Implementing Exercise to Alleviate Winter Depression & Fatigue

Every time winter rolls around, the same ol thing happens.  Hibernation time.  Me + a stack of books + a good old romcom + a glass of wine and I’m all set.  See ya in spring.  A notable decrease in energy, fatigue, a desire to be alone, difficulty concentrating, all are common experiences during this period of shorter daylight hours.

Well, do I have good news for YOU if you're like me and the 4820482042840284 other people that experience this.  Exercise, particularly vigorous exercise, is one of the most powerful tools for alleviating not only seasonal experiences of depression, but mild depression during any time of year.

Research has shown that exercise can prevent depression, immediately elevate mood after a single bout, and reduce depressive feelings quickly after instituting a consistent workout regimen.  

Here’s the quick & dirty on WHY:

  • Exercise has biochemical effects that have an antidepressant impact on the brain
    • Regulates neurotransmitters that antidepressant drugs target
      • norepinephrine - wakes up brain, gets it going, improves self-esteem
      • dopamine - improves mood and feelings of well-being, jump-starts your attention
      • serotonin - important for mood, impulse control, self-esteem
    • BDNF
      • Protects neurons against cortisol in areas that control mood, including the hippocampus.  When trapped in patterns of negative thinking, it improves ability to adapt and think in new ways, break out of pessimistic patterns and self-concepts
  • Psychological effects, like self-efficacy.  You exercise, and then feeling something like this: Hey, I took the initiative, I know what I need to do to make myself feel better because I KNOW that once I get there and get moving, I’ll feel great.  And this feeling of mastery is motivation to keep going.  YO I TOTALLY GOT THIS.

Here’s the quick & dirty on HOW to harness exercise’s antidepressant potential:

Vigorous exercise, 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity on most days (running, cycling, swimming, circuit training, group aerobic classes, hiking, etc.)

I know what you’re thinking.  Some days it just feels impossible.  Just. Can’t. Move.  How can you set yourself up for success?  Strategize yo!  A couple ideas:

  • Reach out to someone you trust and schedule a workout date.  In fact, studies show that the neurological benefits are greater when exercising with someone else, as serotonin is increased by social interaction.
  • Start with an energizing breath practice, like Kapalabhati, to bring some energy, lifeforce, whatever you wanna call it into your body.  It’ll raise your heart rate and breath rate and perhaps give you the extra little oomph to get up and get moving.
  • Start slow, like going for a brisk walk or simply allocating ten minutes to hit the treadmill.  Look for reasonable, achievable goals that aren’t overwhelming, and each day aim to scale from there.
  • For me the most important of all:   SHIFTING FOCUS FROM PHYSICAL GOALS TO LIFE GOALS.  It’s fine to want a six-pack and a toned booty.  I would be straight up lying if I said I never aimed to attain these.  But think about how you want to feel in your life.  How do you want to show up in the world and in your relationships?  How do you want to pursue your goals and dreams?  What kind of person do you want to be?