Background: So-called atypical depressive symptoms (carbohydrate craving, prolonged sleep, weight gain, increased appetite) frequently emerge in association with low illumination to which people are ordinarily exposed indoors, or even outdoors at extreme latitudes in wintertime. Our objective was to analyse the effect of physical exercise alone or combined with bright light on mood and the health-related quality of life during winter.
Methods: We carried out a randomized controlled trial on 120 indoor employees in southern Finland between November and January. The subjects were allocated to supervised fitness training under bright (2500-4000 lx) or ordinary (400-600 lx) light conditions in a gym 2-3 times weekly for 8 weeks, or supervised relaxation training once a week over the same period as active placebo. We collected questionnaire data on the changes in mood and health-related quality of life after 4 and 8 weeks of training, and after 4 months follow-up.
Results: Fitness training in bright light resulted in greater relief from atypical depressive symptoms and more vitality than in ordinary room light. Compared with relaxation alone, the former regime improved general mental health and social functioning in addition to the improvement in depressive symptoms and vitality, whereas the latter only increased vitality.
Conclusions: Supervised physical exercise combined with exposure to bright light appears to be an effective intervention for improving mood and certain aspects of the health-related quality of life in wintertime. This effect appears unrelated to the history of season-dependent symptoms, being noticeable among healthy individuals.