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Self-medication through exercise

Sometimes, rolling out of bed and splashing some cold water on your face just isn’t enough in the morning. Some would say that that’s what coffee is for, but I beg to differ. After working out, I feel awake. Not to say that it can’t be a struggle to get out of bed to exercise, but once I do, the lethargic feeling goes away and I feel ready to take on the day both mentally and physically. It’s not a coincidence that most people say that to relieve stress or clear their mind, they go for a jog or a walk. Exercise is proven to help the brain to function at its finest, which in my opinion is just as important as the obvious physical benefits.

Phoebe Glick/Collegian

I read the book “Spark,” by John J. Ratey, which proves that exercise can solve or help many bodily problems. The book explains that a significant increase in daily exercise can reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD, addictions and aging due to the chemicals it releases in the brain.

The first case study in the book is about how a physical education teacher in Chicago added exercise tasks to gym class and required students to exercise at school before classes started. Overall, students felt more awake for the rest of the day at school and performed better in their studies, and better nationally as a school. There is no doubt in my mind that this worked. Whenever I start off my day by working out, I feel much more awake, and for longer than if I was to roll out of bed, get ready, have breakfast, and continue on with my day without that little physical boost.

Who needs coffee when you’ve got your own power?

Forget about all the awkward memories from high school Physical Education class and imagine if the University of Massachusetts had a Physical Education requirement such as this: during the early years of Massachusetts Agricultural College, which would later become UMass, Physical Education was required of all students and was enforced through the required courses in the Department of Military Science and Tactics. If we must take a Biological Science course, for example, then they could make us take “gym,” right? There is really no way it could be monitored or controlled on a college campus, unless it were to be graded as a graduation requirement and placed into students’ schedules, but there is a higher chance that students would perform better in their academics. After exercise, you become more alert, which enables you to concentrate in class and study better. Exercise also enlarges the basal ganglia, the part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts.

The recently built Recreation Center is motivation for students to exercise. It’s easily accessible between classes with amazing equipment, exercise classes and an indoor track. We, as the undergraduate student body, and as young adults, can decide for ourselves whether we would like to exercise more, but sometimes a little push or reminder of the positive benefits can nudge us to get going. The worst part of doing something is usually starting. Writing that paper is much easier once you’ve actually sat down, opened your laptop, and begun typing, agreed? If that doesn’t motivate you, would better grades? Past studies from the University of Illinois found that even just 20 minutes of walking before a test raised children’s scores, no matter what their witness level was.

Exercise improves ADHD patients’ (and everyone else’s) symptoms of lack of focus and stress. This is an effective treatment because it relieves muscle tension and increases the release of more neurotransmitters that in effect, calm brain activity. This is similar to what anti-depressants and ADHD medication do. Talk to anyone who has ADD or ADHD and they’ll tell you it’s true that increasing physical activity decreases their symptoms. How’s that for an inverse relationship? If someone has time for an extra increased amount of exercise, they would not have to add neurotransmitters by means of medication, and instead allow physical activity to stimulate the chemicals. This is one of the reasons, among others such as not having to deal with side effects, why children’s parents take them off their ADHD medication in the summer. Since they aren’t cooped up in a classroom all day at school, they are able to be out and about, being more active than during the academic year. In college and in the real world, however, anybody, with self-motivation at least, can make the time for their own form of medication: exercise.

This is particularly helpful for recovering drug addicts. “Among the thirty-five thousand people who ran the New York City Marathon in November of 2006 were sixteen former drug addicts,” according to Ratey, author of “Spark.” It is mind blowing to me what it took for them to not only overcome their addiction, but train to run 26.2 miles. Drugs are stimulants or relaxants, but nicotine acts as both at the same time. Exercise fights the urge to smoke because it increases dopamine and lowers levels of anxiety, tension, and stress, what makes people irritable when they are trying to quit. Different drugs boost dopamine in the area of the brain to learn behavior that brings us what we like, want, or need and can create addictions (Speaking of addictions, “Facebook Addiction Disorder” is a new mental disorder, according to many sources. It’s honestly too tough to walk away from Facebook. Go look it up).

People just need to swap their addiction-related actions for exercise in order to get basically the same effect. Since individuals can become addicted to drugs, they can also be addicted to exercise, but in a good way. If I could be addicted to anything it would be exercise because it makes you feel much better than any abnormal substance ever could.

Karen Podorefsky is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at kpodoref@student.umass.edu.

 

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