Depression in Perimenopause: Why Exercise and Light are So Important
Now that March is over, along with the long, dark days of winter, perhaps the topic of depression in perimenopause won’t be so, well, depressing.
As one who grew up in the muggy Deep South where actual seasons are an anomaly, I actually love winter. I love snow, cold temperatures, and a roaring fire in the hearth at dinner time. It makes me feel cozy and happy. But, it can also make one feel sluggish, I will admit, and for women in perimenopause struggling with depression, the lack of light and exposure to warm, outdoor temperatures during winter, can be a double whammy.
I’m going to go on record and say that when it comes to dealing with depression in perimenopause, without adequate amounts of exercise and light exposure, nothing else you do will be completely effective. It’s a bold statement, I know. But, the simple act of increasing oxygen to the brain by way of aerobic exercise, while also exposing it to light, has a profound impact on mood. And there is science to back it up, too.
Aerobic Exercise Increases Endorphins and Raises Serotonin
Remember when we talked about estrogen levels and serotonin levels? We learned that serotonin, a key chemical in regulating mood, fluctuates a lot for women going through perimenopause, which contributes to mood disorders and depression.
I also told you that moderate aerobic exercise of some sort is enough to stimulate production of serotonin and increase endorphins, which has a tremendous impact in lifting your mood. But, it’s not merely the physical activity which helps. It is the increase of oxygen to the brain that actually causes it to happen.
Both oxygen and the act of breathing is something most of us probably take for granted. It is a mindless function of our body which requires no deliberate effort. Perhaps that is why we may not think it is an effective therapy for depression. But it absolutely is, and it only takes a mere half hour of aerobic exercise three times a week to reap the benefits!
See the Light and Beat the Blues
An enormous amount of research has been done on the effect of light exposure in treating depression, and much of it has to do with the circadian rhythm system in your body. Circadian rhythm is a fancy way of saying your internal body clock, which regulates everything from sleep cycles to digestion to mood. But in order for this system to work properly, adequate exposure to light is necessary, preferably sunlight.
Exposure to light stimulates brain activity, which in turn produces the brain chemicals – serotonin among them – needed to regulate mood. Without enough light exposure, brain function is significantly affected, and hence, the necessary production of serotonin, et. al, which in turn negatively affects our mood.
In a high information society like ours, it is easy to suffer from information overload. We’ve all heard the importance of diet and exercise in maintaining good health so often, that it no longer holds meaning. We tend to tune it out.
But the honest-to-God truth is that changing our diet to eat more foods which promote serotonin production, engaging in moderate exercise to increase oxygen to our brain, and getting plenty of exposure to sunlight can be nothing short of a miracle drug when it comes to treating depression in perimenopause.
As one who has also suffered herself with depression, I know how hard it is to change habits which are contributing to the problem. But sooner or lateryou have to ask yourself, “Is this fun?” Then you have to put on your best Nike face and “just do it.”
Magnolia Miller is a certified healthcare consumer advocate in women's health and a women's freelance health writer and blogger at The Perimenopause Blog.