SAD: how exercise can ease symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Posted by for Life

According to new research, working out for this long could help reduce your seasonal affective disorder.

It’s that time of year when the days get shorter and the weather gets colder.

And, for many, these grey, rainy days come hand-in-hand with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Brought on by the lower levels of light we’re exposed to at this time of the year, SAD is a type of depression which is more prevalent during the winter months. It can cause a sudden drop in mood, leading those living with the condition to feel less active, have a lack of interest in life and wanting to sleep more. But when spring arrives, those symptoms often ease.

According to research, a third of Brits will experience SAD. The good news, though, is that there are a few ways to tackle it. One of them is regular exercise.

A recent study conducted by Harvard University has found exercising throughout the week can help reduce SAD symptoms. 

The research, which surveyed 8,000 participants over the course of two years, discovered that maintaining a healthy lifestyle by taking part in four hours of exercise throughout the week could be helpful for those living with SAD. 

SAD: doing this amount of exercise could help combat your seasonal affective disorder.

In particular, the study found that those participants who exercised regularly were likely to experience fewer bouts of depression in the future. Those who exercised for four hours per week saw a 17% reduction in future depressive episodes.

“On average, about 35 additional minutes of physical activity each day may help people to reduce their risk and protect against future depression episodes,” Karmel Choi, the study’s lead author, said.

“We provide promising evidence that primary care and mental health providers can use to counsel and make recommendations to patients that here is something meaningful they can do to lower their risk even if they have a family history of depression,” added Choi.

It’s important to note that exercise isn’t a cure for depression, and nor should it be your only coping mechanism if you suffer from SAD. But motivating yourself to work out could yield beneficial results, particularly if you can exercise outside. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Wake up at sunrise and try to move your body to help your body get the proper light signals it needs to feel energised.

A study by Bated College Health Center found that an hour of serotonin-raising aerobic exercise outside, even with cloudy skies overhead, led to the equivalent benefit of 2.5 hours of light treatment inside. Every little bit of natural light exposure helps, so why not try walking to work, going for a run in the early morning or having a snowball fight (if it gets that cold) to beat the blues.

Outside of exercise, though, there are other techniques that you can try. SAD lamps and other forms of light treatment have been proven effective, as has wearing bright colours. (You can read some other tips for offsetting your SAD here.)

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Most importantly, though, it’s important to talk about how you feel. Whether to a therapist or to your friends, research has found that simply by working through your SAD using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), may SAD sufferers saw an improvement in their mood.

Why not invite a friend to go on a mood-boosting walk outside? The exercise, plus the converation, could be the SAD offset that you need.

If you are dealing with anxiety and depression related to SAD, please visit Mind for more information or contact The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association via

Images: Unsplash

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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