Exercise a key to curing winter blues

MARQUETTE – There’s the hard-core winter enthusiast, the type who runs at 6 in the morning at 20 below zero, or the one who thinks a snow bike trek of 10 miles is just a quick jaunt in the woods.

Then there’s everybody else.

For someone who spends a good deal of time outside in the winter, this season – with the cold weather, early nights and limited sunlight exposure – getting the winter blues might not be a problem.

However, if you work in an office all day long, arriving at work when it’s still dark outside and leaving when it’s starting to get dark, that can be soul-crushing.

In fact, some people are afflicted with seasonal affective disorder that, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year and is most prevalent during winter.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes SAD, which literally can make people sad, anxious and experience loss of energy, among other symptoms. The clinic said a drop in sunlight can cause a drop in the brain chemical serotonin and a disruption of a body’s internal clock, both causing depression. The seasonal change also disrupt the balance of the natural hormone melatonin, which plays a role in mood and sleep patterns.

The clinic recommends the use of a light therapy box or, if symptoms warrant it, a visit to a physician. A change in lifestyle, though, can go a long way in being proactive in preventing SAD, or even just the winter blues.

Christina Bennett, chronic disease leader with the YMCA of Marquette County, said more people come to the facility during the cold-weather months, often because of New Year’s resolutions they made

But then there’s the simple fact it’s cold outside, and this winter has been particularly harsh.

“You can still get out and run, but it’s not going to be as nice,” Bennett said.

Exercising indoors at the YMCA gives them an option, she said.

“Exercise, in general, helps to increase self-esteem,” Bennett said.

In fact, she acknowledged, “You need it even more so in the winter, because it’s cold and you’re going outside, so anything we can do to help ourselves is going to be a benefit.”

Bennett said the YMCA has cardio and weight machines, treadmills and a swimming pool, plus many group exercise classes, supervised by instructors, that provide an extra bit of motivation.

Being around people is another mood-lifter, Bennett said.

“It’s also, I think, just the atmosphere, a lot of like-minded individuals, the whole social aspect of it,” she said. “That helps as well.”

Marquette resident Rob Hanson works out at the YMCA every day, taking part, he said, in weight training and using the stepping machine.

“It keeps you in a good, positive mood,” Hanson said. “It makes the time go by.”

Hanson said exercising gives him more energy as well.

“I mean, just overall, you feel a lot better,” he said.

Deanna Attee is office manager at Susan LaFreniere & Associates in Marquette, which offers counseling coaching and wellness programs.

One of those programs is stage light therapy, which uses a 10,000 LUX light box that mimics natural light.

“There are a lot of studies that show it is quite effective,” Attee said of this type of therapy.

Another part of this therapy, Attee noted, is the use of a vitamin D bed for people who need to raise their levels of this vitamin.

Attee said the winter blues associated with less sunlight isn’t unusual.

“It’s pretty common, because what happens is your circadian rhythm and your sleep cycle lets out of sync,” she said.

Bell Hospital in Ishpeming featured SAD as its “Safety Topic of the Month” in its Bell Ringer issue for December, citing information from the Mayo Clinic and BlueHealthConnection. Medication, light therapy and psychotherapy, it pointed out, are potential treatments.

To get more sunlight, people also can open window blinds, sit closer to windows and take advantage of sunny days by getting outside, especially in the morning and even on overcast days.

Another tip for battling the winter blues dealt with physical activity: “Get regular exercise – it relieves stress and anxiety and improves disposition.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.