By the time spring comes around, Tennesseans are restless. The first day that’s not cold or rainy, we’re outside — and we should be. We know our moderate spring weather will soon give way to blistering heat, so we have to take advantage.
But is what we’re experiencing really “spring fever?” And how do the changing seasons affect our health?
What is spring fever?
Today, spring fever often refers to positive — if disruptive — feelings:
Where did the idea of spring fever come from?
Originally, spring fever was associated more with our emotions than with the changing seasons. Poets wrote about racing hearts, daydreaming, and losing their appetites due to these feelings. And they talked about this surge of passion happening most in spring.
Can spring fever be negative?
Yes. For some people, spring fever has the opposite effect. “Springtime lethargy” is a kind of seasonal depression that can cause fatigue, or more seriously, depression or suicide. According to experts, people who suffer from depression survive winter on the hope spring will come and make them happier. When that doesn’t happen, they feel let down. That’s another reason why doctors recommend seeking help for mental health issues as soon as you suspect a problem.
Here are a few ways the changing seasons may affect your health.
The more time people spend outside on sunny, moderate days, the better their mood. These positive effects max out at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperatures hotter than that and people’s moods worsen.
In Tennessee, we pass the 72-degree mark most months of the year.
- In the northernmost parts of the state, the average temperature is higher than 72 degrees one-third of the year.
- In warmer areas like Memphis, the average temperature is above 72 degrees more than half of the year.
Humans have internal clocks that track daylight and adjust how much melatonin we produce accordingly. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep and affects mood. It’s only released in the dark or in dim light, so we produce more of it in the winter and at night. Some experts believe since we produce less in spring, our energy levels may increase.
Vitamin D plays a key role in the health of our bones and teeth. Exposure to the sun is the easiest way to get it. In the winter, many of us don’t get enough vitamin D due to fewer daylight hours and colder temperatures. When those obstacles are gone, we naturally seek out sunlight to restore the balance.
In Tennessee, daylight differs widely depending upon the season. In Knoxville, for example:
- The shortest days of winter, Knoxville gets 9 hours and 46 minutes of daylight.
- The longest days of summer, Knoxville gets 14 hours and 36 minutes of daylight.
That’s a huge difference — nearly 5 hours — so it’s not surprising that our mood and health get a boost as days get longer. Tennessee also observes Daylight Saving Time, setting the clock forward one hour each spring. That gives people more daylight in the afternoon and less in the morning. While people generally like that, there are some difficulties that come with the time change itself.
Activity levels rise as days get longer. Many of us gain weight in the winter due to reduced activity and increased calories, and the reverse can happen in spring. When we’re no longer at the mercy of cold temperatures and darkness, we get out and get active more often.
Want to make the most of your “spring fever?” Get outside.