Spring is here, which means the winter should be over… but not here in Wisconsin. We had a nice mild winter when it came to weather, but those months of cold and gray commonly cause the “winter blues.” Yes, it’s real. That blah feeling you have during the winter when everything is gloomy and you don’t feel like leaving the house is legit. The “winter blues” is just one form of depression, as is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which are linked to reduced vitamin D, social isolation, more time sitting, and increased stress. And while we moved our clocks ahead giving us a little more daylight and sunshine during the waking hours, that’s only one piece of the puzzle in helping to get us out of that funk we’ve all been in since after the holidays.

Last year, 29% of Americans reported having been diagnosed with depression, and some officials estimate up to 2/3 of Americans have some symptoms of depression at some point, it just hasn’t been diagnosed. Turns out, if you’re feeling the “winter blues” or just having a low, lethargic day, there’s something you can do about it… exercise! Our clinics aren’t just located in the Wisconsin Athletic Club by chance- we firmly believe that being active and getting regular exercise helps you live a happier, healthier life!

How exactly does exercise reduce symptoms of depression? There are a few theories, all of which have some merit. One hypothesis states that exercise causes increased body temperature and increased temperature in areas of the brain such as the brain stem that causes an overall feeling of relaxation and reduced muscle stress. Another hypothesis states exercise releases endorphins which increase and improve mood, giving you that “runner’s high” that people talk about (you don’t have to run to achieve it).

Our friends across the pond at the British Medical Journal recently did a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials (that’s the top dog of research) to look at the effects of exercise as treatment for depression. Depression is effectively treated with psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy, but due to cost and insurance restrictions, these options are only available to about 50% of our population. What they discovered about exercise is that the effects were similar to that of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. Isn’t that amazing?! Then they went on to look at the best type of exercise for depression treatment, which is walking or jogging, yoga and strength training, particularly when more intense. If you want to break it down further, strength training was more effective for women and yoga more effective for men, while strength training was more effective for younger people and yoga more effective for older persons (BMJ 2024;384:e075847).  Dance is also a promising treatment for depression so when in doubt, crank up the tunes and have a private dance party in your living room when you’re feeling most blah.

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