by Greg Small
There are rumoured to be a maximum of eight hours of daylight in the month of December, the most festive month of the year, but what does this increase in darkness mean to us warm blooded omnivores?
Well, for starters as the nights draw in, if you're scared of vampires and other mythical night dwelling creatures, arm yourself with garlic and a wooden stake. However, if you're anything like me it means it’s near impossible to get out of bed, and come 3pm in the afternoon you're ready to get back into bed. Yet there is a much sneakier thing happening to our lives during this ‘wonderful’ period of time through to March.
SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, affects up to 20% of the UK population and for 2% this SAD time of year is a seriously disabling illness that prevents people from functioning normally with no formal treatment plan. Symptoms range from mild depression through to increased irritability, a loss in libido to fatigue and a lack in focus when concentrating. Now the question is why talk about this in and health and fitness article?
Cycling in wet weather has its risks, cycling on busy roads has its risks, but combine this with darkness that only lifts out of twilight to daylight at 10-11am with the above mentioned symptoms, and you potentially have a recipe for disaster.
So how can we ensure that we arrive to work alive and get through the gloomy SAD peak season?
Move to Spain! Easier said than done. However, recent studies have shown that increasing your exercise in this period of time will show significant benefits for people suffering with SAD disorder. NICE (The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) also list psychological, cognitive behavioural therapy alongside counselling. There is one thing, as a former Australian sun loving convict that I know and can see, when the sun is out everyone is smiling and the tans, well we are working on them.
Exercise, be it on the bike, in the gym or in the comfort of our own home shows great emotional/physical and biological responses. Endorphins when released in the body from ‘feel good stuff’ activites such as exercise, food and sex, physically block opioid receptors and block the transmission of pain - pain being a generic word that can relate to negativity and other symptoms that are associated with SAD.
So my key tips for beating SAD are:
- Keep regular: not on the toilet but with your bed time and wake up times
- Exercise: just because it’s cold and dark doesn't mean you can ditch the exercise
- Look at your nutrition: food triggers can be set off in the winter/darker months, overeating happens during this time and there is a comfort in carbohydrates
- It may be cold however you still sweat: drink water little and often throughout the day
- Take time to enjoy life: smile and laugh and ensure that you get your endorphin hit
- This could be topical: look at Melatonin as a supplement, as this naturally occurring hormone found in animals and plants fungi and bacteria is responsible for controlling the night-day cycle so understanding when you are tired and awake. By taking this supplement your body will forcefully tell you to put your things down, hang up the bike and spanner and go to be.
- As always: live long and prosper.
Greg Small is the Head of Membership for the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs)