Nourished Living by Dietician Kelly Hamlin MA, RD, CDN

Combat the holiday blues with exercise and good nutrition

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… except when it’s not. There is so much pressure and stress to make everything “perfect,” not to mention the running around shopping, baking, cleaning, etc.

Many of us are missing those we’ve loved and lost and trying to figure out how to get through without them with us.

Then, of course, this year, the events at Sandy Hook have made us sad and a bit fearful.

What can we do to brighten our mood?

Get active! Being active can help improve self-esteem and general mental health.

Research has shown that being physically active is an effective, but often underused, treatment for mild to moderate depression.

Regular physical activity has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety as well as improve sleep.

There’s no evidence that any one kind of physical activity has a greater impact on depression than others.

It appears that any form of physical activity can help!

As always, please check with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.

This is particularly important for people with a medical condition and people who have not been physically active much in the past.

To get the most benefit, you should be active at least 20 to 30 minutes a day, three days a week.

Current studies suggest that four or five times a week is best. If you are a beginner, exercise for 20 minutes and build up to 30 minutes.

But remember, any amount of activity is better than none. 

Even a 10 minute “energy walk” has been found to increase energy and lift the mood. Start your activity gently, and build up gradually.

If you can eventually work up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week, great!

If not, do what you can to start.

Here are some tips for getting started:

Choose an activity you enjoy. Physical activity should be fun, not a chore.

Walking is an easy choice to make as you begin being more physically active.

It carries little potential for injury and requires no special equipment.

Initially, due to the isolation that you may be feeling, it may be important to team up with someone, or even a group.

When it’s nice outside consider outdoor activities. Sunshine can be a “pick-me-up,” both psychologically and literally.

Twenty minutes of sunshine a day stimulates the natural production of serotonin in the brain.

Schedule regular physical activity into your daily routine, write it in your planner, or on your calendar.

Add a variety of activities so that you don’t get bored.

Look into scheduled exercise classes at your local community center, school, or church.

Being active does not have to put a strain on your wallet.

Avoid buying expensive equipment or health club memberships unless you are certain you will use them regularly.

Stick with it. Set goals for yourself and reward yourself for reaching your goals.

If you’re regularly active, it will soon become part of your lifestyle.

While many people understand the connection between nutrition and a physical disease state, fewer people are aware of the connection between nutrition and depression.

Depression is more typically thought of as strictly emotional or biochemical.

Nutrition, however, can play a key role in the onset, severity, and duration of depression, including daily mood swings.

Many of the same food patterns that precede depression are the same food patterns that occur during depression.

These patterns may include skipping meals, poor appetite, and a desire for sweets.

People who follow extremely low carbohydrate diets also run the risk of feeling depressed or blue, because the brain chemicals that promote a feeling of well-being, tryptophan and serotonin, are triggered by carbohydrate rich foods.

A number of studies have found that vitamin deficiencies are more prevalent among subjects with depression compared to normal individuals.

Vitamin deficiencies that have been found include vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate deficiency.

Beside some of the other functions of these vitamins, they also play important roles in neurotransmitter metabolism.

The bottom line is that proper nutrition plays a key role in maintaining mental health:

Foods to eliminate or eat in moderation include sugar and sugary foods, and caffeine. 2. Get into the habit of eating at least three meals a day, including breakfast.

Replace sweets with fruit and whole grain carbohydrates.

Eat lean sources of protein several times a day.

Drink plenty of water (at least six 8oz glasses per day).

Focus on a well-balanced diet

Eat plenty of leafy greens for folic acid.

Eat bananas, avocado, chicken, greens, and whole grains for Vitamin B6.

If you’re concerned about getting enough of some of the key nutrients, consult your physician or Registered Dietitian before supplementing.

These are just some ideas to help you if you’re feeling the holiday blues or if it’s a mild depression.

If you find that your sadness or mild depression is not getting better or you begin to feel worse, please, please, please seek help.

Talk to a close friend, religious counselor, physician, counselor or whomever you need to in order to get help. It is so very easy to get lost, but there are people who care and can help.

For me personally and so many others, it’s been a tough year. Here is to 2013 treating us all to some compassion, kindness and happiness!

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