'Winter blues' is a real condition causing mild lethargy and depression due to a lack of sunshine combined with the psychological effect of the colder weather setting in.

Also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the most serious of sufferers experience such strong symptoms of fatigue and depression that their lives are seriously disrupted.

Where does SAD come from?
It’s believed that daylight triggers a reaction in our bodies each morning that stops us from producing melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel drowsy so we can sleep. In the fall and winter months the lack of daylight can mean some peoples' bodies don’t stop producing melatonin - leaving them feeling tired all the time.

Exposure to sunlight also boosts levels of serotonin, the brain’s chemical which makes us feel happy. During the winter months the body produces less serotonin, which can also lead to depression.

If this cold and dreary weather has left you feeling down in the dumps, these health tips could help you start to feel brighter and more energetic.

Get outside
Fluorescent lighting and all forms of artificial lighting are many times weaker than the natural light available out-of-doors. A clear morning has a light intensity of 4,000 lux (the measurement of light intensity) and even an overcast day offers 1,000 lux.

Your well-lit office or factory, on the other hand, only offers you up to 500 lux which is not enough light to stimulate serotonin.

Go grab your jacket and get outside for at least a few minutes of natural daylight each day and perhaps grab some well-needed Vitamin D from any sunshine that hits your face!

Move more
Research has proved that exercise can help relieve mild depression and the effects of the winter blues. Just half an hour of aerobic exercise three times a week should help. Although it is still not known exactly why, exercise seems to produce a feel-good hormones that can relieve mild depression. Swimming and gym work are ideal ways to get this kind of aerobic workout. Exercising with a friend can also help to keep you motivated and socially stimulated.

So, whether you are running on the treadmill in your basement or sweating it out in a group cycling class, get up off the couch and get moving!

Eat dark chocolate
People affected by the winter blues often crave foods containing a natural amino acid called tryptophan found in most dark chocolate. Tryptophan helps the body manufacture serotonin, which the body produces on its own when exposed to sunshine. Not all chocolate contains the same amount of tryptophan, as the amount of tryptophan is directly related to the amount of cocoa bean content.

The more expensive the dark chocolate, the higher the cocoa bean content and usually the less sugar it contains – which will make it healthier, too. But remember, everything in moderation!

Beating seasonal affective disorder can be as simple as engaging in positive lifestyle and active social activities. Yet, if your symptoms persist or become debilitating, please consult with your physician.