Massachusetts Daily Collegian

How exercise will help you get through your day

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(Daily Collegian Archive)

As your heart rate begins to climb and beads of sweat drip down your forehead, your muscles are hard at work. It is the first time all day that you are in your body instead of your mind; breathing is your only focus. Tomorrow’s assignments don’t matter. Any and all of life’s frustrations only motivate you to run faster, lift heavier, or finish one more rep.

As college students, many of us attempt to include regular trips to the gym in our hectic schedules. Whether our motivation is to improve athletic performance or alter what we see on the scale or in the mirror, we all know that exercise is good for our bodies. However, we don’t nearly as often hear about the mental benefits of exercise.

The American Psychological Association recently performed a survey among college students in the U.S., the results of which demonstrated growing concerns about student mental health. About 41.6 percent of college students experience strong feelings of anxiety, followed by depression at 36.4 percent and relationship problems at 35.8 percent. These numbers illustrate that a significant portion of people do not feel relaxed or happy in their daily lives. Long-term stress can negatively affect physical and mental health. High blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression and the need for prescription medications and therapy are some of these effects. What can exercise do to help?

According to a study shared by The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, physical activity that increases heart rate can release feel-good brain chemicals like neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids, which can ease feelings of depression.

Physical activity can also reduce immune system chemicals that are suspected to worsen depression. This study also claims that aerobic exercise releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin – the same chemicals often found in medications used to treat ADHD, anxiety and depression. This is not to say that exercise alone can eliminate all symptoms of these conditions, but when combined with the proper medications, people can experience a better state of wellness.

Another study shared by the National Center for Biotechnology Information demonstrated that bicycling can help relieve symptoms of ADD and ADHD among children and adults while enhancing memory, reasoning skills and work productivity. The experiment involved 32 participants with symptoms of ADD and ADHD, who performed 20 minutes of moderately intense cycle exercises or rested for 20 minutes. Concentration level and mood were measured before the 20 minutes of either rest (control group) or cycling (experimental group), then the participants were asked to perform a mental task requiring concentration. The results showed that cycling enhanced energy and motivation for the mental task while improving attention, as opposed to those who rested before performing the task. Brain circulation and blood flow are also stimulated during intense cardio, increasing oxygen and nutrient levels in the brain, positively affecting cognitive performance.

There are many emotional benefits that are the result of the chemical changes in the brain associated with exercise. Achieving your own physical goals and challenges can increase feelings of confidence and productivity and motivate you to further succeed in other areas of your life. Working out is a great distraction technique from negative thoughts, to forget about any current stressors by focusing in on the present moment.

The University of Massachusetts makes it very easy for students to get the exercise they need at the Recreation Center, offering free classes like yoga, spin and Zumba, a running track and a variety of exercise equipment. Students can also participate in the Body Shop in Totman Gym, a teaching lab and gym run by the Kinesiology Department at UMass, for $30 per semester. This can be a less crowded atmosphere, with the option for more private personal training and health and fitness assessments like blood pressure and body composition. Many students also get memberships at nearby gyms once they move off campus, like Planet Fitness, or stay active with intramural sports, running and home workout videos. College is a very busy time for us all, but prioritizing self-care through exercise will allow you to follow your passions with more energy and a more positive attitude.

Emily Medrek can be reached at [email protected]

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