The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 18, 2013

What pulls us home when winter casts long shadows?

POINT BLANK: By John Blankenship
Register-Herald Columnist

BECKLEY — The shortness of these days and their icy landscapes compel us to seek comfort in our most cherished places: in the warm embrace of a familiar high-backed chair, under the fluffy texture of a feather-filled comforter, or reclining in a tranquil corner near the hissing embers of a family-room fireplace.

If your hearth is where your heart is this time of year, blame it on the season.

Short days and cold nights and not much going on —you’ve watched the wildebeests cross the crocodile-infested Congo River on the Discovery Channel for the hundredth time.

You’ve sugarcoated your arteries with enough holiday-inspired carbohydrates to kill an elephant.

Getting into your jeans is a tug-of-war and the bathroom scales light up like a slot-machine when you gingerly climb on.

Most of us would rather tread hot coals than weigh in after weeks of pigging out on peanut butter fudge and chocolate-covered Oreo cookies.

No wonder January is the month of renewal, recovery and resolve, when gyms are packed like shopping malls in December. The body, after all, can only take so much down time.

Or can it?

For up to 6 percent of Americans, the holidays signal a downward spiral of inactivity and depression that reaches its nadir in January and February. They’re victims of a loosely defined malady known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

Temporary, to be sure, but the malady is traumatic enough to inspire treatment with everything from lamps that emit artificial sunlight to prescription drugs.

These winter blues are more common among residents of states where it’s cloudy about one out of every three days — states like West Virginia, for instance.

Dark days might even be compounded by the stresses of recent holiday spending sprees that have all but depleted the family budget until the spring thaw arrives in April.

Not too uplifting for anyone prone to dark moods.

Unfortunately, there is a quack on every corner suggesting a remedy, trying to sell you vitamins or a lamp, when you may be clinically depressed to start with.

Most people who handle the changing seasons with relative equanimity are those who hike or play tennis or exercise at a local spa as part of their fitness lifestyle.

Fit folk probably adapt to the extremes of temperature and darkness better than the unfit.

Winter time, with its built-in frustrations and delays, may be universally the worst time to start a diet or fitness regimen.

What is the best time?

Probably when the weather is most favorable and outside demands are less daunting.

Some health professionals suggest getting some fresh air in the morning, when, ideally, those first few rays of sunlight will brighten your spirits.

People who have a sport are the luckiest.

They really don’t think of it as an obligation to exercise. They don’t say: I must do so much today and half that much the next day.

In truth, a walk around the lake or a stroll to the park might be the thing to revive your spirits.

Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I usually lie down for a few minutes until the feeling passes.

But once I get involved in some strenuous activity, the easier it is to continue. Getting started is the hardest part.

I plan to start working out tomorrow in my gym, or maybe one day next week.

Until then, I think I’ll just lie down on the sofa and see if those wildebeests have made it across the Congo River …

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald.