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Ask Dr. Nandi: The importance of getting outside during the winter

Posted at 5:50 PM, Feb 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-05 17:51:28-05

With temperatures dipping and snow falling, it's tough to get outside for a bit of exercise.

But, our internal batteries run on sunlight and when we get too little of it, things start to break down.

One of the main systems affected is in our brain - our circadian rhythms.

Although the urge to hibernate during the winter months may be strong, humans aren't really meant to stay in darkness for months at a time. We need sunlight - if we get too little of it, we become more stressed out and exhausted.

It also affects our sleep and digestion cycles in a negative way.

Lots of people suffer from depression in the winter months too and some actually have Seasonal Affective Disorder during these cold months.

Sunlight raises levels of serotonin in the brain. This is the feel-good chemical. In the winter, many of us are indoors for a good part of the day during a time when sunlight levels are already at their lowest.

So you can imagine the detrimental effect this has on mood. Too little sunlight also affects energy levels, alertness, and overall brain function.

  1. Force yourself to get outside for a few minutes every day, even if you have to bundle up a little bit.
  2. Use your time outside as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. This can raise dopamine levels in the brain. Leave the phone at home and focus on your experience.
  3. Consider taking a walk in the woods. Researchers have learned that "forest bathing" can decrease stress hormones and increase proteins that fight cancer.
  4. Please see your doctor if your feelings of depression are severe. Some people are more affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder than others.