The winter months can bring on the blues. Whether it is loneliness or pressure to be perfect for the holidays or cold, dark days, exercise can help. Here are some ideas to try…and why.
Why exercise helps
According to Harvard Health, there are benefits to high and low intensity exercise. High intensity exercise gives us the runner’s high we have heard about so often. Feel good chemicals known as endorphins flow through the bloodstream for a powerful mood boost. You can still keep the blues at bay even if you don’t engage in high intensity exercise. That means just about everyone can reap the benefits of fitness for feeling good. Low intensity exercise – think a brisk walk or hike – sustained over time encourages the release of protein that improve brain function. It is an involved process, but the bottom line is it can help you feel better. Exercise encourages nerve growth in the hippocampus, which regulates mood. This region is typically smaller in people with depression. As nerve connection and growth improves, mood improves.
Yoga has been shown to help manage stress, anxiety and depression. Some types of yoga are quite vigorous and offer an intense workout. Others are gentler. Try different kinds to find the right practice for your fitness level and interest. The combination of mindful movement and breath work can help you find relief from painful or unpleasant thoughts and begin to develop some compassion toward yourself.
Go for a run
Like yoga, running can be adapted for any fitness level. Turn your run into a HIIT (high intensity interval training) session by adding in several rounds of jogging or walking. HIIT boosts mood, fitness level and calorie burning power. Start with a warm up walk, move into an easy running or jogging pace and then go for a sprint. Practice intervals of walking or jogging and sprinting, varying intensity throughout to supercharge your workout. Whenever the weather permits, exercise outside in the morning for an extra mood booster.
Join a club
Group exercise offers several benefits for beating the blues. You get the camaraderie of the crowd, gentle pressure to push yourself a little more and probably some great music.
Encourage yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for support. Be patient and gentle with yourself wherever you are. Studies have found exercise can be at least as effective as medication for relieving mild to moderate depression. Still, starting to exercise when you’re blue can feel tough. Some days you will feel stronger than others so do what you can, when you can.