There is plenty of research supporting the fact that exercise is a great way to reduce depression symptoms. Year after year, people struggle with the winter blues and don’t think to address it with a similar cure. But there is proof that if you suffer from winter blues, exercise may be the only medicine you need to feel great this winter.  

couple running in winter

Exercise Can Alleviate Seasonal Affective Disorder

It might help if we took the winter blues a little more seriously and called it what it actually is—seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A subset of major depression, this type of depression is linked to the changing of the seasons and lessening of the sunlight.

One of the major ways that is recommended to combat SAD is exercise, and several studies have emerged over the years to back up how effective exercise is in helping individuals manage SAD.

An early clinical trial tested how 120 Finnish employees responded to either supervised exercise and bright lights or relaxation training over an 8-week period. The researchers logged results at the 4-week and 8-week mark, with a 4-month follow-up. While the relaxation training helped with energy levels, the supervised exercise under bright lights had the greatest effect, boosting moods and increasing energy levels.

Further research has pursued to see how effective exercise and bright lights were in treating both non-seasonal depression and seasonally-linked depression. Taking a group of women in the same age group, some were treated with only bright lights and others worked out under supervised conditions with bright lights above.

Those with winter-linked depression responded well to both working out and bright light therapy, while those with non-seasonal depression significantly benefited from the regular exercise. So, if you normally struggle with depression and it deepens during the winter months, exercise is the key to set you free from your depression. 

man stretching

Set Fitness Goals To Help You Beat SAD

If you aren’t used to working out but want to utilize exercise to help you beat the winter blues, you will need to set fitness-related goals to help you stay focused. Without goals to work toward, it can be easy to become derailed and slip into depression. A good place to start creating goals are:

  • Weekly workout schedule - If you try just to fit exercise into your schedule whenever you have free time, you’ll likely find that it can be incredibly difficult to pack it in. It is more effective to schedule a regular time for exercise and work your schedule around that key part of your mental health.
  • Create/find training program - Aimlessly lifting weights or running on a treadmill won’t hurt you, but it doesn’t do as much to help you beat SAD. Also, without a workout plan to follow, it can be tempting to slack off. You can either create your own workout routine or look for a weightlifting routine or running training schedule.
  • Build up a home gym - Make your goals easier to stick to by creating a home gym. It can be tough to muster the motivation to brave the cold to go workout, but a home gym means you can wear the rattiest gym shorts and no one will know. You can build up a home gym on a budget by picking pieces when they are on sale. Also, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, you can easily outfit a home gym.
  • Develop checkpoints - It can be tough to know how you are doing if you don’t set goal checks. With multiple checkpoints, you can assess how successful you are or if you need to alter your current routine. Some metrics you can use to measure are weight loss, body measurements, lifting goals, speed and endurance increase, etc.

By implementing practical workout goals, you can successfully launch your fitness journey and beat seasonal affective disorder. 

Most Effective Workouts At Staving Off Winter Blues

To be completely honest, if you are not currently working out, any kind of workouts will help stave off the winter blues. The studies cited above focused on using aerobic workouts, as they can induce a quick release of endorphins and other mood-boosting hormones. But there are other types of workouts which are effective at keeping you feeling good.

  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)- If you like compact workouts that deliver great results in a short period of time, HIIT is for you. Switching between intense intervals and recovery, you can maximize your calorie burn and teach your body to use energy more efficiently. Regular HIIT will allow you to enjoy high energy levels on a constant basis and faster fitness results.
  • Weightlifting - Whether you want to build lean muscle mass or bulk up, your seasonal depression can be lifted with strength training. Rather than slow down like most people over the winter months, your body’s energy levels will stay high and you will enjoy increased resting calorie burn with more muscle. Bodyweight training has similar effects as weightlifting, so you don’t have to feel boxed in.

Personally, I mix together 3 days of running—both outside and on my treadmill—and 2 days of heavy weightlifting. These activities complement each other and help keep my workouts engaging so that I stick to my exercise schedule. 

man with barbell

Supplement Winter Exercise With Other Healthy Habits

Exercise alone isn’t enough to keep you in top condition during the long winter months. In fact, engaging in strenuous workouts while neglecting your nutrition, sleep or other key healthy habits can lead to you become sicker more often this winter. To balance and supplement your winter exercise, you should:

  • Follow a sleep schedule - With Daylight Savings ending in the fall and the shortened sunlight time, it can become easy to fall into a poor sleep schedule. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need at least 7 hours of sleep. Without this sleep, it is easier to overeat and skip workouts due to exhaustion.
  • Focus on healthy eating - It can be difficult to eat well over the winter months, with everyone making holiday treats to share. But, by altering your eating habits and taking in more sugar and other carbohydrates during the winter, you can exacerbate the feelings of winter blues. Make winter treats an occasional indulgence and focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods.
  • Enjoy the daylight - Many people struggle with a vitamin D deficiency during the winter months, as they are not receiving enough sunlight. You can take a vitamin D supplement to help but it is better if you make time to go and enjoy the daylight. Just make sure to bundle up.

By doing all these things, you will be better prepared to face seasonal affective disorder this winter and beat its effects.

headshotKevin Jones has mastered a busy lifestyle with work and fitness combined with family life. He writes offering solutions for personal fitness and time management as well as keeping families fit together by utilizing activities and diet.  


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