As the sun sets on a fabulous summer, keep up the good habits to maintain or physical and mental health this winter
It’s been a crazy few months and the summer sun has been a welcome distraction from unwanted pandemics and global political upheaval. But for all the doom and gloom that the darker evenings can bring to some, there are ways to stop yourself from feeling too bad as we move into autumn and winter.
The more you exercise the better you will feel
First of all it is tempting to draw the curtains, fire up Netflix and watch box sets for the next few months, ignoring all the good habits you created in lockdown with your two hours of exercise each day. Sadly, this isn’t a great strategy. The link between physical and mental health is proven again and again by the research and we ignore the data at our own peril.
Exercise releases endorphins, ‘feel good’ chemicals, that produce feelings of contentment and happiness. Exercise increases the heart rate, which in turn can counter the effects of stress hormones such as norepinephrine and it also forces two parts of our nervous system to communicate more effectively, again improving the body’s ability to deal with stress.
Finally exercise improves self-confidence, helps you sleep better and even creates new brain cells in a process called neurogenesis. So get those walking or running shoes on again and get outside - or at least back into the gym!
What about the diet
The second temptation is to reach for sweet treats as a reward for surviving another cold and blustery day. Again, this strategy is fraught with problems. Diet and mental health are intrinsically linked together and in fact the research is only showing greater evidence to back this up year on year.
Think of your brain as a high performance car. Fuelling it with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from anti-oxidative stress, the waste product that is created when we burn oxygen, which can damage cells. Likewise if you were to feed your brain less than premium fuel, you’ll likely see a drop off in performance. A diet high in refined sugar has been shown to lead to impaired brain function and even depression.
It’s also a little known fact that 95% of the body’s serotonin, another feel good chemical, is produced in the gut and the link between diet and emotional health is becoming increasingly clear. Good bacteria protect the body from inflammation, absorb nutrients and provide efficient connections in the nervous system. When we allow these good bacteria to be overrun we see a drop in serotonin production and an increase in mood disorders such as anxiety, depression and even schizophrenia.
As sunlight decreases, we can also see a change in our natural circadian rhythm, which acts as your biological clock, lowering mood and bringing on feelings of negativity. Try getting outside more often, phototherapy (using light boxes to stimulate serotonin and melatonin creation) and even psychotherapy to change the way you see your situation.
So if you find yourself starting to feel a little low over the next few months there are ways to combat it. Getting out into the great outdoors as often as possible will help increase your exposure to as much daylight as possible, warding off those feelings of negativity. Getting back into your positive fitness habits will boost your body’s production of feel good chemicals and help you exercise those winter blues away. Reaching for the fruit bowl rather than the biscuit tin will raise your mood and help you stay fit, healthy and mentally strong.