Exercising the Blues Away

Winter can be a difficult time for many people, physically and emotionally. Bodies may hurt from the cold, or there may be feelings of anxiety and depression. Exercise can help ease all of these feelings, however. In a recent article on the Mayo Clinic website, the Mayo staff details a list of ways this can work. While getting motivated can be difficult, the clinic writes, beginning on a path of regular exercise can only benefit your health in the long run.

Exercise releases brain chemicals that produce positive feelings throughout the body–neurotransmitters, endorphins, and endocannabinoids are some of them. When these chemicals are released, you can feel happier and more confident within yourself. Exercise  helps you manage your emotional stress in a positive way. Instead of thinking about what makes you sad, you’re taking steps to change it, which can lead to continued feelings of motivation and confidence. Exercise also fights chemicals in the immune system that can make depression worse, and increases your body temperature, fighting the metaphorical and literal cold.

If taking up an exercise routine is daunting to you, you can start small by incorporating more physical activities into your life. This can be anything that gets you moving: going grocery shopping, doing laundry, cleaning the house, taking a brisk walk, things like that. You can also think about a physical activity or exercise that you enjoy doing, and make that your outlet. This way, it’s not a chore–it’s something you love that’s also really good for you.

As little as 30 minutes of exercise per day for five days can begin to improve symptoms of depression. While the links between exercise, anxiety, and depression aren’t totally clear, exercise has been shown time and again to improve those symptoms.

Learn more about the link between anxiety, depression, and exercise in this article on the Mayo Clinic’s website here. What activities will you be participating in to lift your mood? Tell us in the comments!

Winter Weather Wisdom

By Riva Preil

“Frozen” means more to us than the title of one of this year’s most popular movies- it also represents the way many of us have been feeling thermostatically due to the EXTREMELY cold weather!  While the cold and snow are annoying, I feel responsible as a health care provider to address the HEALTH RISKS presented by the weather conditions.

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), older adults are especially susceptible to weather related risks, such as hypothermia.  This is due to the fact that their bodies are less equipped to respond to cold weather and their impaired self-regulation capabilities (either due to underlying medical conditions or medications that they are taking).  The signs of hypothermia include slurred or slowed speech, drowsiness, confusion, shivering, stiff extremities, slowed reaction time, poor motor control, and/or weak pulse.

The tips recommended by the NIA for older adults are applicable to one and all…well, at least those of us not living in Los Angeles or Miami.  The NIA advises adequate home heating- temperatures should be set to at least 68 degrees.  Furthermore, multiple layers should be worn, including socks and slippers, even around the house.  (My personal favorite find of the season is fleece lined leggings!)  For those who must brave the outdoor weather, please remember to wear a hat, scarf, and gloves to prevent body heat from escaping though the head and hands.  Furthermore, individuals with impaired balance should be especially careful on the ice and snow.  Appropriate assistive devices (ex. straight cane) should be used at all times, even if you are just taking the garbage out to the corner!  Fall prevention is one of the most important steps (pun intended) towards maintaining health in the older adult population.  Hopefully, all of the aforementioned advice will be irrelevant soon, because we will be busy discussing summer sun safety instead.  Until then, I hope this brief overview has been helpful.  May we all be “chilling” out on the beach very soon- the best type of frozen that exists!

Turn Your Frown Upside Down!

By Riva Preil

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD (pun intended), is a subcategory of major depression connected with one season only (varies per person).  These symptoms include lethargy, hopelessness, social isolation, irritability, increased appetite and sleep, and decreased libido. The season most commonly associated with SAD is the winter, hence the condition’s nickname “winter depression” or “winter blues.”  A proposed theory behind the pathophysiology is that exposure to light (or lack thereof) plays a huge role in the development of SAD, especially the winter version.  In fact, many have benefitted from bright white light therapy treatment with a lightbox that emits 10,000 lux (a much higher amount than a typical incandescent bulb).  Treatment includes sitting 30-60 cm away from the lightbox (but not staring directly into the light) and is recommended for 30-60 minutes/day. Alternatively, light exposure mimicking sunrise (“dawn simulation”) has proven very effective as well. (See link to article below for evidence-based research about the positive effects of light therapy from BMS Psychiatry.) Other forms of treatment for SAD include medications (SSRI and Modafinil), talk therapy, adequate sleep and exercise, and healthy eating. In addition, Dr. Alfred Lewy of Oregon Health and Science University suggests that SAD is associated with an altered circadian rhythm.  Therefore, he recommends daily afternoon melatonin supplements to help re-align the sleep-wake cycle.  Proper diagnosis and treatment of SAD is crucial because an estimated 20% of SAD sufferers have or will go on to develop bipolar disorder.  Therefore, if you or someone you know can relate to the symptoms described above, please speak with an appropriate health care provider to help alleviate symptoms.

Pump That Purell!

By Riva Preil

Look out for the person coughing next to you on the train, because flu (short for influenza) season is in full swing.  In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this year’s strain of the virus may be worse and more severe than in the past (refer to The Washington Post article link here).  The common symptoms of the flu include fever, coughing, nasal congestion, coldness, achy joints, headache, fatigue, and watery eyes; however 33% of infected individuals are asymptomatic.  The flu vaccine and proper hygiene are recommended for prevention of the disease.  This includes proper hand washing with soap and water (recommended length of time is twenty seconds, or the equivalent of singing “Happy Birthday), avoiding direct contact with your eyes, mouth, or nose, and covering your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing.  In addition, the flu can spread through direct surface contact.  Therefore, sanitizing areas that have come in contact with those who are sick is recommended.  Treatment of the flu includes drinking adequate fluids, resting, and taking medication (ex. acetaminophen) to decrease musculoskeletal pain and fever.  Unfortunately, antibiotics do not help treat the flu (which is caused by a virus); however taking proper precautions will help reduce the risk of developing the flu.  May you and your loved ones have a happy, healthy, and safe new year!