Most students struggle to maintain good mental health throughout their education due to the stresses placed on them. It is especially important for students to have good mental health in order to study well. As a result, there are certain lifestyle changes that can be made to help you improve your mental health, such as exercising.
By exercising regularly, you can ease symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression by using it as a healthy coping strategy. Exercise also promotes the growth of new brain cells and provides more oxygen and nutrients to your brain. This can improve both your long-term and short-term memory, as well as boost your brain’s performance. When starting to exercise you should choose something that you love to do, to prevent it from becoming a chore. Exercising with others will increase your social interactions (which have positive impacts). Overall, exercise is very important for maintaining good mental health and benefits your studies.
In this article, I will further explain why exercise is so important for having good mental health (which is necessary for a good education) and will also give some advice.
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What are the Effects of Exercise on Mental Health?
Regular exercise may help to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is because dopamine and endorphins (“feel-good” chemicals) are released when exercising and they can increase your sense of well-being. Exercise can also help your brain to remove chemicals which make you feel stressed and anxious. This is likely due to the communication between the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and several regions of the brain which control mood, motivation, memory and fear as a response to stress.
By taking a break from your work to exercise, you also give your mind a chance to have a break from focusing on everything you are stressed and worried about. You could also put some music on in the background to help you get into a rhythm!
You can use exercise as a healthy coping strategy, in comparison to unhealthy coping strategies such as dwelling on how you feel or turning to alcohol/drugs. If you need help with an alcohol or drug addiction, reach out to your GP or a local treatment organisation. Click this link to go to the NHS site which offers more detailed guidance.
How Does Exercise Help the Brain?
In a study by Wendy Suzuki and Julia Basso, they found that after 30 minutes of exercise concentration was improved for at least the following two hours. You can access the review of their study here. This article also explores how your focus can increase by exercising regularly. You should, however, avoid extremely vigorous exercises as they can exhaust you, therefore having a negative effect on your concentration. For more advice on improving your attention-span, check out the following article: 30+ Ways to Improve Your Focus and Concentration.
A significant benefit of exercise is that it promotes the growth of new brain cells, which helps to improve cognitive function. It can also help to improve the health of your synapses in the hippocampus (allowing brain cells to communicate better).
It has been suggested that regular exercise can protect your brain from ageing and can reduce or delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.
Exercise also improves the blood flow to the brain. This increase in oxygen and nutrients in the brain makes our brains perform better.
What are the Benefits of Exercise?
By exercising regularly, you could boost your self-confidence by meeting exercise goals and challenges. If you struggle with concerns about your physical appearance, exercise could also help to shape the body you want, also helping with your self-esteem.
If you choose to exercise with others, whether you join a group or you meet up with your friends to exercise, you increase your social interaction. As seen in this article, having more positive social interactions has positive impacts on your health, relationships and community spirit.
Another important benefit is that regular aerobic exercise may help improve your grades. This is because physical activity can improve both your long-term and short-term memory. Furthermore, as you have more energy during the day, it can help you to sleep better at night. This in turn can improve your brain function.
How to Get Started and Stay Motivated
When choosing an activity think about what you know you enjoy doing as this will help you to stick with it. If you are not sure about what you will enjoy doing, then think about trying a new sport. When you are doing something you enjoy you will not think of it as a chore, but as something to look forward to. Mind offers help to find the right activity for you on this page.
When you first start to exercise, make sure to do so gradually, otherwise you may find that you become more tired. You might find that you self-critique, but please remember to be kind to yourself–your fitness will gradually improve. If you need to have a day off from exercising because your energy levels are low, then that is perfectly fine!
Set yourself small goals as you go along to challenge yourself. Your goals should match your abilities, so do not compare yourself with others when deciding on them. You could start simple with something along the lines of “go for a fifteen-minute walk on two days this week”, before gradually increasing the length of time and how often you do it. You could also set goals which are specific to the activity–if you do martial arts, you might want to complete a set of fifty punches in one session.
If you think there is something stopping you from exercising regularly, then try to pinpoint exactly what it is and then find a solution. For example, if you know that you are self-conscious, then you may want to exercise at home or find an inclusive class. Perhaps, you need someone to make sure that you do not skip an exercise session so find a friend or family member who can exercise with you.
Different age groups require different amounts of exercise and have different recommended categories of exercise. If you are aged 18 or under then use this link, or if you are at least 19 years old then use this link to look at the specifications. Moderate intensity activities are recommended regardless of age. Some exercises from this category include cycling, walking and running (but if you are 19 or over then running is grouped with vigorous activities).
What are the Benefits of Cycling?
Cycling is an example of a low impact aerobic exercise which varies in intensity. On top of improving your mental health, regular cycling can promote healthy weight management. Cycling also improves function in your lower body and strengthens your leg muscles without straining your joints. This makes it a great option for those with weaker joints. To cycle you have to stabilise your body by maintaining a strong posture. As you continue to cycle, your balance, posture and coordination can all improve thanks to this.
You could easily fit cycling in by using it as a mode of transportation. This can offer a positive start to your morning by getting some exercise into your day on the way to school, college or university. It also offers a refreshing break on your way home. On top of being great for your mental health, cycling is environmentally friendly. By riding a bike, you can reduce your carbon footprint.
What are the Benefits of Running and Walking?
I recommend that you slowly build up to running if you have not been very active for a while. This way your fitness levels can gradually improve to prevent you from feeling exhausted from the start of your journey. One way to do this is by using an app like Couch to 5K, which you can download from here (on Google Play) or here (from Apple’s App Store) which will tell you when to alternate between walking and running. To avoid injuries, a gentle warm up is essential. This could take the form of a brisk walk, knee lifts and stretching. You should also end your running session with some stretching. The NHS website offers a range of post-run stretches on this website.
If you are looking to burn more calories while also helping your mental health, then running is the option for you! This is because running uses more muscles than cycling. It is also a cheaper option as it only requires a comfortable pair of trainers.
If running is not your thing, then brisk walks may be a better option. Brisk walks (emphasis on brisk!) can help to build stamina, burn calories and improve your health overall. One way to check if your walk is fast enough by singing–if you can talk but struggle to sing then your walk is brisk. Another way to check is by using an app which can measure your speed.
You could include walking in your daily routine by walking to your place of education or by going out during a lunch break or in your free time with a friend. You might choose to go for a stroll with whoever you live with after dinner for a group evening activity.
Keeping a Balanced Diet
In addition to exercise, having a balanced diet is also important for maintaining a healthy brain. To learn about the best foods for your brain, read the following article: 37+ Foods that are Healthy for the Brain and Why?. For more information on healthy eating, click this link to see what the NHS recommends for those who exercise!