According to epidemiological studies cited in The New York Times, the prevalence of SAD in adult populations ranges from 1.4% (in Florida) to 9.7% (in New Hampshire). Seasonal Affective Disorder creates depression during the fall and winter and remission during the spring and summer months. Although not completely understood by medical professionals, the cause of SAD is thought to be a shift in the body’s sleep-wake cycle and the impact of this shift on the body’s production of melatonin.
Most commonly thought to affect people in the far North, SAD is directly associated to longitudinal location on the globe, meaning the farther north one travels, the more likely SAD is to occur. While Colorado is certainly not on par with Seattle, or Anchorage, Aspen is 39.19 degrees north of the equator, meaning the amount of light and solar radiation reaching Aspenites during the winter months is limited to as little as 9.26 hours of daylight.
Much of the research for overcoming SAD has focused on light. The primary treatment today involves exposing individuals to fluorescent lamps for 30 minutes to up to 2 hours per day. About 53% of patients undergoing light treatment for 2-4 weeks during the winter months experience full remission. However, for the remaining 47% little remains to help them overcome this period of difficulty. Anti-depressants and other pharmacological agents are often used to ease symptoms, however many are unresponsive to this treatment, or find the side effects too difficult.
Scientists have begun to examine the role of exercise, specifically aerobic exercise in the early morning, or under fluorescent lights in overcoming SAD. A sample of women with SAD who exercised twice a day for one week experienced significant improvement in symptoms.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends those with SAD symptoms to get outside during the daylight hours, and for even better results to exercise during that time. SAD symptoms are related to sun and sleep cycles, but some scientists suspect ultra-violet rays or a lower photon count during winter may also play a role. Less light and lower light intensity during the winter may result in an insufficient dose of photons or ultra-violet light.
Exercise as a form of treatment in individuals with depression in general has shown remarkable success due to the secretion of endorphins, or feel good hormones during exercise. Exercise also boosts brain activity in the frontal lobes, stimulating the production of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
During the late winter in Aspen, when the cold is inhibitive, the roads slick and daylight hours limited, pop into The Aspen Club & Spa where aerobic exercise classes are offered, the gym is open and personal trainers are on hand in the early morning, throughout the day and into the evening. However, for those suffering from SAD it is recommended to exercise in the morning and early afternoon due to the positive effect exercise often has on sleep cycles and the role sleep cycles play in SAD.
Stop in today and take a step away from SAD one day, one minute and one exercise routine at a time!