June 16th, 2024

Physical activity can help with ‘winter blues’


By Ry Clarke - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 26, 2023.

Herald file photo Rachel Uneris and Richard Brown enjoy a little cross-country skiing for their father daughter date at Henderson Lake during a past winter season.

During the winter season we experience shorter days and colder snowy weather that can have negative impacts on our mental health.

New data from ParticipACTION, a non-profit helping Canadians make physical activity a part of their lives, says Albertans report the highest levels of winter blues across Canada. Hoping to shed some light, and increase those dopamine levels, the organization is advocating for Albertans to add physical activity into their daily lives to help fight back those winter blues.

Data from ParticipACTION shows 81 per cent of Alberta residents agree that physical activity improves their mood, with 49 per cent saying they dread the winter because of how it impacts their mood negatively.

“Many people living in Canada are impacted by seasonality,” said Leigh Vanderloo, scientific director with ParticipACTION. “We want to hibernate, we want to be warm and snuggly indoors. Those types of activities typically involve less movement and more sedentary behaviour.”

Understanding the affects of winter on our moods, the organization is offering helpful tips to stay strong and healthy both mentally and physically.

“Often, we think physical activity only counts if it is done in the gym, and the reality is anything that you enjoy doing that involves moving your body is a step in the right direction,” said Vanderloo. “Physical activity can be unstructured, it can be a couple of bodyweight exercises, doing a couple jumping jacks or squats, it can be walking. Anything that helps break up sedentary behaviour.”

Vanderloo also suggests working on postural shifts, and moving from a seated position are ways to sneak in extra movement without making physical activity overly complicated.

Research shows that just 15 minutes of moderate exercise can provide mood-enhancing effects, help with stress management, and help reduce anxiety and depression, according to ParticipACTION.

“When it comes to physical activity, and particularly when we are trying to support mental wellness, consistency is key. Fifteen minutes a day, even if you can’t do it all at once, that is one of the best things that you can do to help build that consistency and help make it a habit.”

With physical wellness comes an increase in mental wellness, too.

“When it comes to brain health, even just a single bout of physical activity can have promising impacts on our mental wellness,” said Vanderloo. “Our body is better able to decrease the amount of cortisol and adrenaline circulating in our body, those are our body’s stress hormones. We are also able to bounce back from stressful situations, physical activity helps with our sleep quality, which is a huge part when it comes to mental health. One of the first indicators, if our sleep starts to change that is one of those flags that there might be something going on with our overall level of mental health and wellness.”

Looking to fight back on the seasonal woes of winter, ParticipACTION is hoping more Canadians can get active and curb those blues.

“Something is better than nothing, if you are new to physical activity or coming back after being away from exercise or an injury, take it slow. With New Year’s resolutions being top of mind, we tend to want to do everything all at once, and that is why we tend to see such a huge drop off before the end of the month or early February,” said Vanderloo. “Look at your daily schedule and consider how best you can creatively add in a little bit more movement throughout the day.”

From Jan. 16 – 31, ParticipACTION will host a Move for your Mood Challenge to help get active, available on their app at participaction.com/app/

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