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How exercise helped me survive University

How exercise helped me survive University

How can physical activity help with student’s wellbeing?

My name is Yasmin Ryman-King, and I have just graduated with a degree in psychology. Since the age of 15, I was involved with rowing, competing at a high level, achieving a couple of national medals in key rowing events. After half a year of studying and rowing at Oxford Brookes, I sadly had to cut my time at rowing short due to injury. Having training and racing being a big part of my life for a number of years, it felt odd to me to suddenly not have that structure in my life. However, I knew I wanted to still keep active and have that physical outlet alongside my studies, due to the benefits (which I will later go on to discuss) that exercise helps to provide, and I was introduced into the world of triathlon. Having to juggle the training came with its challenges, but definitely accounted for being a great stress management tool. Alongside stress-busting benefits, sport and exercise can have various positive impacts of mental health at wellbeing – this is important for students at university or college, who have a lot on their plate with adapting to a higher level of studying, meeting new people and being in a completely new environment!

So… what are the benefits of exercise for students?

Exercise can benefit your studies…

Physical activity can help with studies in a variety of ways. For one, studies have shown that exercising for even just 20 minutes, can help to improve concentration, enabling more focus on learning. Research has found that intense physical activity promotes blood flow to the brain, specifically firing up the neurons and promoting cell growth in the hippocampus, which is a key part of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory. More focus may help with better achievement at university for students, all thanks to exercise!

Stress management…

It’s no secret that exercise has been preached as an excellent stress reliever. On average, it has been found that 80% of individuals studying in higher education reported symptoms of stress or anxiety. Whilst not all stress is bad, (taking into account the Yerkes-Dodson law where performance can increase with a stress up to a certain point), it can become a problem when it is too high and then causes negative impacts. Research on stress and exercise have consistently found calming effects from aerobic exercise, and most recently, mind-body exercise, such as yoga and Tai Chi. To help combat stress and its negative influences, it is recommended to either partake in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week (activities could include brisk walking or riding a bike), or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week (this could include jogging/running, or sports, such as netball or rugby).

Mental health…

An extensive study discovered that across the U.K., 1 in 5 students suffer from a mental health issue, with depression and anxiety being most commonly reported.  Especially over the past year with COVID-19, this has escalated anxiety for students over their own physical health. Physical activity can play a vital role in improving wellbeing – studies have demonstrated that aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, and dancing, have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. This is due to chemicals like endorphins and serotonin being released which can consequently help to improve an individual’s mood and alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions. Participating in regular physical activity can also aid in increasing self-esteem and reduce anxiety symptoms.

So, it can be seen that exercise can improve wellbeing for students in higher education…

Not only by keeping you physically fit, but exercise also helps to lift your mood, relieve stress and boost brain power whilst studying at university. Most universities will have a campus gym with cheaper memberships for students or have sports clubs and societies that you can join to both keep active and be a way of meeting new people and socialise. Or even just head down to your local park with a few mates, bring a bat and ball and play a game of rounders using jumpers for bases – a bit of a competitive edge never hurt!

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