With the pressure of multiple midterms and impending deadlines, it’s not uncommon for university students to neglect parts of their routine—whether that means putting off laundry, doing groceries, or exercising, especially during high-stress periods of the year. In our increasingly technological world, people are becoming more sedentary. Coupled with our busy lives, it can be difficult to make the time—but finding opportunities to get moving is crucial to experiencing the many benefits of exercising, especially for students.
Physical activity has been proven to help manage stress and anxiety. Physical activity releases endorphins, hormones that can noticeably enhance mood, augment academic performance, sharpen memory, and improve sleep quality—it can also work wonders for the waistline. Studies from the National Cancer Institute also showed that engaging in regular physical activity can prolong life by increasing one’s resistance to many infectious diseases by strengthening the immune system.
Exercise also lowers the risks of many avoidable chronic diseases caused by lifestyle choices, such as diabetes. As university students strive for academic excellence, stress can be a major hindrance to productivity. Furthermore, the ability to manage stress is critical to success in all aspects of life, even beyond academics.
Dr. Ross Andersen, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education who runs the Health and Fitness Promotion Laboratory, said that the benefits from exercise are linked to self-care.
“Part of the benefit, for students in particular, is from carving out time for yourself,” Andersen said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “When you start to say ‘no’ to other people, and ‘yes’ to yourself, you start feeling better.”
Andersen’s lab focuses on helping overweight and obese patients of all ages develop exercise programs in order to minimize health risks. Typically, Andersen assesses a patient for various areas of fitness. Based on these measurements, he will prescribe a training program for the patient to follow for several weeks. After this time period, Andersen then reassesses the patient in the same areas to check for improvement.
“Regular physical activity improves mental health and well-being, among other things, in various patient populations such as overweight individuals, patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and relatively healthy students,” Andersen said in reference to his research. “It may not make all the stress or anxiety go away, but it can help [….] Regular exercise is often the first step to take before taking medication for many illnesses.”
Andersen also explained that to reap the maximum benefits of physical activity, sticking to a schedule is of paramount importance. Not letting other things encroach on this commitment is critical in order to increase accountability and minimize the chances of neglecting the gym. Most people won’t miss a doctor’s appointment without good reason; exercise should be given the same treatment.
While it’s not fully understood exactly how physical activity reduces stress and anxiety, exercise taxes the Central Nervous System (CNS), which learns to adapt to stress. This stress exposure makes the CNS better at handling future stresses, such as anxiety toward a looming examination.
According to the World Health Organization, to experience the functional benefits of physical activity, adults should perform a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more each week. The benefits increase the more you exercise. Cleaning the apartment, walking the dog, walking to class, group exercise classes, gym workouts, and intramurals are a few ways students can squeeze in that extra hour.
Andersen said that the key thing is to find enjoyable ways of exercising, so that physical activity becomes something to look forward to rather than a chore. Moderation is also important in helping one stick to their regime.
“Anything done to the extreme is bad,” Andersen said. “If it becomes an obsession then it’s not healthy.”
Balance is important in all aspects of life, but especially in one’s health routine. Being a star athlete or an experienced gym-rat isn’t necessary to implement a healthy lifestyle. To put everything in perspective, according to the Physician and Sports Medicine Journal, although not all your workouts may be ‘good’ ones, you will never finish a workout feeling worse than when you started.