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Easing SAD effects with exercise

It's winter, which means the days are short and the nights are long. While many celebrate the arrival of wintry weather, for those who have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this time of the year is more a cause for hibernation than celebration.

SAD is a form of depression that comes and goes with the season. As the sun sets and stays down, so does a person's mood. Symptoms of SAD can include: 

  • feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • fatigue and a tendency to oversleep
  • change in appetite leading to weight gain
  • loss of energy
  • irritability and increased sensitivity
  • difficulty concentrating
  • thoughts of suicide

SAD affects about 3 to 6 million Americans. It's four times more common among women than men and increases in frequency and severity the further away you get from the equator. Luckily, like other forms of depression, SAD is treatable. One of the recommended treatments is exercise.

Why exercise?
Exercise is beneficial for anyone who is suffering from depression. Exercise releases endorphins, which are hormones that reduce pain and increase feelings of well-being. In addition, exercise increases your metabolism, which helps improve your energy levels. Plus, the fatigue from well-used muscles is a healthier type of fatigue than that of depression. Other benefits include:

  • increased self-esteem
  • improved sleep
  • reduced anxiety

What types of exercise are best?
While any form of exercise can help, some exercises are better suited to treating SAD. Any low-impact aerobic activities, including walking and dancing, are recommended. Other activities include: 

  • gentle stretching
  • yoga
  • tai chi
  • swimming
  • running
  • strength training

Exercising with a friend can also help. Not only does it provide you with motivation to keep working out, the social interaction can help combat SAD symptoms.

How much exercise?
You don't have to become a marathon runner or elite athlete to reap the benefits of exercise. Even 10 minutes a day can help. It doesn't have to be a formal exercise program; active housework or other similar activity also provides the benefits of exercise.

If you find that your SAD symptoms don't improve or they interfere with your life, work or relationships, talk with your health care provider. Additional treatment options are available and together with exercise can help you beat the winter blues. 

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