Bust Those Winter Blues
As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, you may be feeling a bit depressed. Don’t let depression get you down; there’s a cure that doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription – it’s called exercise.
“When we exercise, our brains release chemicals that positively impact our mood and make us feel better,” says Elizabeth Levinson, MD, Virtua family physician.
In addition to the change in seasons, chronic stress can lead to depression.
“Stress changes your brain chemistry and inflammation in your immune system, which may lead to depression symptoms,” explains Dr. Levinson. “When people exercise regularly, it can enhance their feeling of self-efficacy, improve their self-esteem and give them a sense of achievement. All of these positive experiences can help to alleviate depression.”
The best exercise for depression
“I recommend walking because pretty much everyone can tolerate a walking program,” says Dr. Levinson.
Ultimately, the best exercise is the one that you’d do consistently. Adults should exercise about 30 minutes day, 5 days a week and engage in moderate or high-intensity muscle-strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.
“Consistency is key,” says Dr. Levinson. The mood-boosting endorphins effect can last for several hours, but for sustained benefits you have to exercise consistently each week for a few weeks a month, she says.
*Please consult your physician before starting an exercise program.
3 Ways to Stick to an Exercise Plan
- Find the best time to exercise
“Everyone’s energy peaks are different, so the best time to exercise depends on the person,” says Dr. Levinson. Some people have more energy in the morning and others in the evening.
- Schedule exercise as you would any other important task
Plan to work out 5 or 6 days a week and schedule it into your routine. “Don’t give up on your program because you missed a day,” says Dr. Levinson. Give yourself credit for the days you did exercise and commit to working out again the next day.
- Keep things interesting
Dr. Levinson suggests trying different types of exercise in various environments (i.e. your living room or a local indoor pool). Listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks. Pair up with a friend, attend a group fitness class or exercise outdoors. More exposure to sunlight can be helpful for people with depression, especially if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
If you want to start and exercise program because you feel depressed, consult with your physician first, suggests Dr. Levinson. It’s important to receive medical attention for depression so you can get on the road to recovery as quickly and safely as possible. They can help you design the best fitness program that will lead to a happier, healthier you!
Updated June 6, 2016