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The Happy Brain Chemicals that Makes You Feel Good

Did you know, 37% of people around the world are unhappy. That means at least 1 in 3 people you know aren’t happy with their life. Are you one of those people?

If so, there are simple ways to improve your happiness. Have you heard of happiness chemicals? Your brain releases these happy chemicals that make you feel good.

It is common to think happiness is a destination that you have to find either through material items, relationships, or career status. But happiness is the journey and something you can create on your own.

Improving your happiness can be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep. It is known that people who are sleep deprived have a harder time remembering positive ideas and an easier time remembering negative ideas.

What are the Happiness Chemicals

When you feel good, your brain is releasing one of the happiness chemicals or happy hormones. There are four main happiness brain chemicals:

  1. Dopamine
  2. Oxytocin
  3. Serotonin
  4. Endorphins

Each chemical has a job to do and when your brain releases one of these chemicals, you feel good.

It would be great if they all surged all the time. However, it does not work this way. Once the chemical has done its job, it will turn off, leaving you with a desire for more.

By understanding how these chemicals work, we can better improve our overall happiness by tapping into each of the four happiness chemicals.

Dopamine

Dopamine enables motivation, learning, and pleasure. It gives you the determination to accomplish goals, desires, and needs.

It’s similar to the, “I got it” feeling when you accomplish something. Once you achieve those goals, desires, or needs, dopamine gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure.

However, the overstimulation of dopamine can become a real problem because of its addictive nature. It is closely tied to developing bad habits or addictions.

The effects of dopamine are fleeting due to its instant gratification feeling, which leaves you desiring more.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin gives a feeling of trust, it motivates you to build intimate relationships and sustain them. It is also known as the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone” because it plays a role in bonding.

This hormone gives you the desire to stick together with those you “trust”, which creates a feeling of safety or comfort. It helps your body adapt to several different emotional and social situations.

Oxytocin can boost your immune system which makes you more resistant to the addictive qualities of dopamine. Unlike dopamine, oxytocin gives you a lasting feeling of calm and safety.

It can help fight stress, improve relationships, and promote long-lasting positive emotions.

Serotonin

Serotonin rewards you with a good feeling when you feel significant or important. It is the pleasure you get when you experience social power, loyalty, or status.

It results from finding opportunities to assert or prevail. This is not aggressive, rather it is a calm form of confidence and accepting yourself within the people around you.

Serotonin is what motivates a leader to excel and grow. It not only motivates you but your peers to do the same. The feeling of not letting down their leader, parent, or teacher is what causes this motivation.

Endorphin

Endorphins release a brief euphoria that masks physical pain. It is a response to pain and stress which also helps alleviate anxiety and depression. Any kind of physical distress can trigger endorphins.

However, you can also get a release of endorphins when you experience “runners high”. Runners high only occurs when you exceed your limits.

The release of endorphins acts as a natural pain killer and diminishes your perceptions of pain.

The Effects of Happiness Chemicals

At least 1 in 3 people in the world who were surveyed in 2020 were unhappy. That’s a huge portion of the population.

happiness chemicals

Happiness or lack thereof affects everyone and can contribute to poor overall health. There have been numerous studies linking depression to the reduction of happiness chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.

One study found people with clinical depression have increased levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A). This is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters.

We will discuss how neurotransmitters play a role in the happiness chemicals later in this article, but simply this means you will get less dopamine or serotonin, thus, less happiness.

This deficiency can lead to various effects that could contribute to mental illnesses like depression.

How Deficiency Affects You

Low levels of happiness chemicals can lead to various symptoms such as fatigue, lack of motivation, and feeling anxious just to name a few.

Here are some of the common symptoms due to the deficiency of the happiness chemicals.

Dopamine Deficiency

  • procrastination
  • low self-esteem
  • lack of motivation or enthusiasm
  • low energy or fatigue
  • inability to focus
  • feeling anxious
  • feeling hopeless
  • mood swings

Oxytocin Deficiency

  • feeling lonely
  • stressed
  • lack of motivation or enthusiasm
  • low energy or fatigue
  • a feeling of disconnect from your relationships
  • feeling anxious
  • insomnia

Serotonin Deficiency

  • low self-esteem
  • being overly sensitive and emotional
  • anxiety and panic attacks
  • mood swings
  • depression and feeling hopeless
  • social phobia
  • obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • insomnia

Endorphin Deficiency

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • mood swings
  • aches and pains
  • insomnia
  • impulsive behavior

For those who have difficulty dealing with these symptoms and are feeling stress and overwhelmed, consider taking the window of tolerance self-assessment to identify your symptoms and how to self-regulate.

Benefits of Happiness

Happiness not only plays a role in making you feel good but contributes to:

1. Improved overall health

    • improved heart health and lower risk of heart disease
    • the ability to combat the stress hormone cortisol
    • stronger immune system so you’re less like to get sick
    • a healthier lifestyle such as physical activity and sleep habits
    • can help reduce aches and pain of those with chronic conditions
    • increase life longevity

2. Improved creativity and problem-solving skills

3. Benefiting the community through involvement with charities

4. Having more positive relationships with those around you

5. Being able to enjoy life more and get through life challenges easier

6. Being happy with what you have

How to Increase Happy Brain Chemicals

Most people don’t get enough of each of the happiness chemicals. I know I certainly struggle with this. If you have a full-time job or studies it can be challenging.

This deficiency can make you feel sad, depressed, hopeless, and anxious. Especially those who suffer from depression or experience downward spirals. Thankfully, they’re many simple ways to naturally boost each of the happy brain chemicals.

Below are some of the many natural ways you can get your daily happiness chemicals. Pick a few to start and remember that continuous practice is what makes a difference.

How to Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally

  • meditate regularly (increases dopamine by 65%)
  • make a daily to-do list & long term goals (each time you tick off a task or goal you increase dopamine levels)
  • eat foods that are rich in L-Tyrosine (avocados, fish, eggs, cheese, banana, and pumpkin seeds)
  • exercise regularly (whichever form of exercise you enjoy the most will give you the most increase in dopamine levels)
  • create something such as writing, music, art & crafts (“if I create something, I am also creating dopamine”)

How to Increase Oxytocin Levels Naturally

  • physical touch, cuddling, hugging, making eye contact, and even shaking hands
  • socializing (connecting or talking with friends and family reduces cortisol and stimulates your vagus nerve)
  • touching your pet (research shows it lowers blood pressure)
  • getting a massage (reduces stress hormones)
  • acupuncture (elevates oxytocin concentrations)
  • listening to music (has a calming effect on the brain, slow-tempo music has also been shown to increase oxytocin)
  • exercise (stimulates the vagus nerve)
  • cold showers (stimulates the vagus nerve)
  • meditate

How to Increase Serotonin Levels Naturally

  • exercise (increases serotonin and dopamine, but also helps balance them)
  • cold showers (2-3 mins of cold showers can be unpleasant but offers great benefits that have longer-lasting effects than compared to caffeine)
  • sunshine (10-15 minutes of sunlight a day can increase serotonin and vitamin D)
  • eating foods such as banana, eggs, omega-3 fish, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, and probiotics
  • getting a massage (increases serotonin and decreases cortisol)

How to Increase Endorphin Levels Naturally

  • laughter and crying
  • creating music or art
  • eating dark chocolate and spicy foods
  • exercise or stretching
  • high-intensity interval training
  • getting a massage
  • meditate

Getting your daily happy chemicals seems pretty straight forward. But if you are struggling with happiness because you suffer from negative thinking patterns, I recommend learning to challenge negative thoughts first.

daily-dose-happiness-infographic

These are just some of the many ways you can get your daily happy hormones. If you have some that already work for you, continue doing those. If you don’t try picking a few from the list.

When choosing things that will help increase happiness levels, think about how each of them affects your health. There are three states of health (physical, mental, and social health).

Make sure you choose activities that don’t all contribute to one aspect only. Try to pick a few that can contribute to different aspects so you can reap the full benefits of the happiness chemicals.

If you are unfamiliar with the three aspects of the Health Triangle, I recommend taking the self-assessment first to see which areas you are lacking so you can choose activities that target that aspect.

Overstimulation of the Happiness Chemicals

Ever hear the saying…

“too much of a good thing is a bad thing

Well, it’s true. Overstimulation of each of the four happiness chemicals in the brain can lead to desensitization.

This in turn leads to an increased desire for those happiness chemicals which creates an addiction cycle. This addiction cycle can affect anyone, especially those who suffer from a mental illness such as depression.

Thankfully, there are ways we can manage or reduce overstimulation. For example, let’s take a look at dopamine as it is commonly known for its addictive nature.

How Dopamine Receptors Work

Dopamine itself is a type of neurotransmitter. The receptor is the receiver of the neurotransmitter. Each type of neurotransmitter has a unique receptor to match it.

To simplify, think of the receptor and neurotransmitter as a lock and key. A specific type of neurotransmitter will only fit into the correct receptor.

Once the dopamine attaches to the dopamine receptor it delivers a chemical message which gives you the effects of the neurotransmitter, in this case, dopamine.

Overstimulation of Dopamine Receptors

If your dopamine receptors are overstimulated, you can become desensitized to the effects of dopamine.

Overstimulation occurs when you experience prolonged periods of dopamine stimulation. This leads to the brain protecting itself by destroying some of the receptors.

Remember, happiness chemicals are only meant to be experienced for a short period before turning off.

Your dopamine levels should remain at an off or low state for some time before being stimulated again. This is a normal up and down experience with dopamine.

However, when you override your natural satiation mechanism by continually feeding yourself dopamine, then Supernormal Stimuli occurs.

This is what happens when you have a normal experience with dopamine versus supernormal stimuli:

stimuli

The supernormal stimuli is an overstimulation of dopamine which leads to desensitization. This tolerance then encourages us to feed our desire for dopamine even more which creates a cycle of addiction.

Here are some common activities we are all guilty of which leads to overstimulation:

  • eating fast food regularly
  • scrolling through social media feeds non-stop
  • binge-watching your favorite tv show all weekend with little to no breaks

Prevent Overstimulation

Preventing overstimulation can allow your dopamine levels to drop back to a normal level before the next stimulation.

This helps to maintain our sensitization and does not create an addictive attitude towards dopamine. By doing so this will allow you to feel the full effects of dopamine when you experience it.

Here are a few simple ways to prevent overstimulation:

  • limiting your use by stopping after some time (this allows enough time to drop to a normal level)
  • limiting the frequency of use (eating fast food once or twice a week versus every day)
  • not using it like a drug
  • not using it as an escape mechanism

This is especially important when you have a mental illness such as depression.

The desire to feel better or wanting to escape the pain you experience creates a higher risk for addiction due to the desire for happiness chemicals like dopamine.

Everything in moderation is important to maintain reasonable levels of happiness chemicals.

How to Increase Dopamine Receptors

Overstimulation causes dopamine receptors to be destroyed. Abstaining from the activities that cause overstimulation will allow the number of dopamine receptors to increase.

The increase of dopamine receptors will then increase the effects when dopamine is released. Thus, more happiness!

Here are a few other ways to increase dopamine receptors:

  • high-intensity interval training is the most effective form of exercise
  • digital detox (taking time off from technology for a week or two)
  • cold showers or ice baths

Hack Your Happiness Chemicals

To recap, there are four happiness chemicals that your brain releases to make you feel good:

  1. Dopamine: Enables motivation, learning, and pleasure
  2. Oxytocin: Gives you a feeling of trust to build intimate relationships
  3. Serotonin: When you experience social power or confidence in accepting yourself
  4. Endorphin: Brief euphoria to mask physical pain

How to Increase Happy Hormones Naturally:

  1. Understand how deficiency affects you by recognizing what symptoms you may experience
  2. Identify what activities you would enjoy doing to increase happiness
  3. Consistency is key, ensure you are regularly doing those activities
  4. Be aware of overstimulation and abstain from any activities as required

There are plenty of activities that can increase happiness hormones naturally. Choose a few you enjoy, either from the list or ones you already enjoy doing. What’s important is that you enjoy doing it, otherwise it won’t stick.

Remember, we’re looking to achieve long-term happiness so doing an activity once or twice will not make an impact on your lifestyle.

When you are dealing with an existing mental illness, addiction, or trauma, it can be difficult to increase your happiness chemicals.

Consider building up your window of tolerance first to help you deal with the stress, anxiety, or trauma you may have. Then when you come to increasing happiness, it becomes much easier to do.

source: MindPeelings


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Link Between Vitamin D Treatment and Autism Prevention

Giving vitamin D supplements to mice during pregnancy prevents autism traits in their offspring, researchers have discovered. The discovery provides further evidence of the crucial role vitamin D plays in brain development.

In human studies, researchers recently found a link between pregnant women with low Vitamin D levels and the increased likelihood of having a child with autistic traits.

Giving vitamin D supplements to mice during pregnancy prevents autism traits in their offspring, University of Queensland researchers have discovered.

The discovery provides further evidence of the crucial role vitamin D plays in brain development, said lead researcher Professor Darryl Eyles, from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute.

“Our study used the most widely accepted developmental model of autism in which affected mice behave abnormally and show deficits in social interaction, basic learning and stereotyped behaviours,” Professor Eyles said.

“We found that pregnant females treated with active vitamin D in the equivalent of the first trimester of pregnancy produced offspring that did not develop these deficits.”

In human studies, QBI researchers recently found a link between pregnant women with low Vitamin D levels and the increased likelihood of having a child with autistic traits.

Autism – or autism spectrum disorder – describes lifelong developmental disabilities including difficulty or inability to communicate with others and interact socially.

Sun exposure is the major source of vitamin D – which skin cells manufacture in response to UV rays – but it is also found in some foods.

Dr Wei Luan, a postdoctoral researcher involved in the study, said vitamin D was crucial for maintaining healthy bones, but the active hormonal form of vitamin D cannot be given to pregnant women because it may affect the skeleton of the developing fetus.

“Recent funding will now allow us to determine how much cholecalciferol – the supplement form that is safe for pregnant women – is needed to achieve the same levels of active hormonal vitamin D in the bloodstream,” said Dr Luan.

This new information will allow us to further investigate the ideal dose and timing of vitamin D supplementation for pregnant women.

It was previously thought vitamin D had a protective anti-inflammatory effect during brain development, but the study didn’t find this to be the case.

New funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council will allow researchers to continue to study how vitamin D protects against autism.

 
Source: Materials provided by University of Queensland. 
Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Journal Reference:
Stephanie Vuillermot, Wei Luan, Urs Meyer, Darryl Eyles. 
Vitamin D treatment during pregnancy prevents autism-related phenotypes 
in a mouse model of maternal immune activation. 
Molecular Autism, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s13229-017-0125-0
MLA    APA     Chicago
University of Queensland.       ScienceDaily.    17 March 2017


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Vitamin D Can Protect Against Colds, Flu, Study Suggests

Taking extra vitamin D can protect against colds, flu and other respiratory infections, said a study Thursday which reopened a debate on the usefulness of over-the-counter supplements.

A review of 25 clinical trials in 14 countries, some with conflicting results, yielded “the first definitive evidence” of a link between vitamin D and flu prevention, researchers claimed in The BMJ medical journal.

The effects were strongest for people with very low levels of the nutrient which is found in some foods and can be synthesised by the body when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light.

Many people, especially in grey, cloudy climes, do not have enough vitamin D.

Scientific studies over the years have delivered contradictory conclusions on the topic.

Some have shown that low levels of the vitamin increase the risk of bone fractures, heart disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and death.

Others said there is no evidence of a link to disease risk.

For the new study, researchers from the Queen Mary University of London conducted the biggest-ever survey of trials involving nearly 11,000 people.

Sunshine
Vitamin D is found in some foods and can be synthesized
by the body when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light.

And they found clues as to why supplements seem to work in some trials but not in others.

“The bottom line is that the protective effects of vitamin D supplementation are strongest in those who have the lowest vitamin D levels, and when supplementation is given daily or weekly rather than in more widely-spaced doses,” lead researcher Adrian Martineau said in a statement.

‘Undeniable’

Vitamin D is thought to protect against respiratory infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia, by boosting levels of antibiotic-like peptides in the lungs, said the team.

This fits with an observation that colds and flu are more common in winter and spring, when vitamin D levels are lowest.

It may also explain why vitamin D seems to protect against asthma attacks, they said.

In an editorial published with the study, experts Mark Bolland and Alison Avenell said it should be viewed as a hypothesis in need of scientific confirmation.

Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, shared their caution.

“This study does not provide sufficient evidence to support recommending vitamin D for reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections,” he said via the Science Media Centre in London.

Other observers were more optimistic.

The case for universal vitamin D supplements, or food fortification, “is now undeniable,” concluded Benjamin Jacobs of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

AFP     Thursday, February 16, 2017


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Exposure to Bright Light Might Impact Metabolism

By: Elise Moreau     June 4, 2016     Follow Elise at @elisem0reau

Most people are aware of the importance of vitamin D for good health and that it comes from the sun in its natural form. And many know that the light from our electronic devices can mess with their ability to sleep at night. But did you know that your exposure to bright light — perhaps natural or artificial — may even be powerful enough to alter your metabolism?

In a recent study conducted by Northwestern University, 19 adults were exposed to bright, blue-enriched light for three hours each in the morning and in the evening over a four-day period. Hunger, metabolic function and physiological arousal were tracked and the results were compared against the results for exposure to dim light.

All participants were exposed to dim light in their waking hours over the first two days. On the third day, half of the participants were exposed to bright light in the morning while the other half were exposed to bright light in the evening.

What the researchers found was that bright light in both the morning and evening hours increased insulin resistance — the body’s inability to move glucose out of the bloodstream to use for energy. Insulin resistance can cause weight gain and increase the risk of diabetes.

The researchers also found that when the participants were exposed to bright light in the evening, higher peak glucose (blood sugar) levels were detected. And in a related study conducted previously by Northwestern researchers, they had found that people who were exposed to the majority of their light before midday weighed less than people who were exposed to the majority of their light after midday.

screen

This is the first time these results have been seen in humans, although researchers at this point can’t say why light exposure has the impact it does on our bodies. Previous studies conducted on mice that were exposed to light over a consistent period of time showed higher glucose levels and weight gain compared to mice in a control group.

These findings suggest that the amount of light, and what time of day we’re exposed to it, has a direct impact on our health. This would certainly include all the light we surround ourselves with these days that come from our electronic devices — from smartphones and tablets to television monitors and laptops. If you spend all evening around glowing screens, which we already know is bad for your body’s internal sleep clock, it could very well be partially to blame for why you may be having trouble shedding those few extra pounds.

The good news about this and future related research is that we may be able to find out more about how we might be able to use light to manipulate metabolic function. But for now, it’s probably safe to say that altering your morning and evening routines so that exposing yourself to light earlier in the day will be far better for your overall health than exposing yourself to much of it later on in the day.

Findings like these serve as just another good and healthy excuse to ditch the devices in the evening hours and do something a little more productive, enjoyable or just plain relaxing. Your mind and body deserve it.


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Get Outside Every Day. Here’s Why.

By: Jordyn Cormier   May 25, 2016

It’s easy to get holed up in our dens of technology, but stepping outside, nature or not, is the best thing for you in oh so many ways. Whether your suffering from frequent colds or you are simply in a creativity rut, the outdoors may be just the fix you’re looking for.

Ditch your stress. Time spent outside, specifically time spent immersed in nature, can bathe you in meditative relaxation. In Japan, it is known as forest bathing, but you don’t need to get deep into a forest to reap benefits. Just stepping into a park can confer immediate effects. In fact, those who spend more time outside experience lower blood pressure and a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol. If you’ve noticed a new crop of gray hairs emerge along your hairline, maybe it’s time to get yourself a little more fresh air.

Reboot your brain. After some time spent outside, you’ll feel more productive, more focused and may even experience an improvement in your memory. Being outside can especially rekindle the spark of creativity that has dissipated from your daily routine. Above all else, those who spend more time outdoors also experience lower incidences of depression. Think of the outdoors as a soothing balm for your brain. Get as much of it as you can.

Get more physically fit. This is a simple equation, really. You can either be sitting indoors or you can be galavanting outdoors. One takes years off of your life. The other adds quality to your life. You’ll use your muscles more, you’ll smile more, you’ll push yourself harder when you get outside. Addicted to your gym membership? Consider the outdoors a free gym membership that you shouldn’t squander.

Reset your eyes. If your job entails you stare at a screen under flickering florescent lights for 8 hours a day, you need to get outside more. The natural light of the outdoors relieves the eyes from the strain of screens and artificial lighting. For children especially, spending more time outdoors may decrease the risk of development of nearsightedness. Keep your eyes healthy by taking a gander outside on the regular.

Become superhuman! Okay, so maybe you won’t suddenly be able to fly, but getting outside on a regular basis seriously jolts your immune system. According to studies, people who spend more time outside have a significantly higher immune function, including an increase in natural killer cells, than those who spend their days indoors. Natural killer cells are powerful agents in the prevention of tumors forming in the body, so the importance of getting out into nature cannot be overstated. Even if you’ve found yourself simply succumbing to colds more frequently, maybe more outdoors time is just what the doctor ordered.

Load up on sunshine. Going outside into the sunshine allows your body to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D, if you haven’t heard it enough, is crazy important for your health. It helps to stave off depression, strengthen bones and can decrease your risk of heart disease. Getting ten minutes of direct sunlight on your bare skin each day allows your body to produce around 10,000 IU, which is more than ample. Check out my recent post on vitamin D for more information on the safest ways to get it.

Reconnect with your roots. If you’re looking to get more in touch with yourself and with your natural surroundings, just get outside. If you spend enough time in nature, you will begin to sense subtle shifts in your environment. You’ll notice fluctuations in your energy. You’ll become more open and calm when you feel how incredibly vast the outside world is. In a way, spending more time outside puts you more in tune with our surrounding world. Nothing is wrong with a little perspective now and then.

According to an analysis published in the Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology, North Americans spend only 8 percent of their time outdoors! Don’t be a statistic. It’s time to live your life to the fullest and get outside.


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This Vitamin Deficiency is a Global Health Problem

By: Jordyn Cormier   May 4, 2016

We all hear about vitamin D’s importance on a regular basis, but do you really know how to make sure you’re getting enough of it? It’s not as simple as just going outside on a sunny day.

For the prevention of the majority of diseases, it’s recommended that blood serum levels of vitamin D 25(OH)D fall between 40 and 60. However, many of us who spend the bulk of our days indoors are incredibly vitamin D deficient. In fact, it is estimated that 40 to 75 percent of the world’s population is vitamin D deficient.

Vitamin D is an unsung hero in the body. It is indispensable in a variety of functions, such as enhancing calcium absorption for bone health, supporting several immune system functions, preventing depression and helping to prevent some forms of cancer and autoimmune disorders. Inadequate levels in the body contribute to overall poor health and can be at the root cause of certain diseases.

Vitamin D can be found in some foods, such as beef liver, egg yolks and cold water fish. However, food-based sources of D are generally a less dense source. They are also an inactive form of the vitamin which must undergo various processes to become activated in the body. On the other hand, vitamin D produced by the sun is highly bioavailable.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone rather than a vitamin. It is for this reason that spending a little time outside with exposed skin is incredibly important, as the sun is one of the most efficient ways to stock up on vitamin D.

sun

Here’s the catch: you can’t make vitamin D anytime you go outside. The sun has to be at the proper angle in the sky, so those of us living further from the equator have limited opportunities to allow our bodies to synthesize vitamin D.

“I have established that in order to produce adequate levels of vitamin D the solar azimuth angle/the angle of incidence of solar radiation should be 45 O < α < 90 O . UVB rays will only penetrate the atmosphere when the sun is above an angle of  around 45 degrees from the horizon. A useful observation when you are outdoors is to evaluate the length of your own shadow. If it is longer then you are, you are not producing any vitamin D.” (Dr. Karolina M. Zielinska-Dabkowska, source)

To calculate for yourself, use this azimuth chart. Simply enter data into the table indicating your location and the date, and compute. You’ll get a long and impressive looking list of numbers. Simply glance down the altitude column and find where the number falls between 45 and 90 degrees. Then, take note of the times in the column on the left. These are the only times when your body can produce vitamin D during the day on that particular date (if it is sunny). Otherwise, the rays gets filtered out through the atmosphere and you’ll simply be subjecting yourself to harmful UV rays without the benefit of D synthesis.

Additionally, using sunscreen can block the rays that initiate vitamin D synthesis, so spending 10 minutes in the sun without sunscreen is important. Of course, if you’re going to be outside longer than that, slather up.

Vitamin D is essential for a myriad of functions. While it’s great to get outside whenever you can, supplementing with a quality D3 supplement is important for those of us who don’t live along the sunny equator.


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How to Winterize Your Body to Stay Fit and Healthy in the Cold Months Ahead

Jason Fitzpatrick     11/05/10 

Everyone is familiar with the benefits of winterizing things—car tires, window panes, sprinkler systems—but we often overlook ourselves. This winter, consider winterizing your body to stay fit and healthy, both mentally and physically.

Every year winter comes and every year people act as if the cold, the bouts of sickness, and the winter blahs are somehow new and unexpected. This year we want to help you prepare for winter and keep the winter blues and sniffles at bay. Whether you’re sitting in the Great White North or the Sun Belt, here’s how to winterize your body.

Note: While these tips are helpful for anyone, if you experience extreme mood swings, depression, or lethargy during the winter season that extends beyond the general “Man, I wish it were warm out!” sentiment, please see your healthcare provider. Seasonal Affective Disorder is serious business and affects many people in the same way as a major depressive episode—serious health risks included.

The Physical Self: Vitamins, Lighting, and the Great Outdoors

Winter is a different beast than summer. The days are shorter, the fresh food less abundant, and the opportunities for outdoor activities decreased. A significant part of winterizing your body is accounting for the things winter takes away and compensating for them accordingly. Photo by M. Pincus.

Don’t underestimate the power of sunshine. Our circadian rhythm is largely governed by light exposure, and the shift in available sunlight in the United States is dramatic. In June there are 15 hours of sunlight, but in December there are only 9. Further complicating things, those hours of December daylight are nearly all burned up during the working day, leaving evenings cold and dark.

Knowing that your access to natural light will be restricted, there are a few things you can do to compensate. Dawn simulators are a great way to help your body deal with the shifting of sunrise over the year and have been shown to be more convenient and effective than other kinds of light therapy in treating seasonal affective disorder. I personally use the inexpensive ($40) Lighten Up! #308 Dawn Simulator. You plug a bright lamp into it, plug the simulator into the wall, program the “sunrise” time, and it will gradually brighten the room. One of the most effective ways to use the device is to set it to simulate the earliest sunrise time in your locale—check the sunrise tables at the US Naval Observatory to help find the best time. In my case, setting my dawn simulator to being slowly brightening the room at 5:15AM mimics the longest days of summer. (A nice side effect of using the dawn simulator: I haven’t used an alarm clock in ages.)

Take your vitamins. Nordic countries, despite experiencing the same cold and darkness as other extremely northern locales, have a significantly lower rate of seasonal affective disorder. Researchers believe the key is the volume of fish they eat (nearly 5 times more than US or Canadian citizens). The enormous reserve of vitamin D and vitamin A found in the fatty tissue of fish protects the Norse from the deficiency experienced by the non-fish eaters in other colder climates. Nothing against fish, but if you want to skip the fish-eating part, consider stopping by your local health food store to pick up fish oil caplets, which could do the trick just as well. Additionally, taking a multivitamin can’t hurt given the decrease in fresh fruits and vegetables consumption most people experience in the winter months.

Stay hydrated. Hydration is another key element to winterizing your body. People tend to drink a lot of water and fluids in the summer. Winter can be just as dehydrating, however, as the lower humidity dries your skin and the mucus membranes of your nose, throat, and lungs—winter time breathing in many locales is the same as breathing the bone-dry air you experience in an airplane cabin. Be mindful of how much water you drink. In addition, putting a humidifier in your bedroom (or activating your whole-house humidifier if you have one) will keep your mucus membranes moisturized and decrease the chances of you getting an airborne illnesses.

Get outside and stay active. It’s easy to get out of the house in the summer—nearly everything fun is happening outside. Between walks in the park, trips to the beach, and downtown festivals, all the fun events of spring and summer are almost always outside. Readers in sunny southern states might not fully relate to this, but Northerners will understand: Come wintertime, the world seems to close shop and go to sleep for a few months. Fight the urge to hole up for the winter and seek out equivalent activities for your favorite summer ones. If you hiked a local nature preserve all summer, cross country ski it. If you went rock climbing at the local cliffs, join a rock climbing gym. Try to find some activity that will take you outside and get you active, preferably during a time where you can get some sun on your face. Don’t forget how powerful sunshine is and what role it plays in regulating your body’s internal clock.

winter

The Mental Self: Well Being, Social Calls, and Long Decembers

Caring for your physical self will go a long way towards making winter more bearable. Good sleep, vitamin supplements, light exposure, and fresh air are excellent mood boosters. Getting some sun on your face and fresh air alone won’t fully take care of the mental and social elements of the winter blues, however. Let’s take a look at what you can do to bolster your mental well-being.

Be mindful of your mood and mental health. Winter can increase the incidence of depression and other disorders in many people. Pay close attention to your state of mind in the darker and colder months. If you start getting into a funk, don’t brush it off as a simple case of the winter blues. As noted above, seasonal affective disorders are serious business, and whether you have a history of them or not you should be extra mindful of your mood.

Stay social. For those of us who live in areas where it can feel like you never see your neighbors between November and March and the snow drifts high enough to form a privacy fence, focusing on social interactions is important. During the summer in my neighborhood, for example, people are out in their front yards and it’s not uncommon to have daily conversations with people up and down the street. Winter is a different story. It hits this area so hard that when the spring thaw comes people emerge with babies you didn’t even know had been born.

Preserving (preferably in-real-life) social networks and avoiding “cabin fever” during the winter is an art form. If you have social groups (neighbors, golf buddies, softball team you coach) that you see during the warmer months but not during the colder ones, make an effort to plan things with them during the winter. Sure, winter has its share of holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years to bring people together, but a few big bashes over a span of months isn’t the same as routinely seeing and connecting with people on a daily and weekly basis. Even something as simple as a rotating bring-your-own-beer and potluck dinner among a circle of friends offers a great opportunity to get together and complain about the snow.

Evaluate your winter pitfalls to guard against them. Get out a legal pad or fire up your favorite text editor. Brainstorming about winter and what makes it a great, not so great, or wretched season for you will go a long way towards helping you extend the advice in this guide to winterizing your body and tailoring it for a custom fit.

  • What is your favorite thing about the winter season?
  • What is your least favorite thing about the winter season?
  • How does the decrease in daylight hours make you feel?
  • How do the holidays make you feel? If sad or stressed, why?
  • Do you feel shut in or socially isolated?
  • Do you feel lethargic or like you don’t get enough exercise in the winter months?

The answers to the questions will help point you in the direction of helpful solutions. For example, if you dislike the holidays because of the stress and financial burden of buying gifts, you could then opt to discuss gift-giving tradition and exchanges with your family or use our holiday gift-tracking template to keep a better handle on how much you’re spending and what you’re giving to whom. Alternatively, if the thing you hate about winter is how hard it is to peel yourself out of bed in the dark mornings, you might consider looking into the dawn simulator suggested earlier in the article. Self reflection goes a long way towards helping you effectively winterize your body and stay healthy and happy until spring comes.

While each person handles winter differently, following a few of the guidelines above and probing into the way you relate to and react to the darker days of winter will help you form a plan of attack and make this the best winter you’ve weathered yet. If you’re a person hit especially hard by the winter and have found a great technique for dealing with the winter blues, we want to hear all about it in the comments. Share your tips and tricks to help your fellow readers build their own plan of attack on winter.