Winter is upon us. Cold weather, shorter days. Its enough to make anyone want to curl up with a cup of cocoa and go to sleep at five. Well, for some people this is a reality on a daily basis. Not only do they want to go to bed at five, but when the alarm goes off at six the next morning, they find it hard to get out of bed at all. They also feel moody, anxious, lose interest in their usual activities, even crave carbs and gain weight. To those of you with the disorder I speak of, you already know what S.A.D. stands for. For the rest of you, it is Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it affects 20% of Americans every year. The medical cause of S.A.D. is still technically unknown, however it has been discovered that it is more prevalent in areas where winter days are very short, suggesting that it may be due to a lack of sunlight. For this reason, light therapy is often prescribed to relieve symptoms of S.A.D. Some doctors also prescribe anti-depressants. A study at the Medical University of Vienna conducted in September of 2007 suggested that low levels of serotonin might be to blame. Serotonin is a hormone found in the brain that acts as a chemical messenger, which transmits nerve signals between nerve cells. This mood-enhancing neurotransmitter is essential to balance mood swings. In the study, researchers monitored how the brain removes serotonin through the serotonin transporter in 73 individuals with S.A.D. versus 70 healthy individuals. Research proved that the serotonin was removed at a faster rate in those with S.A.D. in the winter, but went back to normal levels during the summer months. For those of you with this debilitating disorder, you may be wondering if there is something you can do to attempt to pull yourself out of this rut. Well, thankfully there is a very simple answer to that question EXERCISE!!! Some evidence suggests that exercise can raise levels of serotonin. It can also boost feel-good endorphins, release muscle tension, help to regulate sleep patterns, and even reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As little as a couple of 10-15 minute bouts a day of cardiovascular exercise can help to improve the symptoms of S.A.D. For maximum relief from symptoms, it is suggested that that at least 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 days per week be performed. So now you are asking, How am I supposed to get up and exercise for 30 minutes when I can barely get out of bed to do my dishes? The first step is to find something you enjoy doing. You dont have to go to the gym to be active, although that is probably your best source for advice and equipment. Get up and march in place in front of the TV. Do some jumping jacks. Knock out a couple of push-ups or crunches. Anything that will get your body moving and your blood pumping counts as physical activity. Better yet, take advantage of the winter months and try out some cold weather activities. Maybe you enjoy hiking in the summer, why not try snowshoeing? There are many different options to get moving in winter. If none of these ideas suit you, call your local gym and set up a consultation with a trainer to see if that option might work for you. In addition to improving levels of serotonin, physical activity can also help to boost your self-esteem. Whether you gain an aesthetic advantage through your exercise efforts or not, your feeling of accomplishment will make you that much more confident in your everyday life. So if you or someone you know suffers from S.A.D.S., get up and move!!! It will make all of the difference in your life as well as the lives of those you come in contact with everyday. Heidi Dalton is a personal trainer at Olympiad in South Burlington. If you have questions for her, you can contact her at 802-863-4299.