You may have heard the phrase sound mind, sound body, but the expression can actually go the other way around.
In fact, exercise can be a great way to destress, especially with exams right around the corner.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), physical activity is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration and enhancing cognitive function.
The ADAA website goes on to say that exercise and physical activity releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain which reduce stress and pain. Endorphins have also been known to induce positive feelings in the body.
Activities such as meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy and even deep breathing can trigger the release of endorphins while low to moderate intensity exercise can make you feel more energized and healthy.
The ADAA continues to say that just five minutes of exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
So when you are stressed out and in dire need of a study break, throwing on your sweatpants and going for a run, jog, hike or trip to the gym will probably make you feel better than throwing on your sweatpants and booting up Netflix.
My personal favorite way to destress is to get some friends together and play street hockey or football. Playing sports with friends is a great way to get your blood going with a little friendly competition while being social and bonding with others.
When I’m stressed out and not feeling so social, I hit the gym or go for a run just to clear my head and get away from it all.
For me, exercise feels like a more productive way to get a break. Sure, I may be leaving my studies behind for a short while, but it feels like I’m improving myself in another way in the meantime.
Physical activity can also increase confidence and provide a better perception of oneself.
Interestingly enough, exercise may even help you perform better on your exams.
Matthew Stults-Kolehmainen, Ph.D., a kinesiologist at the Yale Stress Center told Huffington Post that raising one’s heart rate can reverse brain damage caused by stressful events.
“Stress atrophies the brain — especially the hippocampus, which is responsible for a lot, but memory in particular,” Stults-Kolehmainen said. “When you’re stressed, you forget things.”
If you can destress through exercise, studying for that big exam or writing that long essay might come easier to you.
According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, the effects of stress on the ability to perform difficult tasks is on a bell curve. If someone is experiencing too much or too little stress, he or she will perform worse.
While some stress helps people perform, there is a tipping point where too much stress will make complex tasks even harder (as if exam season wasn’t hard enough).
If you like how exercise affects your mood and exam scores in the short term, you might want to stick with it and make physical activity a part of your daily routine.
A 2006 study by Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise science at Oregon State University, and Paul Loprinzi, an assistant professor at Bellarmine University, found that 150 minutes of exercise a week can prevent you from feeling overly sleepy during the day.
I’ve noticed drastic improvements in my mood and ability to stay alert in periods where I exercise regularly, so next time you feel like stress is holding you back, lace up your sneakers and get active. You won’t regret it.