Diet and Exercise for Seasonal Depression

Short, grey days and cold weather are generally enough to drive even the most optimistic of us into a bit of a funk. But if you’re an avid exerciser who can’t get in your regular workout because of bad weather, the stress and rush of the holiday season can really throw you off your game.¬†These frustrating bouts of sadness and moodiness are known, informally, as “the winter blues.”

But for about six percent of Americans, these mood shifts can be much more serious, and account for a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Unlike the winter blues, SAD can occur during any season, and include much more severe symptoms, including suicidal thoughts. Since SAD can be related to hormone imbalances and may require prescription medication, it’s important to work with your doctor if you’re experiencing severe depression.

The good news: for both SAD and the milder winter blues, there is strong evidence that simple changes in diet and regular exercise can help you endure these seasonal mood swings until the sun shines again.

Work It Out

Especially during the colder months, exercising can be difficult if your energy levels are low to begin with and the weather makes it difficult to get outside. Focusing on the benefits you can expect to reap from exercise, though, will encourage you to get yourself up and moving.

The American Council on Exercise recommends remembering your past successes and setting clear goals to keep you moving. Joining a class or finding a workout buddy will help you stay focused.

Thinking in terms of “activity” rather than exercise may also help. Look for opportunities to inject some added activity into your day: take the stairs, skip the shortcuts and turn some of your household chores into workouts. Don’t underestimate how many calories you can burn working around the house. For example, an hour of pushing a vacuum around can burn 238 calories in a 150-pound person.

Simply taking brisk walks outdoors can go a long way toward improving your mood. The sunlight is directly responsible for production of serotonin and melatonin, two mood-regulating hormones. Any exercise will increase the release of several endorphins which can help improve your mood, help you sleep and regulate your appetite.

Specifically, cardiovascular exercise and mindful exercises like yoga and Pilates can be especially useful. Because these workout modes help you focus on your breathing and heart rate, they help to modify your stress response, and consequently fight depression. Look through the top rated elliptical machines to find one that will complement your home gym and help you keep up your cardio routine, regardless of the weather.

Eat Right

Depression can increase your cravings for simple carbohydrates, which absorb quickly into your body but also cause a crash in blood sugar. And since fatty, starchy treats are easy to come by during the holiday season, it’s important to pay particular attention to how you’re eating in order to avoid SAD symptoms.

Stock up on complex carbs, which can give you the same serotonin boost as their simpler cousins, but keep your blood sugar steady and balanced. This would include foods that contain whole-wheats and oats, like whole grain breads, bran muffins, brown rice and oatmeal.

Since seasonal depression, in most cases, is related to reduced exposure to sunlight, researchers have examined the impact of vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight, on depression. The research is still inconclusive but promising enough to spur more studies. While fortified foods, like milk and cereal, have vitamin D added, very few foods contain it naturally.

Two foods that do provide vitamin D are salmon and tuna. These fatty fish are also rich in omega-3s, which have shown potential in several studies for improving mood and brain function. If you don’t enjoy fish and choose to supplement, though, try to select a supplement that is particularly high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), since this variety of omega-3 is thought to be the most effective.

These small changes in your activity and diet could help you improve your mood and get you through your bout with seasonal depression. However, always consult a doctor if you are battling depression.

Have you experienced the benefits of proper diet and increased activity on depression? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Could A High-fat Diet Save Your Health?

Fat gets a bad rap. We work hard to burn it off our bodies, keep it off and rid our diets of it. Regardless of this social stigma, fat is an essential nutrient that is vitally important to a healthy lifestyle.

True, there is an important distinction between healthy and unhealthy fats. Still, the very word “fat” remains a vulgarity in fitness circles. Understanding exactly why we need fat and what sort of fat we should be taking in will help restore this misunderstood nutrient to a healthy place in your diet.

What Fat Does

Primarily, fat is a source of fuel (calories) along with proteins and carbohydrates. Fat, though, provides 9 calories per gram while protein and carbs only offer 4 calories per gram, making fat a much richer source of biological fuel.

Carbohydrates are burned for fuel first during exercise but your body doesn’t store many carbs and typically runs out after about 20 minutes of activity, at which point it begins to use fat. For prolonged exercise, there needs to be fat present in your body.

But fat does a lot more than just keep you moving. Dietary fats carry linoleic and linolenic acids, which cannot be made by your body and must come from your food. These essential acids control inflammation, blood clotting and contribute to healthy brain development. Fat is also necessary for the proper absorption and movement of the vitamins A, D, E and K, all of which keep your hair and skin healthy.

Of course, the form of fat that gets the most attention and causes the most grief is the form that gets deposited around our bodies. This is the body’s method for storing excess calories from all sources, whether it be protein, carbs or dietary fat. This means that dietary fat isn’t solely to blame for fat deposits.

Remember, too, that this is where that fuel comes from when you’ve exhausted your carbohydrate supplies. The trick, then, is eating the right amount of calories to fuel your goals and focusing on the right types of fat.

Good Fat vs Bad Fat

There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. These two types can be divided down even further.

Unsaturated fats are the celebrated “good” fats, and include poly- and mono-unsaturated fats. Both of these fats may help to improve overall heart health by lowering your cholesterol and slowing the formation of plaque on the walls of your arteries. Olives, nuts and fish are all excellent sources of these good fats, including omega-3 fatty acids.

Saturated fats are the ones you really have to look out for, and the American Heart Association recommends keeping them below seven percent of your total daily caloric intake. Not only are saturated fats connected with heart disease and increased cholesterol, but there is evidence that they may also increase the risk of colon and prostate cancers. This group also encompasses the infamous trans fats which are frequently used in fried and baked foods. Saturated fats are found in red meat, poultry, coconut and dairy products.

Eat Fat to Lose Weight?

So while the evidence suggests that small amounts of healthy dietary fat, accounting for about 25 percent to 30 percent of your daily calories, may be good for your heart, those numbers have been called into question. Some recent diets champion much higher levels of fat –closer to 50 percent — and recent research hints at merit in this approach.

The study was conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was designed to test the impact that meal timing has on body composition. During the 18-week-long study, a group of mice was feed a high-fat diet on a strict schedule so that they received the food at the same time and were given a limited time to eat their meal. These results were compared to three control groups: one ate a low-fat, scheduled diet, one with an unscheduled, low-fat diet, and another with an unscheduled, high-fat diet.

At the end of the study the scheduled, high-fat mice weighed less than the other groups and had also entered a unique metabolic state where their dietary fat wasn’t stored but was immediately burned for fuel.

Before you take this information and switch to a high-fat diet, remember that no human studies have shown the same effects. Also, the study does not detail the source of fat that the mice received.

The study does suggest, however, that a properly controlled diet that includes rather than excludes fat could aid in weight loss. These findings go a long way to clear the name of fats.

Have you tried a diet high in healthy-fats? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Diet Reviews: The Sardine Diet

Fish, with its huge doses of omega-3 fatty acids, has received a recent push as a healthy protein choice. It’s no surprise, then, that many diets have been released that are specifically designed to help you up your fish intake. The Sardine Diet, as its name suggests, is just such a program.

First detailed in a 2006 book of the same name, the Sardine Diet was created by certified dietitian and nutritionist Keri Glassman. The diet isn’t restricted only to sardines. Many people will be glad to hear that the diet doesn’t require them to eat sardines for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Rather, it encourages low calorie, high fiber, high protein and high omega 3 meals. We’ll consider what the diet entails, its potential benefits, as well as any cons associated with the Sardine Diet.

sardineWhat the Diet Includes

Following this diet begins with purchasing the book, which includes numerous recipes and meal plans. The foods discussed in the book all use fish as the primary protein source and are designed to boost your intake in both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Since the recipes are provided and portions are pre-calculated, you never have to worry about counting your calories. This kind of detailed planning takes all the guesswork out of dieting for you and ensures that you’re eating properly.

The Sardine Diet consists of three meals and two snacks daily. The types of food you can expect to be eating on the sardine diet include “Albacore Tuna Wraps” and “Sardine Tostadas with Avocado Salsa.” One of the most outstanding features of the Sardine Diet is that sardines, tuna and the other fish that are featured are relatively inexpensive and easy to get. These fish are also low in mercury.

What it Does

The push for sardines and other fatty fish is based firmly on the well-documented benefits of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Although fat is a much maligned nutrient, there are both healthy and unhealthy fats. The fats that are emphasized in the Sardine Diet are extremely healthy, according to the American Heart Association. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids have been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, increase HDL (good) cholesterol, lower the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, and slow the formation of harmful plaque on the walls of your arteries. Other potential benefits associated with these fats include reduced risk of breast cancer, improved mental health, improved joint health and decreased risk of inflammatory diseases like asthma and arthritis.

The Sardine Diet is also rich in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, which all work in conjunction to improve bone and joint health. High calcium intake is also associated with a lower risk of obesity.

Potential Faults and Considerations

No diet plan is ever perfect for everyone and, despite all of its touted benefits, there are things to consider before diving into the Sardine Diet. The first, and most obvious, factor to think about is how you feel about sardines and fish in general. Many people do not enjoy the taste and texture of the little fatty fish. The diet does allow for substitutions with other oily fish, like salmon, but sardines are the preferred option.

Another aspect to consider is the fact that, although it discusses it, the Sardine Diet offers no guidance regarding an exercise program. Diet is only one part of a healthy lifestyle, so when embarking on any diet you should never neglect your exercise plan.

Have you tried the Sardine Diet? Please share your experience with us in the comments.