Fall has arrived. The colors are most beautiful and the trees are beginning to spread those exotic colors that make the outdoors so divine to be in. I love this time of year. The cooler weather, the fresh crisp air smell, and those vibrant colors that spread all over that always leave me speechless.
Red, yellow, orange, and brown are the colors of the leaves before they fall to the ground. Autumn (sometimes called fall) is one of the four seasons of the year and is the time of year that transitions summer into winter. Along with the tree leaves changing color, the temperature grows colder, plants stop making food, animals prepare for the long months ahead, and the daylight starts growing shorter.
I have always wondered how exactly fall worked. Why those trees would express such brilliant colors and then shed all those leaves within just a couple of weeks.
The Autumnal Equinox
The autumnal equinox occurs around September 23 each year. Why is this day important? On that day, the sun provides equal amounts of daylight time and nighttime. It tells us in the northern hemisphere (where the United States is located) that we are entering the season of autumn, and we will soon be losing daylight hours.
While the northern hemisphere experiences autumn, the southern hemisphere experiences spring. When the northern hemisphere experiences spring, the southern hemisphere experiences autumn. If you happen to live close the equator (the invisible line around the center of Earth), you will never see autumn because it stays warm all year long.
In the fall as the weather grows colder, many plants stop producing food. The short amount of sunlight makes the leaves begin to change to yellow, orange, and red colors before turning brown and falling off. The evergreen trees do not lose their leaves because they naturally produce a wax cover on their needles that protects them from freezing.
Depending on where you live, you will start to see animals begin to store food in their nests and dens, like squirrels who gather acorns before winter. Some animals, like bears, eat extra food to build up extra fat on their bodies, while others will grow warmer coats of fur to stay warm all winter. The animals will find a private, hidden place to stay safe, warm, and dry while they sleep through the cold months.
This always got me asking... Why do Leaves Change Color
During the spring and summer, the leaves have served as factories where most of the foods necessary for the tree's growth are manufactured. This food-making process takes place in the leaf in numerous cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color. This extraordinary chemical absorbs from sunlight the energy that is used in transforming carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch.
Along with the green pigment are yellow to orange pigments, carotenes, and xanthophyll pigments which, for example, give the orange color to a carrot. Most of the year these colors are masked by great amounts of green coloring.
Chlorophyll Breaks Down
But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves the part of their fall splendor.
At the same time, other chemical changes may occur, which form additional colors through the development of red anthocyanin pigments. Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees such as dogwoods and sumacs, while others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange.
The autumn foliage of some trees shows only yellow colors. Others, like many oaks, display mostly browns. All these colors are due to the mixing of varying amounts of chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the fall season.
Other Changes Take Place
As the fall colors appear, other changes are taking place. At the point where the stem of the leaf is attached to the tree, a special layer of cells develops and gradually severs the tissues that support the leaf. At the same time, the tree seals the cut, so that when the leaf is finally blown off by the wind or falls from its own weight, it leaves behind a leaf scar.
Most of the broad-leaved trees in the North shed their leaves in the fall. However, the dead brown leaves of the oaks and a few other species may stay on the tree until growth starts again in the spring. In the South, where the winters are mild, some of the broad-leaved trees are evergreen; that is, the leaves stay on the trees during winter and keep their green color.
Only Some Trees Lose Leaves
Most of the conifers - pines, spruces, firs, hemlocks, cedars, etc. - are evergreen in both the North and South. The needle- or scale-like leaves remain green or greenish year round, and individual leaves may stay on for two to four or more years.
Weather Affects Color Intensity
Temperature, light, and water supply have an influence on the degree and the duration of fall color. Low temperatures above freezing will favor anthocyanin formation producing bright reds in maples. However, early frost will weaken the brilliant red color. Rainy and/or overcast days tend to increase the intensity of fall colors. The best time to enjoy the autumn color would be on a clear, dry, and cool (not freezing) day.
Now with those cool facts in mind, we also go through some changes ourselves as we gear up for the winter.
As we shift from shorts and swimsuits to sweaters and scarves, it is important to recognize the ways in which our bodies adjust to the seasons internally. Bare branches and orange leaves scattered about the grass make the changes in our external environment obvious, but our physical response to the shift in seasons is often much more subtle.
Seasonal forecast: your skin will be dryer
The most common response to fall return is drier skin. Many of us find ourselves reapplying lip balm more frequently and maybe even using a stronger moisturizer. This can be attributed to the decrease in temperature and humidity, which forces the skin to work harder to maintain hydration. According to dermatologists, the skin thrives most in consistent conditions. This means that every seasonal shift and change in weather acts like a shock to the system, disrupting the typical chemical balance of our skin and causing dryness and sometimes severe acne.
Exercise helps boost a sluggish metabolism
Another consequence of seasonal changes that many people experience is increased weight. Like many other mammals, humans are known to store fat during the winter months. On a scientific level, this is due to the fact that, during the seasonal change between late summer and early fall, our bodies increase their insulin resistance. This causes our livers to increase fat production so that we can store fat in our tissues and be better prepared for the winter. The best way to combat fat build-up is through diet and exercise. Aerobic exercise, like swimming and running, is especially effective at stimulating the metabolism and burning calories.
Shining a bright light on Seasonal Affective Disorder
Unfortunately, the changing of the seasons can have even more serious repercussions than dry skin and weight gain. For example, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, can cause major depressive episodes, usually beginning in late fall or early winter. The journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that SAD causes individuals to secrete the hormone melatonin for longer periods during winter nights than during summer nights. This implies that SAD drives people to sleep more during the winter even when their bodies are fully rested. Similarly, the Journal of Psychosomatic Research published a study in which participants slept nearly three hours more each day in October than any other time of year. They linked the results of this study to the fact that hypersomnia, the medical term for excessive daytime sleepiness, sometimes occurs when the air starts to crisp up as it does in the fall. Depressive episodes and excessive amounts of sleep can severely impact one’s daily function and inhibit our ability to accomplish essential tasks. For this reason, it is important to remain attentive to changes in your general well-being during winter months. If you feel you have SAD, speak to your doctor about using a light-therapy box. It’s important to be sure that the light therapy approach will help your condition and not negatively affect any other disorders.
Take special care of your body and your heart
Even though our bodies have response mechanisms set in place to ease the shock of seasonal changes, harsh winters sometimes bring with them the threat of serious health complications. Researchers found that there is a higher rate of heart attacks during the winter than any other season. One cause for this is that, paired with a weakened immune system and higher blood pressure, strenuous outdoor activity can place serious strain on the heart, leaving individuals at a much higher risk for a heart attack.
Don’t forget your flu and pneumonia vaccines
Scientists note that colder temperatures create a friendlier environment for cold and flu viruses. Unfortunately, this leaves individuals particularly susceptible to illness during the fall and winter months. For this reason, it is imperative that you remain up-to-date on your vaccinations. If you have not received your flu or pneumonia shot yet, call your primary care provider today to schedule an appointment.
7 Things to Help Avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder
These seasonal difficulties also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a form of depression that has a seasonal pattern that can start in fall and last until spring. As the days get shorter and colder, the lack of sunlight can leave you feeling sad, and low energy or you may experience changes in sleep and eating habits (usually wanting to sleep and eat more) and the desire to isolate.
SAD is more than just “winter blues." The symptoms can be distressing, and overwhelming and can interfere with daily function. SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain caused by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter.
Common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
Feeling of sadness or depressed mood.
Marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed.
Changes in appetite - usually eating more, craving carbohydrates.
Change in sleep - usually sleeping too much.
Loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours.
Increase in restless activity (such as hand-wringing or pacing), or slowed movements and speech.
Feeling worthless or guilty.
Trouble concentrating or making decisions.
Thoughts of death or suicide; attempts at suicide.
SAD can be effectively treated in a number of ways, including light therapy, antidepressant medication, talk therapy or some combination of these. While symptoms will generally improve on their own with the change of season, symptoms can improve more quickly with treatment.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help prevent this disorder, beginning with certain lifestyle changes. There are seven different aspects of well-being, and you can focus on making changes in each during the seven months of fall and winter:
Physical – Maintaining your level of exercise and a healthy balanced diet are great ways to elevate your mood and energy levels throughout the winter months. It is also important to regulate your sleep patterns; avoid sleeping during the day and avoid overindulging in caffeine and alcohol. Smile! Your smile can lift your mood as well as the mood of others.
Emotional – Keep a gratitude journal. It’s easy to get sucked into all the parts of the day that aren’t perfect. Instead, make a point to write down what you’re grateful for each day.
Social – Make an effort to keep socializing in a safe way. During COVID-19, many people are feeling isolated - especially older adults. Maintain social relationships by making a phone call, setting up a video chat, sending a letter or even writing a few quick text messages. Checking in on other people can help boost both your spirits and theirs.
Intellectual – We can all think of reasons why we shouldn't get something done, but creating and sticking to a schedule can help you avoid isolation and dwelling on things that make you feel down.
Spiritual – Be mindful of this moment. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of winter, embrace the season and find things you like about it.
Environmental– Get outside! Even if it’s only for a few minutes, the fresh air and sunshine can help you feel refreshed. Light bulbs that emit a certain wavelength that mimic the vitamin D in sunlight can also be helpful to use periodically.
Vocational – Focus on the positive and try to manage your stress. Do something that relaxes you, like reading a book or taking a bath.
it's especially important to remember to stay positive. In times of constant negative messaging, strive for a positive attitude and move forward with determination and hope. Engage in activities that are positive, heartwarming, stress-reducing and laughter-inducing - and remember that we will get through this.
These simple actions can help you stay positive:
Remember that things will not be this way forever.
Remind yourself of what is good in your life.
Limit intake of TV time.
Watch a funny video.
Look after your neighbors and stay safe.
Send gifts in the mail.
Take advantage of newfound time.
Practice random acts of kindness.
So with that, lets embrace this upcoming Fall this year, enjoy the colors, and have a wonderful week. As Always,