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Seasonal Affective Disorder: 5 Tips to Take The SAD Out of Winter

As the days turn shorter, darker, and colder, you may begin to experience the ‘winter blues’.

A drop in mood over the winter months is something a lot of people experience, and potentially pass off as an inevitability of the time of year. 

But in more severe cases, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is classed as a recurrent major depressive disorder characterised by persistent low mood and lethargy. Not to mention the inevitable cravings for high-carb comfort food and weight gain [1]

Although the effects of SAD are very real and should be taken seriously, the good news is that they are treatable through lifestyle measures.

If you really want to kick SAD to the curb, here’s how you can keep charging towards your health and fitness goals over the next few months, here are 5 top tips:

1. Get outside 

While the idea of heading outside into the cold might not always be appealing, try to get as much daylight exposure as you can. Getting 60-90 minutes of natural light exposure early in your day is important to help maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and sleeping patterns. 
Try getting outside – even if it is just for a short walk, spending time in the fresh air can help reduce symptoms of SAD, relieve feelings of stress and anxiety and lift your mood[2]

Winter walks for seasonal affective disorder

2. Keep moving 

Is there anything that a good workout can’t fix? We haven’t found it yet. 

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins – neurotransmitters that are released by the brain to help alleviate pain and promote feelings of pleasure. Therefore, when we walk, run, lift weights, or engage in physical activity, it can help us feel less anxious and less stressed. 

Research has shown that exercise significantly improves mood. In addition, individuals who are more motivated to exercise may be less susceptible to SAD[3]

The takeaway is that SAD isn’t an inevitability as we move into the colder months. And with a few easy changes, you can beat the blues this winter. 

Gym training to boost mood Ultimate Performance

3. Supplement with vitamin D 

Getting in those rays is critical for maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D in the body, which can influence many health conditions such as depression. And the research shows that as little as nine minutes of sunlight is enough to give your levels a boost[4]

But given that you’re probably wrapped up, and the weather is gloomy at best, it’s almost impossible to get enough skin exposure to guarantee healthy levels. As a result, supplementation with vitamin D3 is nearly always recommended[5].  

And there are several other reasons you should consider supplementing if you don’t already. If you’ve previously led an unhealthy lifestyle with lots of processed foods, stress, poor sleep and little exercise, you are more likely to be deficient in both vitamin D and magnesium[6].  

And if you fit into certain demographics, supplementing becomes even more critical. If you have a darker skin tone, your vitamin D requirements are higher, meaning you are at even greater risk of deficiency during those dark winter months [7]. But that’s not the only reason supplementing is important. 

Magnesium supports the enzymes that convert vitamin D into its active form, so you won’t feel the benefits of vitamin D supplementation without it[8]. Given that foods today are often deficient in magnesium, supplementing with both D3 Replenish and UltraMag can ensure optimal protection from the winter blues. Up to 5,000 IUs of vitamin D per day has been shown to reduce feelings of depression[9].  

Vitamin d3 supplement

Shop our Ultimate Performance Essentials Bundle now. 

4. Prioritise good quality sleep 

We don’t perform at our best when we have a sleepless night. And research shows that poor sleep doesn’t just leave us irritable and short-tempered, it also makes us more vulnerable to stress[10]

Sleep is all about rhythm and routine, so try to keep a consistent sleep schedule, aiming to get at seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night[11]. This may not always be possible with your lifestyle, but you can limit stress by: 

  • Taking a hot bath 
  • Meditation 
  • Stretching 
  • Reading a printed fiction book 
  • Listening to music 
  • Spending time with family 

Alongside this, try to avoid blue light from laptops and phones close to bedtime, keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature, and block out any external noise. 

Sleep to help improve SAD

5. Eat smarter 

The health of our gut microbiota plays a pivotal role in both immunity and mental health. High dietary fibre intake is associated with healthier and more varied gut bacteria, as well as improved long-term weight management[12,13]. 

To give yourself the best shot and beating SAD, focus on removing inflammatory, highly processed foods, such as white pasta, sugary cereals, biscuits, cakes and pastries, and replace them whole single-ingredient options, such as green vegetables, fruit, beans, and whole grains, that are packed full of nutrients and fibre.  

The take-home? 

The reduction in natural daylight that comes with the winter months can leave you feeling low, anxious and lethargic. So, it’s not surprising you may not feel as motivated to achieve your health and fitness goals.  

But by getting outside as much as you can, smart supplementation and keeping active (though likely wearing more layers than usual!), you can plough through the winter blues.  

If you’d like more help and guidance with your training and nutrition through the winter, reach out to the experts.  

Read more about the causes, symptoms and treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

Enquire about a personal training program with Ultimate Performance.


[1] Melrose S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression Research and Treatment, 2015, pg. 178564.

[2] Pearson, D. G., & Craig, T. (2014). The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers In Psychology, 5, 1178.

[3] Drew, E. M., Hanson, B. L., & Huo, K. (2021). Seasonal affective disorder and engagement in physical activities among adults in Alaska. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 80 (1), pg. 1906058.

[4] Webb, A. R., et al. (2018). Meeting Vitamin D Requirements in White Caucasians at UK Latitudes: Providing a Choice. Nutrients, 10 (4), pg. 497.

[5] Mayor S. (2016). Public Health England recommends vitamin D supplements in autumn and winter. British Medical Journal (Clinical research edition), 354, pg. i4061.

[6] Alyahya K. O. (2020). Poor dietary consumption and limited sun exposure are risk factors for vitamin D deficiency in premenopausal Kuwaiti women: A cross-sectional study. Qatar medical journal, 2020(1), 15.

[7] Richard, A., et al. (2017). Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Its Associations with Skin Color in Pregnant Women in the First Trimester in a Sample from Switzerland. Nutrients, 9(3), 260.

[8] Uwitonze, A. M., & Razzaque, M. S. (2018). Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 118(3), pp.181-189.

[9] Gloth, F. M., 3rd, Alam, W., & Hollis, B. (1999). Vitamin D vs broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, 3 (1), pp. 5-7.

[10] Short, M. A., & Louca, M. (2015). Sleep deprivation leads to mood deficits in healthy adolescents. Sleep Medicine, 16(8), 987–993.

[11] Watson, N. F. et al. (2015). Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep, 38 (6), pp.843-844.

[12] Cronin, P., et al. (2021). Dietary Fibre Modulates the Gut Microbiota. Nutrients, 13(5), 1655.

[13] Webb, A. R., et al. (2018). Meeting Vitamin D Requirements in White Caucasians at UK Latitudes: Providing a Choice. Nutrients, 10 (4), pg. 497.

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