Get outside to beat the winter blues

  • Feb. 3, 2011 6:00 a.m.

By Tanja Shaw, Special to The Progress – The excitement of the holidays is over, and January has been a wet, gloomy month. We have had drizzle, light rain, sideways rain, rain showers, hail, wet snow, light flurries and a short-lived wintery snow storm. If you have been feeling a little ‘blah’ since Christmas, you are not alone. Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) is more prevalent in places with less sun during the winter (very few people get SAD in Florida), with up to 10% of the population experiencing symptoms. As many as one in five people deal with a milder form of winter blues.

Unless you are about to board a plane to a tropical destination, there is little you can do about the weather. There are however, things you can do to stave off the winter blues.

1. Go outside!

Although our wet wintery weather may not inspire outdoor activities, getting a regular dose of fresh air can help to lighten your mood. The natural light, even on cloud covered days (with or without the precipitation) is beneficial. If it’s dark when you come home from work, try to take a short outing on your lunch break. Remember that the rain usually looks worse when you are sitting inside, or driving in your car. A proper rain jacket and pants can make being outside on even the wettest days enjoyable. If you are lacking waterproof gear, a good golf umbrella will also do the job.

2. Get regular exercise.

Improved mood in the winter is yet another benefit of regular exercise. Health Canada currently recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Children and teenagers should get at least 60 minutes exercise per day. If exercise is not part of your regular routine, now is a good time to start. Better yet, exercise outdoors. Start by going for brisk 15-20 minute walks 3-5 times per week and increase your time by 5 minute each week. Remember that even though 150 minutes is the recommended amount, more physical activity is better.

3. Eat well.

The winter blahs can increase cravings for refined carbohydrates such as treats baked with white flour and sweets. These foods accentuate the problem as they make you feel more lethargic and contribute to weight gain. Instead, eat a diet of whole grains, lean proteins and fruits and vegetables. Eating moderate portions of whole foods will leave you feeling more energized, even if you stay inside on a rainy day.

4. Meet up with friends.

Keeping in touch with friends and family can also heighten your mood. If your schedule is tight, a phone conversation (or text message or e-mail) can help.

If you think you are suffering more than the regular dose of ‘winter blues’, make sure to talk to your doctor. SAD is characterized by depression, winter weight gain, withdrawal from social activities, irritability and anxiety.

While we can look forward to longer, sunnier days ahead, we still have about two months left of winter. Keep your spirits high by scheduling a walk, run, or hike outdoors with a few friends. Fuel your body with nutrient rich foods and have fun!

Tanja Shaw is a Kinesiologist and personal trainer, specializing in weight loss, pre and postnatal fitness, and health and wellness programs. She owns Ascend Fitness Coaching, which offers Boot Camps, mom and baby fitness classes and personal training in the Chilliwack area. More information is at www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com.

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