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Staying active is one of the more effective ways to combat symptoms of seasonal affective disorder naturally during winter. The relationship between physical activity and mental well-being is well-documented.
But exercising is not the only way to stay active in winter. Engaging in social activities can be equally effective in reducing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms & Causes
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that typically occurs during specific seasons, most commonly in the fall and winter months when daylight hours are shorter.
Getting sufficient sunlight is important for the body to synthesize Vitamin D. Because fewer sunshine hours and the weaker intensity of the sun’s rays in fall and winter, our body does not get the sunlight it needs to synthesize Vitamin D. This affects the production of certain mood hormones resulting in that low-energy and persistent sadness, which are classic symptoms of SAD.
Maximizing exposure to sunlight is the single best way to manage seasonal affective disorder. Unfortunately, the sun doesn’t always cooperate during these colder months so you have to pivot and explore other solutions.
Related Read: What is seasonal affective disorder + Causes & Symptoms
Benefits Of Exercise For Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder
This is one of many studies that have demonstrated that engaging in physical activities helps improve mood and energy and reduce SAD symptoms.
This is doubly effective when exercise intervention is paired with bright light therapy.
This is another interesting study that states that highlights the potential of outdoor exercise or combining aerobic exercise with light therapy to manage SAD symptoms. Larger controlled trials are needed to further test exercise as an alternative or adjunctive treatment strategy in SAD.
Here’s how engaging in physical activity helps to reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
Elevates endorphin levels in the body: Engaging in physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, which act as natural mood lifters. The elevated levels of endorphins in the body after exercising helps lift your mood and reduce the feelings of sadness and lethargy associated with SAD.
Increased Sunlight Exposure: Exercise often involves spending time outdoors, providing an opportunity for increased exposure to natural sunlight. Exposure to sunlight helps regulate the body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, and can improve mood and sleep patterns.
Improved Sleep Quality: Regular exercise contributes to better sleep quality, a factor that is often disrupted in individuals with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Establishing a consistent exercise routine can promote more restful and rejuvenating sleep.
Benefits of Social Interactions For Managing SAD Symptoms
Social interactions play a pivotal role in lifting mood and promoting emotional well-being. Engaging with others provides a sense of connection, support, and understanding, creating a positive impact on mental health.
Conversations, laughter, and shared experiences release endorphins—our body’s natural mood boosters. Whether it’s a simple chat with a friend, joining a group activity, or participating in social events, these interactions contribute to a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation.
The support and camaraderie gained through social connections act as a powerful antidote to the blues, fostering a brighter outlook and emotional resilience.
Some forms of exercise, such as group classes or even hobby classes, involve social interaction. Socializing can help combat feelings of isolation, a common challenge for those dealing with SAD.
Related Read: Self-care for SAD symptoms
Easy Winter Activities That Can Help Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder
Winter can present unique challenges for older adults, but staying active and engaged is crucial for both physical and mental well-being.
Here are some easy winter activity ideas tailored for older adults. I’ve grouped these under two categories. The first set of lists focuses on physical activities and the second set of lists focuses on social activities. Both are equally effective.
Winter Physical Activities
1. Go For A Walk Outdoors
Bundle up and go for a winter walk outdoors. This simple act can work so many different ways for your overall health and well-being. The crisp winter air and serene surroundings can contribute to improved mental well-being, while physical activity helps combat SAD symptoms.
When you walk outdoors you enjoy the benefits of a walking workout as well as the powerful benefits of connecting with nature. And if you time your outdoor walks for when the sun is shining, you’ll also get the benefits of sunlight, which is vital for managing seasonal affective disorder.
If you’re fortunate enough to live near a beach, take winter walks along the shore. The sound of the waves combined with the crisp winter air can be invigorating, and walking on sand provides an additional workout.
Remember, don’t go for an all-or-nothing approach. Even a short, leisurely stroll in the neighborhood is better than not walking at all.
2. Stretch Your Body
Stretching your body accomplishes two things. It gets the blood flowing to your muscles, which releases those endorphins mentioned earlier.
Stretching also helps you become more mindful and focused. It pulls you into the moment. Instead of worrying about tomorrow or regretting yesterday, you’re in the present moment. You can feel calm, in control, and centered.
The best part about stretching – you can do it anytime, anywhere. Do a few stretches while watching your favorite show or while waiting for dinner to get ready.
3. Practice Yoga or Tai Chi
Yoga or Tai Chi are the best exercises to promote flexibility, balance, and relaxation.
Many community centers offer classes suitable for all fitness levels, providing a supportive environment for those dealing with SAD.
4. Swim A Few Laps In An Indoor Pool
Find a local indoor pool and swim a few laps at least a couple of times a week.
Swimming is a full-body workout that is gentle on the joints, and exposure to water can have a calming effect on the mind.
5. Join Indoor Exercise Classes
Many community centers, gyms, and senior centers offer indoor exercise classes specifically designed for older adults. These can include low-impact aerobics, yoga, or even dance classes.
These activities not only promote physical health but also provide opportunities for social interaction.
7. Spend time Ice Fishing
If you enjoy fishing, ice fishing can be a unique winter activity. It combines the benefits of spending time outdoors with the concentration required for the task, offering a therapeutic and enjoyable experience.
8. Walk Around Malls or Indoor Spaces
When it’s raining or snowing too hard and walking outdoors gets too challenging many malls and community centers open their doors early for indoor walking. This provides a safe and climate-controlled environment for you to maintain your walking routine.
9. Start a Winter Garden
If you have a green thumb, indoor gardening can be a fulfilling winter activity. Gardening not only engages the mind but also offers a sense of accomplishment.
Consider planting herbs, microgreens, indoor flowers, or even small vegetables. It may not count as physical activity but it does help take your mind off that persistent feeling of sadness that’s a prominent symptom of SAD.
Winter Social Activities for SAD Symptoms
9. Attend Regular Dance Classes
This is hands down my favorite social activity any time of the year. I tend to feel bored in gyms but dancing takes physical activity and social interaction to a whole new level.
Beyond the physical benefits of movement, dance provides a creative outlet for self-expression and joy. The rhythmic patterns and music release endorphins, naturally boosting mood and reducing stress. Additionally, the social aspect of a dance class fosters a sense of community and connection with others who share a common interest.
Whether it’s the energizing beats or the shared laughter during practice, participating in a dance class can create a positive, uplifting atmosphere, making it an enjoyable and effective way to lift your spirits and enhance your mood.
10. Attend Cultural Events
Check out local cultural events, such as theater performances, concerts, or art exhibitions. Many venues offer senior discounts, making it an affordable and enjoyable winter activity.
11. Join a Photography Club
Engage in photography by joining a local club or taking a photography class.
Capturing winter landscapes or documenting everyday life can be a fulfilling and creative pursuit.
Last winter I joined an interesting bird-watching contest in my city. It combined photography and bird-watching. Participants had 24 hours to crisscross the city and record all the bird species that we came across. The record had to include photographs or videos, and details of the time and place of the sightings. After 24 hours, all participants met up and compared notes and got to meet birding experts.
12. Sign Up for Art and Craft Workshops
Joining art or craft workshops can be a creative outlet during the winter months. Whether you’re passionate about painting, pottery, or jewelry making, you’re sure to find local art studios offering classes. This not only stimulates the mind but also provides an opportunity to make new friends.
Can’t find interesting classes nearby? Check online. You’ll find tons of classes at surprisingly low prices.
13. Join a Cooking or Baking Class
Winter is an excellent time to experiment with new recipes. Attend cooking or baking classes to learn new culinary skills. This not only keeps the mind active but also results in delicious, homemade meals.
14. Attend Book Club Meetings
Joining a book club is a fantastic way for older adults to engage with literature and share their thoughts with others. Choose books that spark interesting discussions and allow for social interaction.
15. Look for Volunteer Opportunities
Explore volunteer opportunities within the community. Helping others can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and it’s an excellent way to stay active and connected.
By incorporating these winter activity ideas into their routine, you can maintain an active and vibrant lifestyle, both physically and mentally, during the colder months.
Practical Tips for Staying Active to Combat SAD
Choose Enjoyable Activities: Opt for exercises that you enjoy, whether it’s walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing. Doing activities you love increases the likelihood that you will maintain a regular routine and not give up.
Set Realistic Goals: Start with realistic and achievable goals to build momentum. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts as you become more comfortable.
Create a Routine: Establish a consistent exercise routine by scheduling sessions at the same time each day. This helps make exercise a habit and ensures that it becomes a regular part of your schedule.
Mix it Up: Keep things interesting by incorporating a variety of exercises into your routine. This not only prevents boredom but also engages different muscle groups and provides a well-rounded fitness experience.
Seek Professional Guidance: If you’re unsure where to start or how to design an exercise program, consider consulting with a fitness professional or a healthcare provider. They can provide personalized advice based on your individual needs and health status.
Don’t forget to incorporate light therapy to manage SAD symptoms. Read more about light therapy for seasonal affective disorder – how it works and how to use it.
Learn More About How to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder by an Authority on the Subject
In addition, I highly recommend this book Winter Blues, Fourth Edition: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder by Norman E. Rosenthal, MD.
A Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, Dr, Rosenthal is internationally recognized for his pioneering contributions to understanding SAD and using light therapy to treat it.
This is just one of many reviews this book has received on Amazon. “A MUST read for anyone who has or thinks they may have Seasonal Affective Disorder.”
Knowledge is power. Buy this book today and learn everything you need to know to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.
By incorporating regular activities into your routine, you can proactively manage the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and pave the way for improved overall well-being.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to serve as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before using any natural medication or if you experience any unusual symptoms. See Full Disclaimer here.