Beat the Winter Blues

This has been quite a winter in Asheville. I’ve been hearing many complaints about all the snow, cold and cloudy weather, and about how everyone is ready for spring. It’s almost here. Personally, I’ve enjoyed this winter, and all the snow and cold. I’ve used this as a time to stay indoors, and enjoy yin activities, such as taking long Epsom salt baths (so soothing on aching muscles, backs and joints), reading and meditation. Often I combine all 3: reading and meditating in the bath tub: delicious. And when I say a long bath, I mean several hours. I fall asleep and wake up because the tub’s cold.

Another precaution I’ve taken to guard against the winter blues is to change out all my light bulbs in my home and office to full spectrum bulbs. Regular incandescent bulbs give off a yellow hew, compact florescents strobe and all florescents give off an unnatural light that is hard on the eyes. Full spectrum bulbs more closely mimic daylight. I prefer the Chromolux brand, partly because there are long lasting. I’ve had my Chromolux bulbs for many years. I feel that they are a higher quality bulb than say GE or Phillips, which is decidedly less expensive. However the lower cost brands are more readily available at Home Depot, Target and Lowes, and provide a inexpensive way to give the bulbs a try. Also available are full spectrum florescent tubes, often referred to as daylight or sunlight florescents. I recommend changing out the overhead florescent lights in the office with the daylight florescents. They are easier on the eyes, and provide a light source closer to natural sunlight, especially important during the winter months when the days are short and less time is spent outdoors.

The other lifestyle change I’ve made to help aid winter survival is to take afternoon walks for about 30 minutes. I’ve found the high point of the sun is between 12-3p, so I take an outdoor walk at that time to maximize sunlight exposure. In later February and March, the strongest sunlight time extends to 4p. Even if it is a gray day, I still go out during this time for natural sunlight.

The walks and the full spectrum bulbs helps prevent SAD, or sunlight affective disorder, which affects many people during the winter. SAD is depression occurring due to lack of exposure to the sun. High percentage of sufferers live in northern climates, where the days are particularly short.

Another issue becoming a public health priority is lack of vitamin D. Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin from sunlight. Recently there has been an increased incident of rickets in children in this country, a disease due lack of Vitamin D. Doctors have recently begun routinely testing for vitamin D, as deficiencies are becoming common place.

There are few dietary sources of Vitamin D, other than fortified foods, such as milk. Egg yolks, butter and fish liver oils (oily fish: salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring) are the main dietary sources. 15-30 minutes a day of sunlight exposure without sunscreen on the arms and legs several days a week will allow the body to synthesize adequate amounts of vitamin D.

Due to a recent change in lifestyle, where adults and children spend more time indoors on computers, and due to the effort by the dermatologists in the past 20-30 to restrict sunlight exposure and wear sunscreen, people are no longer getting adequate sun exposure to synthesize required amounts of vitamin D.

In Sunday’s NY Times Magazine (3/21/10), Deborah Solomon (a favorite columnist of mine) interviewed Dr. Michael Holick, author of a recently published book “The Vitamin D Solution” which discusses this issue of sunscreen, sun avoidance and vitamin D deficiency.

Spring is springing. Within a few short weeks those winter blues will be behind us. When the weather is below 50 degrees it is unrealistic to be out with the arms and legs exposed, but now that spring is upon us, try to get out and enjoy the sunlight. KB