A run a day keeps the demons away
Like so many people in the UK, as the darker days of autumn and winter arrive I start to feel a bit gloomy. Some years I have felt almost crushed by a sense of darkness and depression, while at other times I have experienced what I can best describe as an empty feeling, like homesickness. Yet I know that exercise helps my mental state.
I write about the science behind depression all the time so I am well aware that a daily dose of daylight or sun, if you can find it, can work wonders for people who suffer with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or full-on depression.
Studies show that the brain produces more of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin on sunny days than on darker days. Vitamin D is also thought to play an important role in combatting depression. Your body makes vitamin D after exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun.
The problem is that when you’re feeling low, you feel like you can’t be bothered with anything – and it can take a great deal of resolve to get yourself out of the house for a walk, run or bike ride.
I imagine that many of my blog followers will not believe what they are reading. If you read this blog regularly you might imagine that I am never indoors, but rather I am forever running, cycling, walking or doing any number of outdoors activities.
However, I do spend a great deal of time at my desk writing about outdoor activities and earning a wage – and if I’m honest, at this time of year, I struggle to motivate myself to go outdoors.
Finding motivation for exercise
The best time to go outdoors in a bid to combat SAD is when it is daylight. Health experts reckon that 30 minutes a day is enough to give your endorphins a bit of a lift. If you can manage more then all the better.
Generally, I exercise in the evenings and while this is fine in summer with longer days, come autumn I need to be outdoors during the 9am to 4pm window.
So I set myself deadlines. I tell myself that I need to go out for a run or bike ride before 2.30pm, whatever the weather. Walking the dog each morning and lunchtime also helps but my “inner dolphins” are better served if I do something more energetic.
I also arrange to meet friends. There are people like me who work flexible hours and arranging to meet them for a run or cycle means I can’t get out of the session without letting them down.
I make my exercise fun. I love the mud and wet of off-road running in the autumn and winter and so I prefer to run on trails than on the road. I take the dog because she enjoys running free, rather than being on a lead. I have recently found that I enjoy cyclocross for similar reasons. It’s muddy, challenging, great fun and very friendly. Signing up for a race makes you more committed to regular exercise.
An autumn run
I had tired legs today. My muscles took a bettering in a cyclocross race on Sunday and last night I attended a new strength and conditioning class at my triathlon club.
But I was feeling a bit low so I forced myself to get changed for a run. Although I felt slow the effort was hugely rewarded. I met with a friend and enjoyed the catch up chat. The local park was ablaze with autumnal colour and it was great to run through piles of fallen leaves, muddy puddles and in beautiful sunshine.
I have felt much brighter ever since – and this convinces me more than ever that I must make the time and find the motivation to exercise each day outdoors.
Does anyone else experience the same thing – or agree/disagree with me?