We shared earlier this year how warm, sunny weather can enhance your mood and mental state. In fact, winter depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can have the opposite effect – causing feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts or actions, and withdraw from social activities.
According to the Yale School of Medicine, those living in Canada and the northern United States are up to eight times more likely to suffer from SAD than people living in the southern U.S. where the sun shines more in the winter months.
Sounds like a good excuse to go south for the winter, as so many residents of northern regions do. But does all that sunshine and warm weather really help with avoiding depression?
Vitamin D, Serotonin and a Whole Lot More
Getting out into the sunshine may feel good, but the science behind that feeling can be complicated. First, sunshine has been shown to add Vitamin D to the body. “Vitamin D is unique because it can be made in the skin from exposure to sunlight,” according to the Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics. There are numerous health benefits to having an adequate amount of Vitamin D, including helping reduce depression, heart disease and cognitive impairment.
A lack of Vitamin D can also cause the disease rickets, which is especially concerning among elderly people. Rickets can cause muscle weakness, leading to falls and fractures.
In addition to Vitamin D, sunlight prompts the body to create another helpful hormone called serotonin. According to Healthline, “Sunlight cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin.” This hormone helps improve mood and help promote calmness. In fact, the absence of serotonin has been related to depression and other mental health concerns.
Sun is Important, But Social Connections Matter More
If you are considering a move in your retirement, sunny weather is just one of many factors to think about. [CLICK TO TWEET]
According to a recent article in USA Today, retirees should think about the kind of lifestyle they want – whether that’s spending time with people your same age, full of amenities like walking trails or golf courses, or close to entertainment like theater, sporting events or restaurants.
Importantly, the USA Today article suggests that social connections are more important than climate:
“What fun is a warm, cheap retirement if it’s lonely? For millions, community and lifestyle are key. Ponder the lifestyle you covet. Do you want to visit grandchildren weekly? Or are you OK with a FaceTime relationship and occasional visit? … Realtor.com estimates 85 percent of retirees stay where they raised their kids. A lifetime of social connections is irreplaceable.”
Retirement Means a Change of Lifestyle
Regardless of where you spend your golden years after you retire, one thing is for certain: you need to view your retirement as a change in your lifestyle – not just ending a job. It’s not just a paycheck you leave behind when you retire – you also lose part of your identity, your daily interaction with co-workers, and some place to get up and go to every morning.
Having a set plan for how to ensure you have a new social network and purpose is very important. The Harvard Health Blog suggests four steps:
- Make new social connections. To stave off loneliness, which can lead to depression, it’s important to establish new social network which can help both your mental and physical health. Find someone or a group of people who share(s) the same interests and make a plan to get together.
- Get active & find hobbies. Playing a new sport (pickleball or golf are popular options), traveling, playing cards, or finding a new activity with others can help you build new friendships (or reconnect with old ones).
- Creativity is key. “Activating your creative side can help keep your brain healthy” according to the blog. Write, paint, woodwork, teach Sunday school, play an instrument – the possibilities are endless.
- Never stop learning. Keeping your brain active and constantly learning is important for brain health. So, read, take a class, learn how to play Sudoku, or do something to keep your mind active and constantly evolving.
Get Outside a Little Bit (Even If It’s Cold!)
Getting more sunshine can be easier said than done. For people who live in the northern half of the U.S., getting outside in the winter can be problematic due to snow, extreme cold weather, or ice.
Those who are interested in staying active are often left to indoor activities – like working out in the gym or walking in a local mall. While any form of exercise is good, researchers at the University of Essex in England found that just five minutes of doing an outdoor activity (like gardening, hiking, or fishing) could boost mental health. So, even on the coldest days, it might be a good idea to take a walk around the block. University of Essex study leader Jules Pretty, said those “who were generally inactive, or stressed, or with mental illness would probably benefit the most from ‘green exercise.’”
Regardless of where you spend your retirement, keeping physically, mentally and socially active will keep you happy, healthy and young at heart.