How working out helps to reduce the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder

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For Miami native Laura Telischi the snow, gray skies, and below freezing temperatures that have become so familiar to local Ithacans offer a slight difference to Florida weather.

Telischi, an outdoor athlete, experienced an onset of slight depression and a decrease in energy levels when she came to Ithaca for her freshman year in 2012.

“Coming to Ithaca I really had to adjust to not being able to run outside as much as I would like to. I had to learn how to keep myself energized and motivated throughout the day, said Telischi. “I was born and raised in Miami so spending the past three years here in upstate New York has really taken a toll on my motivation levels and my want to go outside when it is cold.”

Telischi like many others living in Ithaca during the winter season, often find themselves experiencing a lull in lifestyle, fatigue, and sometimes depression. These symptoms, when serious, are categorized as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

According to Ithaca College psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Mikowski, SAD is triggered by a decrease in sunlight, which may disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm, leading to feelings of depression.

Other causes of SAD are attributed to the drop in serotonin levels in the body, which are neurotransmitters that affect ones mood. Reduced sunlight spikes the dip in serotonin, which may trigger an overwhelming feeling of sadness.

Typically Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated with phototherapy, such as the light box located in the Office of Counseling and Wellness, or medication.

Mikowski, however, believes that there is now reason to consider regular exercise as a means to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“Regular exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits. It helps one to gain confidence by releasing feel-good brain chemicals, it reduces immune system chemicals that can worsen depression, and it increases ones body temperature, which may have calming effects,” said Mikowski.

South Hill Elementary Health and Physical Education student teacher, Ben Capeless, also attributes the positive effects of working out to helping young students cope with any mood changes or depression triggered by the onset of winter.

“Physical activity provides many different health benefits for the kids in our school. It improves their mood, cognition, and other progressing domains. In this school I see many kids who absolutely need physical activity in order to be able to focus, stay out of trouble, and keep their energy up,” said Capeless.

“As a teacher we learned first that the benefits of physical activity for these children and others are infinite, and absolutely necessary to keep them alert and calmed. This is especially relevant when the weather dips and they are not able to get outside as often as we would like.”

Physical activity has long been credited with its great mental and physical health benefits, and now it is even being used to combat mental health disorders, such as SAD.

For Telischi, her everyday regime of waking up at 7 am and heading for the gym has helped to control her levels of fatigue and restlessness that increase as the temperatures decrease.

“Miami has absolutely no seasons, it is all sun. The seasons of Ithaca has really affected me because I am not used to all of this snow and darkness,” said Telischi.

“On the days I am unable to workout in the morning I most likely will not be as productive and my energy levels are definitely not as high. Exercise really just jumpstarts my day and gets my positive vibes going.”




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