Seasonal Affective Disorder – ways to prevent its affects

We just passed the shortest days of the year with sunrise at 7:34am and sunset at 3:57pm here in the Northwest.  The days are often cloudy here, adding to the affects from the lack of light.  These conditions can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression closely linked to seasonal variations in light.  Symptoms include a down mood, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, and weight gain.

But there is hope.  There are several ways to treat and prevent this disorder, including:

  1. Light therapy.  The first-line treatment for SAD is daily exposure to a high-intensity light source.  Research indicates that the light source should be at least 10,000 lux to be effective. Most doctors recommend 30 minutes of exposure within 10 minutes of waking every day during months when you show symptoms.  You can also try sitting close to a window at work, keep the blinds open during the day, and take frequent walks outdoors, even if it’s cloudy.
  2. Exercise.  Regular exercise helps any type of depression, including SAD.
  3. Socialize. Isolation feeds depression, cutting you off from friends and many of the fun activities that can improve mood.
  4. Get more vitamin D. Vitamin D levels can be increased by increased exposure to light or by taking a supplement.  You may want to check with your physician before taking a supplement.  Your vitamin D level can be measured to determine your level.
  5. Relax.  Fall and winter can be stressful times of the year, and if you have SAD, you can find it even harder to deal with that stress.  Whatever you can do to reduce stress is helpful:  massage, yoga, chamomile, aromatherapy, or even keeping a journal.
  6. Use dawn simulators.  These devices are alarm clocks, but instead of waking you with a loud noise or music, they produce light that gradually increases in intensity, mimicking the sun.
  7. Talk with your doctor.  SAD is a form of depression.  Therapy can help, but if light therapy and psychotherapy do not  work, you may want to consider antidepressants.
  8. Stick to a schedule.  People with SAD often have trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning.  Maintaining a regular schedule improves sleep, which can help alleviate symptoms of SAD.
  9. Take a vacation.  Heading to a warmer climate can help people with SAD.  A vacation gives you a break from your daily routine and can help you escape the cold and cloudy days.
  10. Eat more produce.  According to a study of 80,000 people, those who ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, were less likely to be anxious or depressed or to suffer from other mental disorders.
  11. Try a hobby.  Having something fun to look forward to will help improve your mood.
  12. Volunteer.  Philanthropic work is well-documented to improve mood.

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Dietary supplements – to take or not to take?

The average American’s diet does not contain the nutrition needed for the body to stay healthy.  This is one reason so many of us take supplements to boost our health, hoping to prevent various diseases.  Many in our society feel that it’s much easier to take a pill rather than eat right and exercise.  But supplements often do not meet expectations, and may even be dangerous.

You often hear reports from studies indicating a supplement can prevent various diseases.  For example, studies reported that vitamin D helped defend against diseases, including cancer, diabetes, depression, and even the common cold.  But these studies were observational – meaning they didn’t test the supplement against a placebo and controlled setting.  The results from randomized controlled studies have not produced the same good news.

Not only do the supplements not hold up to the health benefits reported via the observational studies, the rigorous testing indicates they may be a risk to your health.  Vitamin E was initially thought to protect the heart.  But with more rigorous testing, it has been shown to increase the risk for bleeding strokes.

So how should you get your nutrients?  The best way is to get your vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from food.  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and other healthy foods contain nutrients and other substances not found in a pill, which work together to keep you healthy.  We cannot get the same synergistic effect from a supplement.  Taking certain vitamins and minerals in higher than recommended doses may interfere with nutrient absorption or cause side effects.

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and some manufacturers stretch the laws by making carefully worded claims that suggest exaggerated results.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

So who needs vitamin and mineral supplements? Anyone whose diet lacks the nutrients needed for good health may benefit from taking supplements.  The following groups may benefit from supplements and should consult with their physician or registered dietician when deciding to use supplements:

  • Pregnant and lactating women
  • Vegans
  • Anyone on a low calorie diet
  • Individuals with certain disease states
  • Individuals who suffer from food allergies or intolerances
  • Individuals who limit food groups, or have limited variety within food groups
  • Individuals taking certain medications

Additional resources you can use to educate yourself on the use of supplements include:

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Training for balance

Good balance is essential for controlled movement and it helps prevent injury.  balance-beamYou’ve heard “use it or lose it”? This phrase applies to balance, making it critical to practice it at all ages.

Optimal balance is accomplished when your sensory systems provide information about your body’s position at it moves.  Your eyes, inner ear, and skin contain numerous sensory receptors that provide feedback to your central nervous system, telling you which muscles to activate and when.  Maintaining static balance when you remain in one position is fairly easy because you can concentrate on which muscles to contract to remain stable. yoga-1 But many activities of daily living occur pretty quickly.  This means you have to depend on thought to control which muscles to activate.

Maintaining control of a moving center of mass over a changing base of support is known as dynamic balance.  This type of training can help enhance skills that are relevant to a number of sports and fitness goals.

Reasons to train dynamic balance include:

  1. Improves your running technique (if you’re a runner).
  2. Strengthens and tones your core muscles, which can improve your balance and coordination, and your appearance.
  3. Improves your coordination and ability to react to sudden changes of direction, both of which can help reduce the risk of an accidental fall.tennis
  4. Easily added to your warm-up to prepare you for lower-body strength training, a long run, or sports such as tennis.
  5. Used as low intensity recovery exercises between sets of high-intensity interval training or the day after a strenuous training session.

Adding balance training to your workouts can improve your overall energy usage and enhance your ability to perform your favorite activities.

Here are six dynamic balance exercises to help you improve coordination and strengthen your muscles.  Add these exercises as a warm-up at least two times per week for four weeks.  You will be surprised at the difference you will feel and see.

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