Relieving the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
How regular group exercise can help relieve the symptoms of SAD
It’s cold outside, the days are getting shorter, so this is the time of year many people will experience a persistent low mood.
The winter blues – or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – is a form of depression that people experience at particular times of the year but most commonly in winter. It is a recognised mental health disorder that affects one in three people in the UK. Nearly everyone is affected by the change in the seasons, but for those that experience SAD, the change in the seasons can have a profound effect on mood, pleasure and interest in everyday activities. SAD can engender feelings of despair, a feeling of lethargy and a craving for carbohydrates resulting in weight gain.
Group exercise can help everyone feel better during the long winter months. Both NHS Choices and the mental health charity Mind recommend regular exercise and physical activity to combat winter depression. As we know, group exercise is one of the best, most accessible and fun ways to provide more than a little sunshine in people’s lives at the coldest time of year.
Research has shown that regular exercise can combat depression and exercising can be an even more effective treatment than taking medication – exercising three times a week can reduce the risk of depression by up to 20%.
An Australian study – ‘Exercise and the Prevention of Depression’, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry – followed some 33,908 healthy adults without symptoms of anxiety or depression for eleven years, asking them about their exercise habits. It was found that those who didn’t exercise at the study’s start were 44% more likely to become depressed, compared to those who exercised for at least one to two hours a week. The study concluded that if everyone engaged in just one hour a week of physical activity, 12% of depression cases could be prevented.
Wondering just how much activity will give a mental health boost? Thirty minutes of moderate exercise five times a week provides all the physical and mental benefits. Two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions can also work just as well.
If anyone doesn’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if their body tells them to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, then 5- or 10-minute sessions with a gradual increase in the time can work well. The more they exercise, the more energy they will have, eventually feeling ready for a little more.
The key for any SAD sufferers is to commit to some moderate physical activity—however little—on most days, by finding an enjoyable, regular activity. This could be a team sport, group exercise class, or just a more active daily routine of walking or cycling instead of travelling by car or public transport. As exercising becomes habit, participants can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities.
Instructors can promote all their classes for free by uploading their group exercise classes onto our recently-launched classfinder search engine. It makes it much easier for participants to find local group exercise opportunities and has added filters to help them find classes particularly suitable for de-stressing and improving mental wellness.