The three-hit punch of winter's shorter days, the end of Daylight Savings Time and frigid temperatures are often all the excuse we needed to stop those after-work exercise routines. It's not easy to find motivation to go walking or jogging after driving home in the pitch dark and finally getting warm and toasty inside. In fact, a large study showed that a fairly definitive decline in physical activity occurs with children due to the end of daylight savings time.
While the initial loss of an hour causes a shock to one's schedule, the extra hour of daylight (and seasonally lengthier days) give us all the opportunity needed to get out and get active again. While it's important to take advantage of every opportunity to exercise, this abrupt shift can cause some unwelcome changes in your body's natural rhythm, so it's important to exercise..and exercise caution to let your body adjust.
One Hour, Many Consequences
There are plenty of benefits to overall health from the extra hour of daylight, from motivation to get off the couch to additional sunlight and Vitamin D, but there are a many important things to keep in mind before you try go from doing little to being active overnight.
Heart Attacks: Studies have found an association between DST and an increase in heart attack admissions. Since DST gets going right before the workweek, the changes in your sleep-wake cycle and the normal stress of Mondays can really boost risk.
Circadian Rhythm: Exposure to daylight is a major trigger for the mechanism that naturally manages our internal clock. In addition, the loss of an hour of sleep can cause sleep deprivation which can leave you at reduced energy levels for your workout and a greater chance for injury.
Safety: Driver fatigue is already a major cause of road accidents, and sleep deprivation from the time change really enhances the risk, based on studies.
Sun Exposure: For many on a regular work schedule, they may be in the sun barely minutes during an average day. Once the days get longer, the risk of skin cancer may increase with the longer daylight hours and higher UV intensity.
Tips for a Healthy Transition into Daylight Savings Time and Exercise
- Use the weekend to take it easy. Try to build up a little extra sleep on Friday and Saturday to help make up for the lost hour.
- Drink extra fluids and be very cautious with alcohol and caffeine (and limit even more than usual).
- Use extra caution on the roads, especially in the darker mornings right after the change.
- Do exercise and get a little sunlight - but don't overdo it right away. Exercise releases serotonin, which is a brain chemical that helps the body adjust. With the inherent increased risk due to the extra stress on your body's internal clock, plan to ease into things, especially if you've been mostly sedentary during the winter months. Try a slow 20-30 minute walk to get started.
- Try to keep your same schedule even after the time change. Consider setting one of your clocks forward 1-2 days before the official switch. This includes not adding in extra naps to catch up if you get tired at first.
- Watch changing hunger cues. With the time change, you may be hungry for meals earlier or later than usual. Try not to eat too close to heading to bed, as this will interfere with digestion and quality of sleep.
While there are some definite things to watch out for, the beginning of Daylight Savings Time can be great for your overall mood and personal health. Be sure to take advantage of the extra daylight and get out of any winter slump you may have been in!