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Brightening moods on darker days; more benefits from walking

October 1, 2022 at 10:00 p.m.

Q: Winter's shorter days and lack of sunlight really affect me. What can I do to fight off my doom and gloom? -- Jessica D., Camden, Maine

A: Many people react negatively to the shorter days and longer nights. But, for some folks, it triggers a condition called SAD or seasonal affective disorder. It's estimated that around 10 million adults in the U.S. contend with it, and the majority are female. The symptoms are an annual recurrence for about four months of oversleeping, overeating, social withdrawal, irritability, grumpiness/depression, difficulty concentrating and weight gain.

To counter its effect, get outside into the sunshine for 30 minutes a day -- getting your 10,000 steps outside will help even more. It's also smart to install full-spectrum lightbulbs in your home. And, you may want to try light therapy every morning for about 30 minutes. Within the first hour of waking up, you'll sit a few feet from a light box that emits 10,000 lux. (The lower the light rating, the longer you have to sit there.) Your eyes must be open for the effect to occur; you can eat and read while doing it, but you cannot sleep during your light exposure and you shouldn't stare directly at the lights. If after a couple of weeks, you find 30 minutes a day isn't helping you feel better, try 60 minutes.

The early morning exposure to the light box seems to have a positive impact on your circadian rhythm and help keep hormones and other biochemical functions on track. But before you start light therapy, do talk with your primary care doctor. Ask if he or she has a recommendation about which light box model would be the best for you. You want to get one you will use everyday without any hassles. The Yale School of Medicine rated the best large and small light boxes: you can find the information at medicine.yale.edu/psychiatry. Search for "how to obtain a light box."

Q: I'm confused about the benefits of walking -- and how much to do. I am 47, and I am about 10 pounds overweight. What should I be doing? -- Jennifer T., Knoxville, Tennessee

A: There's a lot of talk about how much to walk and what it does for you -- and some of it seems contradictory. So, let me go through the new studies and then lay out my plan for getting the best benefits from putting one in front of the other!

A study in JAMA Open looked at 2,110 adults for more than 10 years and found that folks taking at least 7,000 steps a day had a 50% to 70% lower risk of dying over that time span. How intense those steps were didn't seem to matter much.

Then, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at more than 78,000 people for around seven years and found that up to 10,000 steps a day is associated with a lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and death. This study found that going faster may additionally reduce those risks. Vigorous walking was more than 130 steps per minute.

Another study in JAMA Neurology found that people ages 40 to 79 who took 9,826 steps daily were 50% less likely to develop dementia within seven years. In addition, the greatest impact on reducing dementia (62% vs. 50% risk reduction for 9,800 daily steps) came from 20 minutes a day of walking at an intense pace of 112 steps a minute. More than 10,000 steps a day didn't reduce dementia risk to a greater degree.

What do I recommend to protect your brain and heart, scare off cancer and live longer younger?

n At least 10,000 steps or the equivalent (cycling, swimming, playing tennis, gardening, etc.). You can mix it up!

n Interval exercise -- whether walking or other aerobics -- that combines moderate and intense bursts of activity. What is intense for you will evolve as you become more fit.

n Also, two days weekly of strength training.

Health pioneer Michael Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer emeritus at the Cleveland Clinic and author of four No. 1 New York Times bestsellers. His next book is "The Great Age Reboot: Cracking the Longevity Code for a Younger Tomorrow." Do you have a topic Dr. Mike should cover in a future column? If so, please email [email protected]

King Features Syndicate

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