When someone suggests to you that you exercise because it’s “good for you,” what is your first reaction? Are you an elite athlete who responds with, “Yeah, I’ve been doing it for years;” or are you on the other end of the spectrum, a certified couch potato who responds by saying, “Talk to someone who’s interested!”
If you are like the majority of college students, you are going to fall somewhere between those two extremes: You may be someone who exercises regularly but isn’t aware of all the benefits you’re receiving from it or you could be someone who “wants to want” to exercise but isn’t sure how to go about it.
As a mental health counselor, prevention professional, and certified fitness instructor, I feel fairly fortunate that I can see the benefits across the spectrum. I know that as a fitness instructor, regular exercise keeps our blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol down, and can reduce risk of inflammation, some cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke while at the same time boosting our immune system. As a prevention professional, I’ve learned that regular exercise increases a sense of well-being about our bodies that encourages students to think twice about putting chemicals such as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco into them. Finally, as a mental health counselor, I recognize that exercise is one of the greatest tools we have in minimizing anxiety, stress, and depression . . . as well as cognitive decline as we get older!
Exercise creates a whole cascade of chemical reactions in the brain that improve its function and enhances the quality of life. We know that exercise releases endorphins [think “runner’s high”] and also helps us relax and sleep better. The brain also releases dopamine during exercise which is directly connected to the reward system: it makes you want to do more of whatever is making you feel good and creates a positive feedback loop with regard to exercising. This can also happen when you drink or use tobacco or engage in other “pleasurable” activities; but isn’t exercise healthier for you? Another lesser known fact is that exercise increases cell production in the hippocampus of the brain, which is responsible for memory and learning, thereby “boosting brain-power” too! Exercise has even been shown in repeated studies to be as effective as antidepressant medication in mild to moderate depression, and may play a supporting role in treating severe depression.1
So now that we know how good exercise is for us, how do we start or increase our cardio-vascular activity? If you already work out, add some speed intervals to your routine or even an extra day of exercise. If you don’t work out yet but want to give it a try, find something you like to do. We are coming into the perfect time of year for “green” exercise [anything you can do outdoors].2 Start with your daily walks around campus: walk faster, add more distance by taking the long way to class. Hiking and bicycling are also fun — green exercises! For those of you that run, even just a little bit, there are some great trails near campus. Or come and participate in our Phin Fest Fun Run-Walk on Oct. 2 starting right on campus at the Recreation Center.
When the weather starts getting colder or your schedule only allows for working out at night, there is plenty to choose from in the Recreation Center. We have a daily schedule of fitness classes including indoor spinning, Zumba, and boot camp.
The point is there is some type of exercise for everyone to try — and a little is better than none. If you can “get moving” a little every day, you will feel the benefits and be motivated to keep going. Exercising has positive, far-reaching effects that can improve your mood, help you achieve better grades, and increase your self-esteem, so give it a try!