How Exercise Can Cure Your Wintertime Blues
Wintertime can be an especially dreary time of year for many people. The egg nog’s run out, the family’s gone home, and the holidays are over. It’s a new year and your resolutions are staring you in the face, yet unfulfilled.
There’s an answer to your wintertime blues.
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health when it’s in the dregs. And running is a particularly effective activity, being one of the most vigorous forms of cardio out there.
Getting out the door and engaging in some form of physical activity can go a long way in improving your mood and productivity. Remember, anything is better than nothing. And usually, once you’re outside running or at the gym, it’s much easier mentally to take on a workout than it did when you were inside brooding.
We’re not going to sugarcoat this. A sustainable workout plan takes motivation and hard work. The good news: With goals, structure, and the strategies outlined in this article, anyone can use exercise to vastly improve their mood and mental outlook in the wintertime.
The science behind exercise and mental health
Though exercise is itself a physical and mental stressor, it reduces the effects of other more harmful stressors when performed at moderate intensities.
Two of exercise’s most important effects on the brain are neurotransmitter release and cerebral blood flow alteration. During activity, neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine are released in the brain. What good are they? Neurotransmitters drive communication between brain cells that regulate emotional and physical health. Read: they make you feel good.
An easy jog can quickly elevate your mood in the winter. Even better, there’s strong evidence that exercise induced neurotransmitter release and increased brain blood flow contribute to long term positive effects on diseases like depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. So getting in the habit of exercising improves your short term and lifetime health.
We can’t forget about the boost that exercise gives your immune system. Especially in the winter and during cold and flu season, running is an excellent way to help fend off sickness. Of course, staying healthy throughout the season contributes to your happiness and mental well-being.
How can I get out, get motivated, and cure those blues?
Here are some of our favorite ways to stay cheerful and active through a long winter.
Keep it simple
Many people fail to meet their goals and new years resolutions because they take on way too much training at once. While their intentions are noble, setting realistically attainable goals ensures you feel rewarded for your work. Exercise’s mindset improving power works better when you run on a consistent basis.
The good news: less is more when you’re starting out.
If you’re a beginner runner looking to shed a few holiday pounds, you’re more likely to stick with a plan of two to three runs per week instead of attempting to run every day.
More experienced runners should look for new ways to motivate themselves into the new year. Keep in mind how good you always feel after running, and use that memory to energize yourself and get up for the next run. A dreary day spent on the couch can be quickly turned around with a run; you just have to get up!
To keep things interesting, try new workouts in the wintertime and give your running more meaning by signing up for a race.
Pick a time of day to run and stick with it
Winter days are cold and short, and you’ve got on your plate with work, family, and holiday planning. No matter how hectic your schedule is, one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself is finding a consistent time of the day to run.
Having an exercise time slot holds you accountable. Sticking to it firmly gets you out of bed in a time of year when waking up can be the most difficult. There are even physiological benefits to working out at a set time within your sleeping and waking schedule. Your body gets used to repetition and learns to prepare itself each day for the coming workload.
Winter is a beautiful time of year! Part of the beauty of running is being outside and experiencing the natural landscape. We spend most of our time inside during the winter, so those outdoor runs are valuable.
People with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) develop symptoms of depression in the winter when there is less daylight. Studies have shown that sunny days contribute to increased serotonin release in the brain. So let the sunlight hit your eyes when you’re out running! You’ll benefit from the mood lifting neurotransmitter serotonin by being active and keeping on the sunny side.
Find a training partner
There’s no better way to stay motivated and goal oriented than running and exercising with a friend or group of people, especially in the winter. Making exercise a social activity enhances its positive psychological impact. Find a workout buddy who can meet you on a regular basis. Combined with a consistent exercise time slot, you’ll find it much easier to get out the door for a run.
Most cities have running clubs that meet on a regular basis for runs and workouts. Do your research and find other people with similar goals to yours. The new year is a great time to start!
Sign up for a holiday race
Winter themed races are some of our favorites! Whether it’s a Santa Shuffle, Reindeer Romp, or New Year’s Champagne Sprint, signing up and committing to an event provides you with a goal and motivation to get up and exercise.
Don’t let wintertime get you down. The hard part is getting out of the house and down the road, but once you’ve done that, endorphins and neurotransmitters reward you for your hard work every time. When you’ve established a consistent training program in the winter, you’ll be that much tougher and able to maintain it for the rest of the year.
How else do you stay positive in the winter?