How to Bust Those Winter Blues
By Elizabeth Levinson, MD, Virtua Family Physician
As winter nears, the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, leaving many feeling a bit down. But, there’s a cure that doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription—it’s called exercise.
When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals that positively impact your mood and make you feel better.
And, when you exercise regularly, it can enhance feelings of self-efficacy, improve self-esteem and provide a sense of achievement. All of these positive experiences can help alleviate depression.
What's the best exercise for when you feel down?
I recommend walking because pretty much everyone can tolerate a walking program.
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. The mood-boosting effect from endorphins can last for several hours but, for sustained benefits, you have to exercise consistently a few times a week and make it a lifetime habit.
*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. 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. Give yourself credit for the days you did exercise and commit to working out again the next day.
Keep things interesting
Try 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. Outdoor exercise provides greater exposure to sunlight, which can be helpful for people with depression, especially if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
If you want to start an exercise program because you feel depressed, consult with your primary care physician first. It’s important to receive medical attention for depression so you can get on the road to recovery as quickly and safely as possible. Your doctor can help you design the best fitness program that will lead to a happier, healthier you.
To make an appointment with a Virtua primary care doctor, call 1-888-847-8823.
Updated November 19, 2019