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During college it may seem very difficult to maintain the exercise patterns you may have had previously. Less structured schedules, and more active social calendars, may lead to exercise taking a back seat in your list of priorities. However, it is important to bear in mind that physical activity is a massive benefit to one’s physical and mental wellbeing. Exercise is proven to lower stress levels, improve moods and increase levels of motivation in both mental and physical areas of your life. Even simple activities, like taking a stroll in the park, or doing some gentle outdoor exercise, can have big benefits for your mental wellbeing. Exercise is one of the things you can do to improve how you feel. Below are some of the benefits of how regular exercise will help you improve both your physical and your mental health:
- Your cardiovascular fitness will improve
- Your mood will improve
- You are more likely to maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise will help you get a better night’s sleep
- Research suggests that regular exercise may be effective in treating depression
- You will feel a greater sense of achievement
- You will improve your muscle tone
- It gives you a natural energy boost
- Exercising can give you a break from your daily worries. If you are suffering from anxiety then regular exercise can break the anxiety cycle.
- You will feel more alive and energetic
- Exercise offers opportunities to meet new people
- Exercise seems to reduce harmful changes in the brain caused by stress
- An enjoyable bout of exercise may be distracting enough to break your critical and pessimistic thinking
- It will increase your sense of control and self-esteem. This is particularly the case when you use exercise as a deliberate part of your wellbeing plan
- Your ability to concentrate will increase
- It can help raise your motivation in other areas of your life
The benefits of regular exercise on the individual are chemical. Physical activity releases helpful natural chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins in your brain that make you feel good as they raise your mood. It also burns up stress chemicals, like adrenaline, which promotes a more relaxed state of mind. Regular exercise increases levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in mood, sleep, libido and appetite.
It is understandable that it can be difficult to get into a habit of exercising, for various reasons. You may feel like you have no time, or that you aren’t built for it, or that the weather is no good outside. A lack of motivation will obviously prevent you from starting to exercise. However, it has been proven time and again that exercise increases levels of motivation in people and that once you start you’ll feel the benefits almost instantly, not to mention a drive to continue!
If you feel low or anxious, you may do less and become less active – which can make you feel worse. You can get caught in this vicious cycle. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of depression, and depression increases the likelihood of a sedentary lifestyle. People who don’t exercise are more likely to experience low mood / depression and higher levels of stress and anxiety.
You should aim to be active for 30 minutes, five times a week, but remember that it is important to build up your activity slowly. It doesn’t have to be the most intense workout in the world! A light jog, a longer route to college or even just walking faster acts a great to start to the development of a regular exercise routine and can really help get the ball rolling.
Motivation is a key factor in regular exercise. Working with your friends will often help maintain that motivation. You are much more likely to go for that weekly jog if you are running with your housemate. To keep the motivation high, make sure you don’t try to do too much too soon. Build up your activity rate slowly, to allow your fitness levels to rise.
It does not have to cost anything! While joining a gym or fitness club could be of enormous benefit to your health, and the varieties of physical activity you can get involved in, there are countless ways to get exercise that are either totally free or involve only a small payment:
- Running/jogging/walking only requires a pair of trainers
- Swimming only requires a swimsuit (and the courage to chuck yourself into the cold and wet!)
- NUIG’s many sports clubs offer a wide variety of sports, martial arts and other physical activities. Most only involve small entry payments or lesson fees. They are well worth investigating, as you will almost certainly find at least one that fits your interests, or will allow you try something you never considered trying before. This will also give you great opportunities to meet new people!
Write down the specific benefits that you would like to gain from exercise, and refer back to these to help with motivation (e.g. reduce stress, improve mood, get in shape, and improve sleep). It is also worth thinking about what might stop you from increasing your activity levels. Write down the situations that you might expect would make it harder to exercise and plan to address these. You’re in Galway, it will be wet and it will be cold and it will definitely be windy. Can you do an alternative activity instead? If you’re doing a new activity it can be a bit scary. Most people get anxious about trying something new. Maybe break the ice with something more familiar, or, if you can, power through and see if it’s something that you will get easier with.