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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to seasonal changes. Most people with SAD have symptoms that begin in the fall and continue into the winter months, causing fatigue and changes in moods. If you experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, don't brush it off as a simple case of the winter blues that you have to tough out on your own. This is a legitimate condition and there are steps that you can take to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year. One of the most valuable things you can do for your mental health is exercise. Exercise can reduce depression and anxiety while improving mood, focus, and overall well-being. Read on for tips on how to improve your mood with physical activity.
In most cases, SAD symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and disappear during spring and summer. Less commonly, the opposite pattern can cause spring or summer symptoms. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
Some of these symptoms appear more often in winter SAD or summer SAD. The seasons can also bring changes in those with bipolar disorder, such as hypomania in summer or depression in winter.
Take signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder seriously. As with other types of depression, SAD can become worse and lead to other problems if it's not treated. These can include:
Treatment can help prevent complications, especially if SAD is diagnosed and treated before symptoms get worse.
It's normal to have some days when you feel down, but if you feel down for days at a time and you can't get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide. See your doctor.
The specific cause of SAD remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:
Seasonal Affective Disorder is diagnosed more often in women than in men, and SAD occurs more frequently in younger adults than in older adults. Factors that may increase your risk of SAD include:
Exercise improves and normalizes levels of neurotransmitters, chemical substances that carry impulses from nerve cells across the synapse to other cells. There are numerous unique neurotransmitters and they're essential for the proper functioning of our neural system. Exercise can help increase levels of these neurotransmitters, all important for mental health:
Low levels of any of these chemicals are linked to depression, anxiety, poor sleep, reduced focus, and numerous other mental and emotional health issues.
You may be wondering, how does exercise increase levels of these neurotransmitters? Physical activity stimulates the release of all of these chemicals. When exercise increases your heart rate, your bloodstream delivers more oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, including to the brain.
Exercise also increases neurotrophic factors and neurohormones that support neuron signaling, growth, and connections; exercise directly affects and improves brain activity. Evidence has also been accruing that exercise may stimulate neurogenesis, the creation of neurons in the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain involved in memory, learning, and emotion regulation. Current research indicates that many mental health conditions are associated with reduced neurogenesis, particularly depression.
What are the practical improvements you might see with increased exercise?
Mental and physical health are not as distinct as we tend to view them. Each affects the other directly, and can support each other when maintained: increased exercise leads to improved energy, focus, mood, and motivation, which then encourages you to stay active!
The American Heart Association recommends you get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity (or a combination of both), preferably spread throughout the week. By sticking to this robust schedule, you'll see improvements in both physical and mental health.
If you're trying to get more exercise in order to improve your mobility and build stronger bones, visit Mountainside Medical Equipment! We've got everything from vitamins to heart rate monitors to topical pain gels like Mountain Ice Sports Recovery Gel to get you active and on your feet. Click this link to visit our exercise and fitness products!
Please consult your doctor or other qualified medical professional before stopping or starting any medications, supplements, or health regimens.