Warmth and Mood

Chalk it up to the long snowy cold days we’ve been enduring — or to the research I’ve been doing for a couple of articles about depression — but I wasn’t too surprised to find out that warmth can improve mood. And I thought I’d share it, because I’ve decided to focus as much as I can on the overlap between what we enjoy and what is actually good for us. That’s a lot of overlap by the way, and it includes such lovely treats as long walks in the woods, homemade hot chocolate, and a colorful fruit salad. But for the moment, let’s just talk about warmth.

It turns out that people who are depressed have a disordered body temperature and temperature perception. Their body temperature might be higher than normal, by only a degree and a bit, but they tend to feel cold more often than their peers. Exposure to heat for a period of time appears to reset the system, resulting in relief from depression symptoms. When this is done clinically, the individual sits in an enclosed space in what would usually be unpleasantly high heat, as opposed to sitting bundled up in a blanket by the fire. Although that certainly helps, as does holding a hot mug of cocoa or coffee. You can find the research in the January 2015 issue of Frontiers in Psychology (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=warmth+depression+Raison)

As far as I am concerned, this news explains a current trend: hot yoga. This style of yoga, practiced for an hour or more in a room heated to 108 degrees F, certainly has its devotees. I have to admit that I also enjoy hot yoga, although the vigorous hot yoga has so far proven to be too much for me. But I will grant that one walks out of that hot yoga studio both drenched in sweat and feeling a kind of euphoria that I haven’t had since I used to run in the heat in San Antonio. So perhaps there is something to the research. Now, if you can, go for a long hot sit in a sauna!

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