The weather is finally nice and warm here in the Bay area, so yesterday was the first day when I actually, after so many weeks, truly enjoyed working out outdoors.
I guess that I'm a little bit of a weather freak. Sometimes I check the forecast a few times a day. My mood depends so much on the weather. Maybe sometimes even too much. I'm a whole lot sunnier person when it's sunny outside.
Winter Depression is a Real Thing
Oddly enough, when I used to live in much colder and darker climate, I didn't think about “winter depression” that much, probably because I was just so used to having many months of darkness. It was normal to feel more tired in winter, so I just went with it. I didn't want to call it “winter depression”. It sounded… too depressive.
Having four seasons is a great thing though. After dark winter, you appreciate the spring even more.
But now, having lived in California for some years, I'm starting to understand the whole “winter depression” a little bit better. I think it's because the weather is pretty sunny most of the time, and if, all of a sudden it's not as bright and clear anymore, it feels really hard.
I absolutely believe that the lack of sun affects your mood, your body, appetite, cravings and even desire to work out.
What comes to weather-related depression though, we should do our best not to let the winter, rain and darkness affect us too much. It's easier said than done, but there's no point of complaining about weather. It's pretty sure that it's not going to change the more we complain (yet, I do it sometimes…).
Why the Sun Is Good For You
There are so many reasons why you should spend enough time in the sun: From feeling more energized to sleeping better to even being able to prevent cancer to fight Alzheimer's disease.
Actually, you can easily see how all those things are related to one another. The better rest, the less stress, the stronger body, the less likely it gets sick. It has been shown that there's a clear connection between mental and physical illness.
While there are many reasons why we should get sunshine, here are the three that, at this point, are the most important for me:
First of all, better mood! Being out in the sun makes a huge, huge difference in my mood. I could literally walk around with a huge smile on my face when the sun is out.
When I'm inside, for example, working at a coffee shop, I always try to choose places that have plenty of light and sit close to windows. I don't even care if the sun is shining directly into my eye when I'm working, I'm not going to close the blinds because I love it. Well, at least as long as I can see my computer screen.
Second, vitamin D. We need sun to be able to synthesize vitamin D. In Estonia, where there's not a whole lot of sunlight, it's recommended to supplement your diet with additional vitamin D during all the months that have the letter “R” in their names–that means all the months from September to April.
For many years, I didn't realize how important it actually is, so I used to absolutely neglect that. It wasn't until I started teaching medical students (I used to be a language teacher before) when I started taking their advice and became serious about vitamin D supplementation. That was a great thing about being a language teacher for health care professionals–I learned quite a bit about medicine!
Supplements are great, but the best way to get the D vitamin synthesize going naturally is to go outside and enjoy some sun. If you have that chance, do it.
Third, calcium. Getting enough vitamin D helps to absorb calcium much better, which in turn means better bone health. Stronger bones, better health.
Of course, another really important way to keep your bones healthy and happy is to exercise. Active people's bones are more dense than inactive people's. There studies show that most beneficial types of exercise, in terms of improving bone density, are high intensity and high impact exercises like gymnastics, jumping and weight lifting.
There are many other health benefits that you get from being in the sun, but boosting your mood, getting enough vitamin D and strengthening your bones are the the ones that are most important for me.
Try to spend at least 15 minutes every day in the natural sunlight. Everyone has 15 minutes a day, so go ahead and do your health a favor:
- If morning is all the free time you have: Go for a walk in the morning before the work.
- Lunchtime: Use your lunch break for walking.
- Lunctime: Eat your lunch outside.
- Any time of a workday: Hold your meetings outdoors, if possible.
- Whenever fits your schedule: Go for a walk and listen to a good podcast.
- Meet up with your friends: Instead of catching up with a friend at a coffee shop, get takeout coffees and walk outside.
- Grocery shopping: Leave the car home and walk to the grocery store.
- After work: When walking home from a bus or train station, take a longer route to get more sun.
- In the weekend: Go to a urban hike. Make it a long one!
- In the weekend: Hike.
- Special weekend treat: Cook and eat outside. Schedule a barbecue or a picnic with friends!
- Any time of a day: Try meditating outside.
- Work out: Exercising outdoors feels always better. Bring your kettlebell or sandbag to a park and get your workout in.
A Sunny Day Kettlebell Circuit
To help you with the last point–working out outdoors, below is the workout I did yesterday.
Yesterday I had the luxury spending a lot of time outside. I had a breakfast date with my friend, so we took a 5 mile walk to the breakfast place. We spent a lot of quality time and had a really good conversation. It was a leisure walk, nothing too strenuous or hard.
A bit later I still felt like also getting a little more exercise in, so I took my kettlebells outside for a short workout.
I kept it super simple, doing just three movements and repeating everything for five rounds. All you need is a kettlebell.
8 Swings (35 lbs)
8 Goblet Squats (35lbs)
5 Snatches (right, 25 lbs)
5 Snatches (left, 25 lbs)
All done in less than 10 minutes, which is great when you don't have a lot of time. Yesterday though, it felt like I could spend the whole day outside, it just felt so good.
Soak up the sun if you can! I know many of you just don't have the sun right now, but hey, there's something to look forward to. The spring is right around the corner.
You can still boost your mood even if the weather is not that nice. Exercise never fails making you feel better, so grab your kettlebell and do the workout!