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How Your Winter Workouts Can Support Your Mental Health

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How Your Winter Workouts Can Support Your Mental Health

With the long, dark, colder months looming ahead of us, many of us are now feeling less energetic and more lethargic than we might have been during the summer. Add in the prospect of months of further lockdowns and coronavirus related restrictions affecting our Christmas plans, and things can feel very dark indeed.

Although we might not feel like it when the mornings are dark and dismal and the evenings even more so, exercising is extremely beneficial to our health. Our physical health obviously benefits from being active, but our mental health can also be significantly improved by exercising, especially during the winter. Here’s how…

Seasonal Affective Disorder 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a condition that causes a low mood during the autumn and winter months. As well as causing a persistent low mood, SAD can cause irritability, a loss of interest in the things that cause us pleasure, lethargy, sleepiness and weight gain caused by craving carbohydrate laden foods.

If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, then you could be experiencing SAD. It’s not yet fully understood what cases SAD, but it’s thought to be connected to a disruption to our body clock (called our circadian rhythms) caused by lower levels of daylight. 

In our cave dwelling days, we went to bed and rose with the sun. But in today’s world that isn’t possible. So our body clock gets misaligned by waking in the dark and spending long evenings also in the dark.

Less daylight is linked to higher levels of a hormone called melatonin and lower levels of another hormone called serotonin. The effects of these hormonal imbalances are sleepiness and a low mood.

Exercise to improve the mood

One of the most effective ways to self-manage the winter blues and SAD is to exercise. Exercise produces feel good hormones called endorphins. It’s these endorphins that are responsible for the high we get after exercising.

It’s especially beneficial to exercise outside in natural daylight, for example by going running or for a brisk walk. But carrying on with your OYG plan indoors will have just the same benefit to your mood improving endorphins.

 Exercise also releases small amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which helps us to manage stress, anxiety and intrusive, negative thoughts, which also helps to improve our mental wellbeing. Being active helps us feel more tired at the end of the day too, after expending all that energy, which helps us achieve better sleep. When we’re more rested after a good nights’ sleep, we’re less likely to feel blue, anxious or stressed.

Plus of course, when we exercise, we feel virtuous, and there’s no better mood booster than feeling proud of our achievements. Each time you complete a workout, you’re one step closer to your goals, and that’s amazing. Sometimes we can finish a workout feeling a bit deflated if we feel we didn’t do as ‘well’ or we didn’t push ourselves as much as we ‘should’. But remember, with each workout, you’re 100% further than if you didn’t exercise.

So put on that workout gear and pull on those trainers – you’ve got a workout to smash!

 (A little note on feeling depressed. If you’re feeling very low or you have symptoms of winter depression that are worrying you, it’s important to speak to your GP. They may be able to arrange talking therapy or medication that may help you. Or reach out to us on the OYG Community. We’re a really friendly bunch, full of useful tips and information if you’re struggling.)

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