THE LEVEL/COMMENTARY – I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but the home workouts I once dreaded have become a part of my salvation.
Like many of us, during the early days of the pandemic I found myself eating more, moving less and clocking entirely too much time on the couch. I fear its resurgence will lead me into a permanent relationship with elastic waist bands.
Truth be told, my healthy habits were on a bit of a downward spiral just prior to the pandemic. Apparently, I was not alone in that. According to pre-pandemic reports, more than 30 percent of U.S. adults don’t engage in any leisure-time physical activity at all, noted Centers for Disease Control Prevention report.
Our families learn from our example: Nearly two-thirds of adolescents don’t get at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week as recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General.
With the pandemic’s resurgence and this winter season looming, I know I need to take bold action to avoid hibernation and the possibility that I might require surgical removal from the couch come spring.
It’s clear that some of the recommended measures we need to take to protect ourselves against COVID, particularly isolation and social distancing, may contribute to higher levels of feeling blue or, worse, clinical depression.
Winter is my down time — literally. I am one of 10 million U.S. residents diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of seasonal depression that individuals get when the days shorten and darkness falls earlier and earlier – otherwise known as “winter.”
Some have it worse than others. About 10 to 20 percent of Americans have more mild symptoms of SAD, which is four times more common in women than men.
SAD rates are anticipated to climb this year given our reliance on outdoor escapes ala COVID. Coupled with the demand for social isolation, work-from-home requirements and traveling restrictions, the condition may seem far worse this year than in years past.
It’s important to get outside and reconnect with nature and to soak in as many hours of daylight as we can.
And for those days that I can’t get outside or are particularly dreary, I supplement natural light with a “Happy Light” device, outdoor exercise and regular indoor workouts.
Although research on light therapy for SAD is limited, it is believed to positively impact melatonin as well as serotonin levels. Some research seems to indicated that light therapy helps regulate our body’s circadian rhythm, which impacts our energy level, eating behavior and motivation.
My circadian rhythms have been on a dimmer switch with the resurgence of COVID.
That worries me, and it is a part of the motivation behind my plan to spend as much time as I can outside during daylight hours. I also will stay perched near sunlit windows during daylight hours and basking in the beam of my Happy Light during working hours when natural light is in short supply.
Research shows that many people can manage or avoid SAD with 30 to 60 minutes of exercise and 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight each day.
By spring, I’m hoping that COVID-19 will be a historical footnote and the sun will start keeping more regular hours.
Until then, I hope others like me employ every weapon they have to avoid compounding the effect of SAD and COVID-19-related safety requirements.
Editor’s Note: In order to be formally diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, individuals must have episodes of major depression that coincide with a specific seasons for at least two years, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. For additional insights on light therapy see Dr. Marilynn Wei’s post in Psychology Today.