases in postmenopausal women.

Since we all know how beneficial it is to exercise all efforts should be made to remain physically active as long as possible. But very often the daily grind of work-life and early commutes leave us bereft of time, opportunity and energy to do useful exercise for our own good. In which case the increasing trend of taking to exercising over the weekend is catching on.

But the question on every one’s mind is whether exercising over the weekend is just as effective as a little bit of exercise every day? While daily regular exercise does improve overall health, there is increasing belief that suggests even moderate hours spent exercising over weekends can help control body weight, lower cholesterol and maintain blood pressure. This is good news for fitness lovers who do not have time during the working week.

A research study on this subject compiled data from 1994 to 2008 to examine links between mortality rates and so-called weekend warrior exercise habits. It appears to suggest that those who undertook weekend exercising remain as healthy as regular daily exercisers. However these weekend warriors largely tend to be males.

Women are therefore urged to become weekend warriors as well. They may devise a weekend exerciser routine to provide them benefits of daily physical activity. It would reduce their risk of ageing and depleting metabolism. They should get into the weekend warrior mode to include physical activity patterns or at least planned sessions per week that include moderate and vigorous-intensity physical activity. It will help them ward off adverse effects of desk-bound lifestyles.

HERD Foundation

Create a Sunday Morning Exercise Routine