I grew up in rural Vermont where winter was one of my favorite times - playing hockey on ponds with milk crates as goals and zooming around the woods in cross country skis...so many great memories of winter in Vermont.
But as much as I love winter - I don't love the lack of sunlight that comes with it. The sun is very important to our health and well-being. Sunlight allows our body to produce vitamin D which is needed for strong bones, a healthy body weight, and a robust immune system (so don't forget to bump up your vitamin D supplementation a little in the winter months!).
Sunlight also impacts our mood. The Winter Blues or the more severe Seasonal Affective Disorder are greatly impacted by our exposure to the sunlight.
Sunlight -> BDNF -> Mood
As we've talked about in previous newsletters and emails - BDNF has a robust molecular influence on mood (decreased mood/affect or depression are associated with low levels of BDNF). Research also shows that BDNF levels in our body can follow the circadian rhythm (higher in the morning and lower at night).
Knowing this, a group of researchers from Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands wanted to see if BDNF levels changed between days of longer (spring/summer months) and shorter (fall/winter months) sun exposure.
They tested blood samples of just under 3,000 people and found that BDNF levels were higher in Spring/Summer and lower Fall/Winter. As part of a further exploratory analysis, the researchers found that the number of weekly hours of sunshine prior to getting their blood drawn for the study were positively correlated with BDNF levels. Further strengthening the idea that sunlight impacts BDNF levels in our body.
Keeping levels of BDNF up during times when you aren't getting lots of sunlight may be an important strategy for staying in good spirits (no one wants to be around a Grinch this time of year!) this winter.
I guess I'll have a second cup of Neuro Coffee today (and tomorrow and the day after and the day after....) for an extra BDNF boost. Toss in a couple extra rounds of intervals during my exercise/cardio workouts and I'll be smiling until Spring :)