Exercise can help turn sad into glad

There’s a serious energy crisis in this country, and our unfortunate dependence on Middle Eastern oil has nothing to do with it. I’m talking about seasonal affective disorder, also known as the winter blues.

It’s a form of depression brought on by the dark days of winter, and it affects, to varying degrees, about 20 percent of the population. The symptoms range from mildly annoying to excruciatingly severe and can include difficulty waking up in the morning, sluggishness and fatigue during the day, trouble concentrating, a craving for carbohydrates and weight gain.

The research shows that women are much more likely to get it than men and that the trouble can start at any age, but it most commonly appears after age 20. The depression comes and goes in a seasonal cycle, usually lifting in March or April as the days grow longer and the body is exposed to more sunlight.

If you think you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder, cheer up. Here are several helpful strategies:

  • Spend time outside. Get up in the morning and go outside for an hour-long walk. That much exposure to natural light might be all you need to make your symptoms go away.
  • Look into light therapy. Research shows that people with seasonal affective disorder can benefit greatly - even reverse the symptoms - by spending about 30 minutes, first thing in the morning, near full-spectrum lights.

Bright-light therapy, using a light box that helps reset the body’s internal clock, doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s definitely worth a try. The nonprofit Center for Environmental Therapeutics runs an excellent Web site for finding out about light boxes and light-therapy experts:
Another good source of information is the Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms, If your own doctor isn’t informed about light boxes and pushes antidepressant drugs instead, I suggest you find a brighter doctor.

  • Exercise. You knew I’d get here eventually, right? Studies have shown that daily outdoor aerobic exercise -- about an hour a day - can help some people overcome the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. You could be one of them.

Another approach, less intense, involves finding a physical activity you enjoy that will regulate your breathing, release some endorphins, and otherwise soothe and stimulate your body and mind.
Remember: Seasonal affective disorder is a sad and gloomy way to get through the winter. Exercise and bright-light therapy can be helpful. If your own doctor isn’t plugged into the benefits of both, find one who is.

The trick to real weight loss isn’t about blindly following the latest fad diet. It’s about discovering a fresh, new way of eating, adapting an enlightened point of view about what it means to enjoy modest portions of delicious, healthy food.

And that’s what you’ll get in “Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat” by Tokyo-born Naomi Moriyama and her American husband, William Doyle, who went from a size 42 waist to a size 36 eating Japanese-style food.

The title is based on the fact that Japanese women have the lowest obesity rate in the industrialized world at 3 percent and, along with Japanese men, the highest life expectancy.

As the authors explain, it’s not just the foods in the traditional Japanese diet - rice, soy, fish - it’s also the less-is-more, quality-over-quantity philosophy that makes it one of the healthiest eating styles in the world.

Slowly digest some of these basic principles from this delightful book, and you can change your life:

  • Practice hara hachi bunme. That’s Japanese for “eat until you are 80 percent full.”
  • Become a master portion-controller, serving modest-sized portions on small, beautiful tableware.
  • Eat and chew your food at a leisurely pace, savoring every bite.
  • Take special time to admire the beauty of your food and its presentation.
  • Think of vegetables more often as a main dish and red meat as a side or occasional dish.
  • Have a bowl of short-grain rice or brown rice with your meals instead of white bread, muffins or rolls.
  • Walk everywhere you can.
  • Remember that loving to eat well is an important part of being healthy and that cooking and eating should be fun.
“Serving food is like painting a picture. Food should be eaten with the eyes as well as the mouth.” That kitchen wisdom is from Chizuko Moriyama, Naomi’s mother.

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to