How To Beat The Winter Blues: The Connection Between Physical Activity And Mental Health
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Take charge this winter and establish helpful habits to ward off the winter blues

Guest post by Kate Lorke-McMeans, an AFLCA certified Personal Fitness and Pre/Post Natal Trainer.

Physical activity and mental health how to beat the winter blues tips Image

You don’t have to be an expert to know that physical activity and exercise are good for your health. Just about anywhere you look you are presented with evidence of how an active lifestyle can impressively lower the risk of an early death, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes or certain cancers. Whether you like it or not, there is no getting away from the information that keeps on telling you to be active. Ignorance is bliss no more. And that is a good thing!

Keep reading to learn about the connection between physical activity and mental health as well as the difference between physical activity vs exercise. As the days get shorter and the winter season approaches, you may feel blue or get in a slump, otherwise known as the winter blues. This blog post will provide helpful tips to beat the winter blues.

Healthy BodyHealthy Mind?

The way health is viewed has drastically changed over the years. The traditional understanding of health simply assessed an individual’s susceptibility to disease. If no diagnostic criteria for disease were present, the individual was declared healthy. The modern understanding of health is a much more evolved one. Rather than only paying attention to one’s physical markers such as blood pressure, weight or the presence of physical symptoms, the overall well-being is given just as much consideration. This holistic approach includes an individual’s mental and emotional health as well as the place they hold in their social and intellectual surroundings. In other words, the term health now no longer only focuses on the physical, but rather the physical and the mental state of a person.  

This has been an important shift! Understanding the connection between body and mind enables us to embrace and view being active as a vital stepping stone on the road to betterment. Let’s explore this topic.

Physical Activity vs. Exercise   

It is important to point out that there is a difference between regular physical activity and a structured exercise regimen.  

The World Health Organization classifies physical activity as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that require energy expenditure”.  

Examples include walking, cycling, gardening or recreational sports.  

Exercise on the other hand is “a type of physical activity that involves planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to maintain or improve one or more components of physical fitness” (CDC – National Center for Health Statistics). 

Examples include weight lifting, a 10 km run or aerobic classes.  

The takeaway is that depending on the individual’s fitness level, exercise can be construed as physical activity, but physical activity may not necessarily classify as exercise.  

If you are a beginner, don’t let this discourage you! Here is the good news: You don’t have to be a future Olympian to help yourself feel better! Even moderate levels of physical activity can have a major impact on your well-being. For an overall improvement in mental and physical health, the WHO recommends the following guidelines for adults: 

  • 150 – 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity/per week or 
  • 75 – 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity/per week or 
  • An equivalent combination of the above 
How to beat the winter blues physical activity and walking
Physical activity and mental health, winter biking

How Does Physical Activity Affect Mental Health? 

In order to help ourselves achieve better health, any activity counts. When we decide to get off the couch and get moving, a number of things happen inside our bodies. The human body’s desire to achieve a state of homeostasis causes multiple organ systems to respond to the increased demands in respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic efforts.  

One of the systems responding is the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a network of glands inside our body. It produces hormones which get released into the bloodstream and are vital to our body’s function and well-being. When we are physically active, the amount of circulating hormones in our blood increases to keep up with the demands. 

Brain neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin – often known as the “happy hormones” – are responsible for the regulation of pain perception, the sleep-wake cycle and our mood. Dopamine and serotonin are associated with the reward system of the brain and are responsible for the feelings of pleasure we experience.  

Moderate-intensity exercise has been shown to increase the concentration of brain neurotransmitters in the blood in a way that appears may be just as effective in its outcome as the taking of anti-depression medications in individuals suffering from mild depression or anxiety.  

Other Effects of Physical Activity on Depression and Anxiety

The production of hormones through an elevated heart rate, however, is not the only important factor at play. There are other ways regular exercise can have an effect on mental health. Wondering if physical activity helps with depression? The Mayo Clinic and other health organizations support that exercise can help with depression and anxiety by providing psychological and emotional benefits. 

These benefits and effects of exercise and physical activity on depression include:

  • Confidence gains (meeting exercise goals, improved body image) 
  • Social interactions (exercise classes, being active with friends/neighbours) 
  • Improvement of healthy coping skills (taking charge through exercise vs. dwelling on your feelings/utilizing addictive behaviours) 

However, even without an official depression or anxiety diagnosis, feeling down and tired can be a real problem. Especially in the wintertime.  

Our Mood and the Seasons 

It’s that time of the year again. The summer heat is a thing of the past, the leaves have changed colour and fallen off. While some people favour the fall season, others struggle to enjoy the crisper air. For us here in the far North, the arrival of winter is as certain as – well – the changing of the seasons. While winter sports enthusiasts may be eagerly awaiting the first flakes, many Canadians find themselves in a different kind of mood. If you are one of them, you are not alone. According to the Canadian Psychological Association, approximately 15% of Canadians will report at least a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) while many more may experience the feeling of the “winter blues.”

What are The Winter Blues?

While SAD is classified as a subtype of major depression by the Brain & Behaviour Research Foundation and requires an actual diagnosis, the winter blues is primarily brought on by reduced sun exposure, reduced opportunities for outdoor activities as well as less frequent social get-togethers due to the inclement weather conditions. If you are feeling worn-out, tired and overall down when winter hits you might be affected.  

The human circadian rhythm plays a huge role in this. It is strongly connected to our sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and the release of hormones. Like an internal clock, our circadian rhythm depends to a large degree on the sunlight so it doesn’t come as a surprise that studies have pointed to the lack of natural light during the winter months as the culprit for decreased production of the “happy hormones.” Dropping serotonin levels leave many of us feeling blue.  

Get in Charge: How to Beat the Winter Blues 

It is important to understand that the winter blues is not just something we can simply shake off. It is a physiological reaction to the changes in season accompanied by shorter days with their reduced sunshine hours. However, rather than dreadfully waiting out the snowy months, take charge this winter and establish helpful habits to ward off the winter blues. 

Here is what you can do:

  • Eat balanced meals. While the usual sugary foods and potato chips are no doubt a temporary mood booster, they can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and fall shortly after, along with your energy, mood and mental state. Focus on eating every 3-5 hours and choose meals with more whole grains, a source of protein as well as, fruits or vegetables. And don’t forget to drink water! Dehydration can make you feel tired and sluggish as well. 
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Do it in one setting or split it up into several shorter intervals. Go for a bike ride, a brisk dog walk, a swim at your local pool or take an exercise class. If possible, include your friends or partner and go outside into the sunshine whenever possible. At work, suggest a walking meeting with a colleague, take the stairs or get off the bus one stop away for a longer commute. Limit long amounts of time spent being sedentary. 

And lastly, do not be afraid to ask for help. If you need assistance in setting up an exercise routine, get in touch with a personal trainer to help you get started. If you need support in the nutrition department, contact a Registered Dietitian.   

If you feel your winter blues is more than just the winter blues, reach out. Get help. Get better.  

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” ~ Albert Camus

Winter sunset image
Kate Lorke-McMeans Picture

Kate Lorke-McMeans is an AFLCA-certified Personal Fitness and Pre/Post Natal Trainer. She has worked with clients of all ages and fitness levels, focusing on helping them achieve their individual goals.

She offers in-home one-on-one or small group training. Kate takes pride in promoting a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle that is about finding a balance between what’s good for your body and good for your soul. 

To learn more and to get in touch, contact Kate at:


Looking for more information about nutrition and mental health?

Don’t go through this journey alone, reach out to one of our Dietitians for support and have all the keys to success! 

Our Registered Dietitian team specialize in nutrition for mental health, meal planning, weight concerns, emotional eating, eating disorders, digestive health and more. Find out more about our Dietitian Nutrition Counseling Programs here.

Also, subscribe to our weekly newsletter to never miss out on any tips, advice, and recipes!

Check out these related blogs on our website:  

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As seen in


Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This