Of course there are numerous barriers to those suffering from SAD in actively participating in any exercise program, given that they already lack motivation, inspiration, and are suffering from fatigue and other limiting emotions. This is just one of the reasons why it has been quite hard to measure the successfulness of any exercise treatment program for depression.
What is known however, is that exercise releases feel-good hormones such as dopamine, therefore helping to light up the pleasure center of the brain. Particular dopamine receptors have been shown to enhance long-term depression.
Other than the more obvious physical benefits of exercise, regular engagement in movement helps to enhance coping mechanisms for external or internal life challenges, therefore offering protective mechanisms against stress. The power of exercise also extends to treating psychiatric illnesses, supporting recovery from brain injury and improving neurological function.
Exercise helps to increase antioxidant defenses, which in turn boosts immunity and helps to clear toxins from the body. Those that suffer from major depression or anxiety have been recognized as having lowered total antioxidant levels.
Finding methods to naturally increase antioxidant capacity, without the need for antidepressants surely must be a much more effective approach to mental health in the long term. Of interest, antidepressant medication has been shown to increase antioxidant levels, while simultaneously decreasing oxidative damage.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is largely behind your emotional processing. In both animal and human studies, it has been shown that when we engage in regular exercise, the availability of serotonin is increased. Serotonin helps to regulate so many functions such as mood, appetite and sleep patterns. However, the way in which serotonin is released into the body is actually a lot more complex than first imagined by scientists in studying the human body.
Changes in diet
By increasing one essential amino acid in your diet you can boost serotonin levels.
Serotonin is actually synthesized by an essential amino acid called tryptophan. When this important amino acid is depleted, it results in lowered levels of serotonin, which has been shown to lower mood, increase irritability and aggression. Tryptophan has a direct effect on sleep and helps to improve morning alertness and attention.
Foods that have been found to contain high levels of tryptophan include:
- Seeds and nuts
- Brown rice
- Beans and legumes
Where possible spend time in the sun
Unless you do in fact live in Norway or other regions that stay in complete darkness through the winter months, you should be able to take advantage of small windows of opportunities to be in the sun. You can also ensure that your home environment is as light and bright as possible, by opening blinds and curtains to allow natural light in.
Studies are showing that the skin is able to produce serotonin through direct exposure to sunshine. In evaluating a combined treatment of vitamin D and exercise, it’s interesting to note that a deficiency in vitamin D has been recognized as a key factor to dysfunctional serotonin activation.
So whether you supplement on vitamin D, or are able to spend time in the sun each day, it’s important to find ways to boost your natural supplies. Foods that are high in vitamin D include:
- Wild caught fish such as salmon or mackerel
- Canned tuna