Fresh air invigorating, even in the extreme cold

Laurie Snider
Notes from the Nest

Despite a vigorous shaking, the red line on the thermometer wouldn’t budge past minus-23 degrees Celsius! Taking the windchill into consideration made the number even worse. Brrr! I rummaged through the cupboards and found an extra vest or two to put on the dogs before we set out for our walk on Saturday. Even they seemed thankful for the extra layer. We’re smack dab in the middle of January and by many measures, this past weekend’s weather smashed historical averages.

We not only had to deal with our first real wallop of snow this season but also whipping, whirling winds and bone-chillingly frigid temperatures that may have momentarily made one think we were living in Nunavut not Napanee. Last night’s windchill was minus-35, definitely a three-dog night. This’s a primitive, nightly way of measuring the temperature by how many dogs you need to sleep with, to keep from freezing. In my case, I settled for two cats and a husband!

I don’t dislike winter. In fact, I’m exceedingly grateful to live in a country, where there are four seasons. Each one has its own particular gifts to offer. Over the years I’ve been a fan of all things winter, including skiing, skating and sledding. It’s only my arthritis now that prevents me from participating, as fully in these activities, as I once used to.

This particular time of year, it’d be easy to become house bound and succumb to a case of the winter blues. It’s something I must work at to make sure I don’t yield to my natural instinct to hibernate. This’s one of the many perks of having dogs, for companions. In all manner of weather, they get you out of the house. So, after donning their new winter gear, I loaded them up in the sports-utility vehicle and we drove out to the countryside for a little robust, polar exertion.

Despite negative temperatures, after a few great games of chase the rubber balls, I’m pleased to report that with the exception of a few frozen whiskers, a frosty snow beard or two and, in my case, rosy, red icy cheeks, our blood was pumping. We were all invigorated, by some light exposure and a bit of lively movement.

For two-to-three per cent of the population, a decrease in light exposure during winter months, leads to a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. This’s a real medical condition, that can affect anyone, even those not predisposed to depression. More women than men are affected and it’s usually a disorder seen in northern climates. It leads to extreme fatigue, lethargy, an increased craving for carbohydrates, weight gain, irritability and a decreased desire to engage in usual activities.

The pineal gland, a pea-sized part of the brain, produces melatonin during the night and periods of low light. Increased levels of melatonin may make you feel drowsy, flat and that you can’t wake up. Scientists are also studying the effects of sunlight on serotonin levels, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain, which regulates mood and behaviour.

Treatment usually involves some form of light therapy. Those affected are exposed to a bright light, that mimics sunlight, for 30 minutes to two hours daily. In some cases, anti-depressants are used as well. In addition, a healthy diet, proper amounts of rest, daily physical activity, including spending time outside each day, have been shown to be beneficial. Usually come spring, with increasing amounts of sunlight, symptoms start to wane.

For me one of the positives of allocating a portion of the day for outdoor time, even in the bitter cold is, how good the indoors feels, once you come back in. So, dinner by the fire on Saturday evening, was especially pleasant. Even a simple meal can be elevated to an epicurean delight, under the right circumstances. In this case a hearty stew, enjoyed by the fire that was snap, crackling and popping nearby. It’s red and orange flames flickering and dancing, as they draped the room in their comforting warmth and glow.

Sunday morning again called me to be outside, following Saturday evening’s big snow. Layer upon layer of thick flakes settled onto the ground, during the night, while the howling, raging wind swirled them into soft peaks, leaving them looking like a bowl of freshly, whipped cream. Sidewalks, porches and paths needed to be cleared, as well as seedy offerings taken out for my fine-feathered friends.

Regardless of the stinging chill, I was getting into this open-air therapy. I believe that I discovered embracing this shivery, wintry weekend was the key. And as long as I have a few dogs, a couple of cats and a husband to snuggle up to, I think I just might make it until spring.

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