There is something about stepping outside on a warm, sunny day that lifts any doldrums and clears the mental cobwebs. I have often wondered if there is any biological basis for improved mood when the weather warms up. It turns out that there are a plethora of studies conducted on this topic. It is quite complex and not as straightforward as it may seem at first glance.
Most people are familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and may suffer from the adverse effects of the cold and decreased amount of daylight during the winter months. There is data to show as the amount of sunlight increases during spring, the depressed mood abates. The question arises, however, what exactly is the mechanism that results in the improved mood?
Well, sun exposure increases our vitamin D levels, and some studies have shown vitamin D plays a role in mood. So those who suffer from SAD often take this supplement during the winter months and then are recommended to get out in nature to organically increase their vitamin D levels once the daylight hours extend.
Another factor may be the decrease in sedentary activities that are associated with the winter months. With warmer weather and longer days, spending time outdoors becomes more attractive. For many of us in the Northeast, the winter months mean arriving home when it is already dark, not to mention the temperature is quickly dropping. It is challenging to motivate oneself to bundle up after a day of work/school to enjoy the outdoors in the dark. The increase in the number of daylight hours means we arrive home with several hours left in the day to get outside for a walk or other activities. As many of us are aware, there is a correlation between physical activity and mood, as engaging in physical activity results in increased endorphins.
Thus, it is a combination of factors that contribute to our personal feeling that life is better when the sun shines and the temperature warms up. Grab your sneakers and head out into nature before the sun goes down!
Dr. Lisa Hahn is a clinical neuropsychologist, board-certified in both neuropsychology and the subspecialty of pediatric neuropsychology. Dr. Hahn is a life-span neuropsychologist with specialties in children and adolescents with a variety of neurodevelopmental and acquired conditions. She is experienced in providing Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) for families and school districts. She is a member of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology (AACN), International Neuropsychological Society (INS), and Division 40 (Clinical Neuropsychology) of the American Psychological Association (APA).