How’s that New Year’s resolutions coming? Uh, huh! If it were anything like mine, it went something like, “Well, I’d start that diet if it wasn’t so cold, January’s not the right time. After all, I’ve almost mastered my Olympian sumo-couch-potato with the aspiration of becoming Jabba the Hutt, and in these cold winter months that just feels so much cozier. The good news is, in some cultures and traditions, the start of the new year begins in spring. Phew, I get a mulligan. Now’s a great time to draw a line in the sand and renew those long-term goals you may have already let slip. It’s time to declare a fresh start! There’s even some science to the joy of spring.
The first day of spring marks the vernal equinox, a balance of daylight and darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, this amounts to an average increase of three hours of light since the winter solstice, roughly a 20 percent gain. Light and warmth gives birth to hope. Spring lifts our spirits, providing a bridge from the barren darkness of winter to the bright warmth of summer. It is full of psychic potential because increased serotonin is produced. Serotonin is a major feel good neurotransmitter in the nervous system. Research suggests that for many people, the extended daylight boosts mood, well-being and energy. Dopamine — a neurotransmitter associated with attention, motivation, pleasure and mood — also seems to increase with more exposure to sunlight.
But there may be even more to light than neurochemical responses. Research has shown a definite genetic component to seasonal changes. A recent study published in Nature Communications1 showed that DNA reacts to the seasons, changing your body’s chemistry depending on the time of year and “as many as one-fifth of all genes in blood cells undergo seasonal changes in expression”. Light, for example, triggers genes controlling your body’s clock, which impacts our hormones in a way that lines up with the seasons. These hormones govern our sleep-wake cycles, among other daily functions. Things like alertness, melatonin levels, and heart rate modulation are influenced by light. The study found that in the winter for example, our blood contains a larger blend of immune responders to fight viral infections. These seasonal changes could provide insight into inflammatory diseases like hypertension, and autoimmune diseases. While in summer our vascular system is teaming with fat-burning, bodybuilding, water-retaining hormones.
Fat-burning, bodybuilding, water-retaining hormones? Yey! I feel better already. Just remember procrastination has given us something to look forward to. And Spring has given me the hope and encouragement to renew my New Year’s goals and start the trek down Mount Indulgence. Like the birds and beasts, we too are called out of our psychological hibernation, to dance in the joy of Mother Nature’s rebirth through the glorious months of Spring.