The winter blues are not a medical diagnosis, but they are real and they can affect many Minnesotans.

What are the winter blues? What are ways to avoid them, especially since a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be growing, spurring a four-week “pause” across the state.

The winter blues can also turn into Seasonal Affective Disorder. That is a medical condition, a type of depression, that often occurs in the winter months. It’s linked to tiredness, sleeping too much, carbohydrate cravings, stomach pain, difficulty concentrating and weight gain.

Weight gain? What?

One way to beat the winter blues, and/or weight gain, is to exercise. It’s not always that easy, but it can be a start.

With COVID-19 hanging around through the winter and people likely flocking back to indoor gyms when they are allowed to reopen, where one can burn off calories, reduce the stress and stay safe?

How about cross country skiing or snowshoeing? What about riding the snow trails on a fat bike? Trying hiking the snow-filled trails. All this can be down in the many Three Rivers District Parks across the state.

Snowshoeing has grown in popularity over the years. You don’t necessarily need vigorous exercise to try to avoid the winter blues either. A brisk hike or slow walk in snowshoes in beautiful scenery might just do the trick.

“You can snowshoe almost anywhere,” Barbara Young of Boundary Country Trekking, told Minnesota Explore. “You don’t need a trail. If you’re the first one in, you can head into the woods and break your own trail. You won’t get lost because you can just turn around and follow your own tracks out.”

Minnesota is known for its plethora of cross-country ski trails. There are more than 2,000 miles of them in the state.

Many parks have snow-making machines to keep the trails perfect, including Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington, Elk Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove and Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.

There are two different types of Nordic skiing: classic (in two tracks) and freestyle or skate style (no tracks). Classical tends to be the easier one for beginning skiers.

Biking in Minnesota isn’t just seasonal anymore either. Many riding enthusiasts have switched to fat bikes in the winter months to get around or to exercise. It’s just another way to get outdoors.

So to avoid the winter blues or worse, SAD, which affects 10 million Americans, according to Psychology Today, getting outside more can help.

Dr. Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation for the American Psychological Association, said on that those who normally don’t experience the winter blues may be at more risk for them this winter due to the ongoing pandemic.

Low-impact exercise of just getting some sun can help reduce that risk.

“Take a walk on your lunch break. Hike, ski or snowshoe on the weekends, or sit by the window and read,” Wright said.

Tom Schardin covers sports for Savage and Prior Lake. He is dependable, sarcastic and always joking around. Tom enjoys running and swimming and is often busy coaching his two kids' sports teams.