As the weather gets cooler, and the length of the day shortens, so does motivation to get to the gym to exercise. However, getting to the gym more regularly might simply save you from the de-motivated state known as the winter-blues, and yes it does occur in Sunny Queensland.
The winter blues or medically recognised Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is characterised by depression during autumn and winter with spring and summer remission, although it can less commonly occur in reverse.
The causes of SAD are not clear-cut and involve a combination of factors, which become the focus for research around this condition. Study focus includes neurotransmitters, hormones, circadian rhythm dysregulation, genetic polymorphisms and psychological factors.
Light therapy is currently recognised as the best available treatment for SAD and results show that using light therapy in isolation measured remission in up to 54% of cases. When comparing this to the next best-known intervention, pharmacological anti-depressants (SSRIs), the results fell short at a measured remission in up to 50% of cases.
Regarding the treatment of non-seasonal major depression, aerobic exercise and strength training interventions have demonstrated efficacy and these treatment methods are now being studied in SAD.
In a study comparing light therapy to aerobic exercise* both treatments showed significant reductions in depression severity when compared to an untreated control group. It has also been identified there is an increased rate of oxygen consumption in both aerobic exercise and light therapy, which suggests there is an energy expenditure component to SAD. This means our bodies need to be metabolically active (i.e. exercising) to increase oxygen consumption and therefore will benefit from utilising energy – so get moving!
The time of the day when aerobic exercise is performed is yet to be fully investigated, however there is the understanding that exercise late at night might be contra-indicated in SAD because it can lead to a phase-delay in the onset of melatonin release the following night in humans, meaning we become less physically ready for sleep. (Fun fact: melatonin is one of the major hormones recognised in circadian rhythm or sleep cycle.) Strength training has also been identified as an effective therapy in management of depression and the common co-existing conditions like anxiety, chronic pain, fatigue and sleep disorders.
Strength training or resistance training (for example: body-weight, weight-training, tubing), is defined as that which increases muscular strength and endurance and consequently improves lean muscle mass. The advantage of exercise as therapy in the management of depression is the low cost and predominantly positive side effects (such as lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease and increasing bone density), particularly when compared to pharmacological and psychological management, which for some may still be necessary.
Dr Adam’s recommendations…
Finding daily exercise during the working week helps setup routine. While finding a great balance between aerobic exercise, strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is important, moving every day in some way is essential.
Classes like Bodypump, CXWorx, Pilates, Yoga and Bodybalance incorporate strength training components and classes like Bodycombat, Bodystep, Bodyattack and RPM have more aerobic components. Then to hit the HIIT, Les Mills Grit and SPRINT classes utilise these principles in a convenient 30 minute time frame.
Finding a blend of classes you enjoy will assist to maintain a high level of motivation, keep energy high and prevent the winter-blues taking over.
Note: *aerobic exercise consisted of two daily sessions on a stationary bike separated by five minutes of rest, each involving a 5-minute warm up followed by 10 minutes of basic pedalling and 10 minutes of pedalling at 75-percent maximal heart rate.
Roecklein KA and Rohan KJ. Seasonal Affected Disorder: An Overview and Update. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2005 Jan; 2(1): 20-26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004726/
O’Connor PJ, Herring MP and Caravalho A. Strength Training & Mental Health
Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2010; 4(5).