Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD) impacts a large population around the globe. It is particularly evident in countries in Scandinavia where long periods of darkness exist due to the reduced sunlight exposure at certain latitudes. Significant behavioral changes become evident during these prolonged months: including alcoholism and substance abuse, depression, suicidal ideation,and social isolation.
Research has proven that the human brain and nervous system are significantly impacted by the amount of sunlight or lack of sunlight. It boosts both melatonin and serotonin which are critical in regulating sleep and mood.
Sunlight ( natural) has been shown to increase alertness and thinking ability. Sunlight travels into the eye through the retina into the brain, stimulating many regions ( pituitary, hypothalamus, pineal gland, visual cortex,). It is a critical source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D receptors exist in the brain including the cortex and hippocampus. Both of these regions play a role in cognition. Low Vitamin D has been implicated in depression and cancer.
Sunlight exposure can be a as simple as 10 -15 minutes of outdoor activity during the winter months. Getting outdoors in the cold months can be challenging but it is very rewarding. It is also a known fact that exercising in the cold truly boosts the nervous system and metabolic function.
Keys during the winter months:
1. Dress appropriately for the cold. Use a layering system that utilizes recommended apparel that seals in your body’s warmth, yet is breathable and wicks moisture away from your body. ( Under Armour, Nike, Patagonia, North Face). Proper foot ware is also essential.
2. Hydrate well during the winter months.
3. Make it a priority to get out each day and exercise in the sunlight for a minimum of 15 minutes. If you are a more active person then engage in a t least 45 -60 min of outdoor activity.
4. Pick up a new sport: Skiing, skating, hiking , running, mountain biking.
5. if your activity levels drop off during winter months then make the necessary nutritional changes.
4. Allow the sunlight to penetrate your eyes.