When you think about all the effort you made to get a ‘beach ready’ body in the summer, it would be a shame to undo all the hard work in winter only to start over again next spring! Particularly as exercise can be of particular benefit to combat those winter blues...
It is estimated that at least half a million people in the UK suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Sunlight-starved brits can find that they feel particularly depressed and exhausted during the winter months. Instead of turning to over-the-counter remedies and staying inside feeling sorry for ourselves we should be taking active measures to ensure we stay happy and healthy!
SAD is a form of depression that rears its ugly head during the winter months. People who suffer from SAD tend to feel low and inexplicably fatigued as the daylight hours become shorter.
Some studies have shown that exercise works as well as anti-depressants for some people. In some cases, it works even better!
This comes as no surprise to most of you, but exercise stimulates the body to produce endorphins which relieve pain, boost mood and make you feel content. Exercise also helps to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Your body begins to produce endorphins ~15-20 minutes into a physical activity session. Most recommendations state that 30 minutes of exercise is optimum to rid feelings of depression. And if you exercise outside, the results are even better! One hour of exercise outdoors has the same benefit as 2.5 hours of light holistic therapy (an alternative method to treat SAD).
If you choose a social activity or an activity which you enjoy, you are more likely to commit to a winter regime and reap the benefits both physically and mentally. The added bonus will be that the more exercise you do, the better you will look and the more confident you will feel too!
The depression and fatigue caused by SAD can lower your immune system leaving you exposed to the cold and flu viruses that seem to be everywhere during the winter! If there is anything that will make you feel lower, it is being ill!
Luckily, research continues to support a link between moderate exercise and a healthy immune system. The production of macrophages (the cells which attack bacteria) is boosted during exercise and if you commit to regular exercise, the benefits to your immune system will be far more permanent. This immunity boost will help you to fight off those unwanted cold’s.
However, be careful not to overtrain! There is research to show that too much high-intensity exercise can have the opposite effect and reduce immunity. Over 90 minutes of high-intensity exercise is associated with leaving subjects susceptible to illness for up to 3 days post-exercise.
Burn More Calories!
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) changes when subjected to variances in temperature. When the external environment affects your body temperature, your body uses more energy to try to regain homeostasis.
When body temperature is decreased by cold weather, the muscles begin to twitch (you start to shiver) in a bid to increase core temperature. Depending on how cold you are, heat production can increase to 5x its normal level in a bid to restore optimal body temperature.
While this may help you burn a few extra calories when you step out of your front door to begin a run, it will make little difference once you begin moving.
Enjoying the summer sunshine is one of the best ways in which we obtain vitamin D.
Although many forms of vitamin D exist, the two predominant forms are vitamin D₂ (from diet) and vitamin D₃, which is synthesised by ultraviolet radiation from a precursor of cholesterol in the skin.
Not only is vitamin D helpful in skeletal injury prevention, it can also help prevent heart disease, auto-immune diseases and the relentless bouts of winter cold’s and flu’s that we all face in the colder months.
It is possible to avoid facing a vitamin D deficit by ensuring there is plenty in your diet. Vitamin D is most commonly found in cod liver oil, salmon, egg yolk and liver, but if none of these take your fancy, vitamin D supplementation is a fast and effective way to maintain healthy levels!