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Student riding a bike

Exercise for College Students: Does exercise help with stress?

Between trying to maintain steady academics, social lives and cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, students are working to find ways to deal with feeling stressed; exercise may be a helpful, healthy way to both mentally and physically manage your feelings.

Five benefits that exercising can have on stress as a college student:

  • Improve your quality of sleep: Many students have experienced a long day where all they want to do is get in bed and immediately fall asleep. This can be especially true when students know the next day is going to be just as busy. It can be stressful not to get the right amount of sleep to help you function at your best. According to the Sleep Foundation, the positive impacts of exercise can help with this, particularly if one exercises in the afternoon. The body-heating effects of exercise can increase your body temperature and the post-exercise decrease may promote falling asleep. 
  • Release stress: According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins are brain chemicals that make you feel happy and relaxed. Additionally, exercise can be just as mentally rewarding as it can be physically. Creating a playlist that you are excited about or finding an exercise buddy can also help you to stay on track.
  • Improve your mood: A regularly scheduled exercise routine can increase self-confidence, improve your mood and lower symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can also help your body fight off stress by imitating the physical effects of stress such as the fight or flight response. Your body can practice fighting these responses for when you are actually experiencing stress. This can help students feel a stronger sense of control over their body and mood. 
  • Help your academic performance: According to California College San Diego, exercise can increase the size of your brain. Regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, which is associated with memory and learning. Additionally, increased blood flow to the brain as a result of exercise helps to grow and release chemicals that maintain brain health. Moderate aerobic exercise for 150 minutes every week is recommended to fuel these changes.
  • Help control your appetite: The adjustment to college means changes in many, if not all,  areas of your life. Eating habits are just one area that can be a tricky adjustment for many students. Long Beach City College finds that exercise can help students find a balance between their new eating habits while still preserving a healthy lifestyle. 

Lehigh University’s Sports page provides a great virtual resource for students to explore various instructor-led classes.