Sweat Away the Stress: 4 Benefits of Exercise for College Students

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: November 13, 2013

With the proximity of dorm cafeterias, it’s often more tempting to grab another late-night snack than to hit the gym. Most college students already know that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy body weight, reducing blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels. However, the power of exercise extends beyond its ability to improve physical health. As a college student, exercise can actually help you learn more efficiently, better remember information and perform more strongly in school.

Exercise Regulates Your Sleep Habits

Exercising and sleep are deeply intertwined. Regular exercise improves the duration and quality of sleep, while getting a good night of rest increases the likelihood of having a successful workout the next day. In a study of insomniacs, researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that regular exercise improved quality of sleep. However, these effects may take weeks or months to build up, so don't feel discouraged if you don't notice a difference right away. For best results, experts recommend exercising in the morning or midday, giving your body the 6 hours it needs to cool down and regulate your body temperature before sleep.

Exercising Helps You Do Better on Tests

Several decades ago, scientists believed that the brain was relatively static, lacking the ability to grow new brain cells. However, evidence from rodent models suggests that exercise (among other factors) may actually cause new neurons to grow. By stimulating a process called neuroplasticity, in which new neuronal connections are made, exercise helps learning and memory. To perform better in school, try to exercise at least 3 to 4 days per week. The increased blood flow to your brain and release of special brain chemicals allow you to better retain information. Experts also recommend exercising in the morning before a test, which can translate to improved scores. If you’re short on time, jog for 10 minutes or simply do 20 jumping jacks and 20 push-ups to get your blood rushing and endorphins flowing.

Exercise Reduces Overall Stress

Your brain naturally produces endorphins, a class of chemicals that cause feelings of pleasure. Exercise is one of the best ways to trigger endorphin release, thus reducing stress. You may also find that after a bout of physical activity, those day-to-day worries and stressors have diminished in importance. For an immediate pick-me-up on a stressful day, consider a workout video. For example, GaiamTV cardio workouts include aerobic activity and strength training components that cause those feel-good brain chemicals to wash your stress away.

Exercise is a Powerful Mood Regulator

College students have an increased risk of depression, with approximately 30 percent of surveyed students reporting significant depression in the past year, reports the National Institute of Mental Health. Fortunately, exercise is a natural mood lifter. In a study conducted at the University of Toronto, researchers explored 26 years’ worth of data. They found that even 20 minutes of low-intensity exercise per day reduces risk of depression. To get your daily dose of exercise, consider biking to class, switching from the elevator to taking the stairs or jogging for 20 minutes. After just a week or two of increased physical activity, you'll likely find yourself feeling better, concentrating in class and performing better in school.

Topics: Test-Prep College Counseling


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