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December 10, 2008 > Get Moving and Beat the Winter Blues

Get Moving and Beat the Winter Blues

Exercise Can Make You Feel Better and Improve Your Health

Do the cold, dark days of winter get you down? You can beat the winter blues with exercise and improve your health while you're at it. In fact, research shows physical activity can be as effective as medication at reducing depression.

A Duke University study looked at 156 adults over a 10-month period who suffered from major depression. They were randomly assigned antidepressant medication, aerobic exercise or a combination of the two. Not only did researchers find exercise could be as effective as medication, those who exercised were statistically less likely than the group who took medication to relapse into depression.

Exactly how exercise works is unclear. Physical activity does stimulate endorphins and other brain chemicals that leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. It also promotes better sleep and a good night's rest can boost your concentration, mood and productivity. Studies show even small amounts of exercise can significantly improve overall health and wellbeing.

"Exercise has so many benefits, both physical and mental," said Ivar Blomquist, an exercise physiologist at Washington Hospital. "It makes your body stronger so you can stay healthy and active, which improves your outlook on life. If you have your health, you don't think about it, but when you don't have good health it can be very depressing."

Regular exercise reduces your chances of developing heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and a number of other diseases by helping your body work more efficiently. Physical activity helps keep your blood pressure under control and boosts good cholesterol while lowering the bad type. It helps keep your bones and joints in working order and reduces back problems.

Physical activity also burns calories. The more you exercise, the more calories you burn, and the easier it is to keep the pounds off. Maintaining a healthy weight significantly reduces your risk for a variety of diseases.

"Exercise makes you feel energized, and that improves your mood," Blomquist said. "It doesn't have to be drudgery. It can be fun."

Get Moving

The hardest part about exercising is getting started. If you have health problems or aren't physically active now, you should consult your doctor before beginning any kind of exercise regimen, Blomquist said.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day, or at least most days of the week. If you can't find 30 minutes in your busy schedule, break it into smaller increments. The following are some tips for getting started:

Make physical activity a priority. Exercise doesn't just happen. You have to make it a priority. Carve out time each week and write it on your calendar. Plan for it like you would any other appointment.

Start slow. If you aren't physically active now, work your way up to 30 minutes starting with a short walk or swim. If you are getting back into your routine, begin with easier workouts and make them more strenuous as you go. You don't want to get discouraged right out of the gate.

Choose activities you enjoy. If you hate to jog, you will find reasons not to do it. Pick something you like. Consider walking, swimming, or yoga as alternatives. Are you social? How about a dance class? Or maybe a stationary bicycle in front of the TV is more your speed.

Have indoor options. Even if you prefer to exercise outside, it's good to have indoor activities for those cold, rainy winter days when you just want to stay inside. You might want to consider an exercise video, hand weights, or a treadmill.

Incorporate physical activity into everyday life. Walk to lunch, take the stairs, park at the farthest end of the parking lot. There are ways to make your everyday life more physical.

"You will feel so much better if you get moving," Blomquist said.

For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit

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