Move More to Stress Less

By: Laura Whitney, Group Fitness Instructor, Campus Recreation Services
Terps shaking off their stress at "Dance Through the Decades" in Cole Fieldhouse.

Terps shaking off their stress at “Dance Through the Decades” in Cole Fieldhouse.

College Is Stressful

To say that college students are stressed is an understatement.

Classes, clubs, sports, jobs, social lives, chores, constantly shifting living situations, your mom dropping not-so-subtle hints about how she met your dad in college, and that big looming question of what you’re going to do with your life post-college — college can be one of the most stressful times of life for many people.

But, that’s bad.  That’s really bad, because chronically high levels of stress can lead to fatigue, headaches, sleep problems, muscle tension, weight changes, increased resting heart rate, and high blood pressure—clearly, all things that aren’t exactly conducive to being a high-functioning college student.

And those are just the negative physical effects of stress. Needless to say, it’s not great for our emotional or mental health either.

Who wants to walk around on edge all the time?  Furthermore, who wants to be around somebody who’s walking around on edge all the time?  I know how ironically frustrating it is to learn about the stressful side effects of stress – as if you need one more thing to stress over!

Coping With Stress Through Exercise

Learning how to cope with stress should be a priority for each and every one of us. Luckily, there is a free, fun remedy that is always at your disposal –exercise! 

Exercise is an effective way to lower cortisol levels, also known as your “flight-or-flight” stress hormone.  Way back in hunter-gatherer times, our ancestors needed this hormone to prepare us for difficult times—for example, if they needed to chase down an antelope, or if a giant tiger was staring them in the face, licking its lips.

Our environment has drastically changed, but our bodily adaptive systems have not.

In other words, when you’re freaking out over your upcoming calc exam, your body is preparing you for it as if you were about to run away from a rabid tiger.  The problem is that taking a math exam isn’t exactly as physically demanding as running away from a wild animal (unless your professor has a twisted sense of humor), so your body doesn’t get the physical release that it’s prepared itself for.

Your body does get this physical release, however, when you exercise!

Can twerking help you get better grades?

Oh, and in case you’re sitting there thinking that the “motivation” of stress is necessary for your academic success, it turns out that it may actually be hindering your work. While some stress can help us accomplish tasks, overwhelming stress can actually impair mental and cognitive performance. After all, it’s hard to focus when your mind is racing, and even harder when you’re placing undue amounts of pressure on yourself to be successful.

Being physically active – whether it’s going for a run, taking a yoga class, or simply taking a walk around campus – can help you perform better at mental and cognitive tasks as well as physical ones.  Yes, “twerking” – or any other form of physical activity -may just help you get better grades.

Look, I get it.  You’re swamped with work and deadlines and who knows what else. The last thing you want to hear is how you really need to carve out time to add one more thing to your plate.

But I promise, adding exercise to your daily routine will make the rest of your day so much more stress-free, enjoyable, and productive.  Just remember – when in doubt, keep calm and work out!

Share with us! How does exercise help you stress less?

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