September 28, 2023

Can Exercise Cure Depression? Tips for Staying Active During the Bleak NJ Winter

Many people experience what’s known as the winter blues, or a certain level of depression, during January, February, and sometimes even March. New Jersey winters aren’t as bad as some other places… but if the weather’s been particularly cold and dismal here in the great Garden state, things can get glum and hum-drum for sure.

Why the tendency to feel sad and low during this time of year? Is it lack of sunlight? The post-holiday downer after a month of revelry? Maybe it’s a sugar crash after so many Christmas cookies followed by sudden and extreme dieting in the new year.

It could be those post-holiday credit card bills bringing us down. Perhaps a little of everything. But mostly, just being stuck inside, not nearly as active as we were in the summer months, can bring on a definite winter malaise, and for some, even depression.

Before you run (read: trudge) to your doctor to get a prescription for Zoloft, consider exercise as a way to boost your mood and obtain a natural high that eases depressive symptoms. Exercise gets your heart pumping which raises endorphin levels – it’s the feel-good brain chemicals kicking on. If you do it outdoors, you’ll be drinking up that healthy dose of sunlight and fresh air which does wonders to lift the spirits while helping the body function more efficiently.

Below, some ideas for beating those winter boo-hoos with exercise:

Walk. With the exception of severe weather or icy conditions, the winter is no excuse to not get outside for a little stroll. Ask any skier or sport enthusiast how great it feels to be outside in the crisp, cold air on a winter day. If there’s snow on the ground, you can bet that sunshine will be extra bright, so drink it up and you’ll surely get a mood lift. Sunlight stimulates vitamin D production in your body, and this improves one’s emotional state as well. A 20 to 30-minute walk is the perfect amount of light exercise to invigorate you.

Stretch. Yoga and other focused exercise programs get your blood flowing to your muscles while clearing your mind. Grab your yoga mat and explore some how-to yoga videos on Youtube. Now you’ve got endorphins coursing through your body AND you’re mentally in the present; feeling calm, controlled and centered.

Dance and play. Adults often forget how to play and look for the levity in everyday situations. Got a friend with an upbeat personality who enjoys being active? Winter’s the time to seek out that playful pal. Or, how about instead of just cleaning your house in silence and putting your kids in front of the TV when they get home, turn on some music and make this a dance party!

Run or jog. Running’s one of the best ways to burn calories, and almost everyone can do it. If you’ve mostly been a couch potato, then start with a brisk daily walk and work your way up to running. It’s not about performance, speed or distance. Just run for as long as you can, then switch to a quick-paced trot until you catch your breath and feel like running again. For those with allergies, winter’s the perfect time to run, as nothing’s growing or blooming to make you wheeze or sneeze. Burn calories, get fit, and improve your mood by running at least 3 times a week.

Swim. Are you a water person in the summertime? Why let the cold winter stop you? There’s probably a YMCA or fitness club in your area that offers the opportunity to swim some laps indoors. If swimming’s not your thing, water aerobics offers another exciting option to get moving in a way that you like. Plus, goofy-looking water aerobics can make for some laughable moments! Laughter heals the soul, and as mentioned, is great for curing depression.

Play in the snow. Sure, the snow can be a real drag if it’s been piling up all winter. But no one said you had to be stuck inside, now did they! People in more northerly parts of the world know how to make a snowy situation work for them. Sledding, ice skating, snow tubing, and yes, even shoveling provide excellent ways to get the blood moving and the muscles working while you drench yourself in sunlight. This is an incredible mood lifter, and no, you don’t have to be some kind of tricky skier or extreme winter sports person. Just get outside, breathe the crisp fresh air, find your fun snowy activity, and be glad for the gift of life and the beauty of this world!

If that’s not enough to convince you that exercise works to alleviate depression… consider the sleep factor. In the winter time, more people battle insomnia due to lack of sunlight and lower activity levels during the day time. No sleep at night equals sad, moody days, which turn into more sleepless nights. Yes, studies have linked poor sleep to depression. Beat the negative cycle by getting out and working out!

Find the DIY cure for your winter time depression by moving your body. Get outside. Work out indoors. Stretch, run, jump. Play, laugh and have fun! Your body, heart and spirit will thank you.

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