Originally published March 5, 2020 in Branding Iron.
By Britt Bardman
College can be stressful and challenging, but being physically active can help students prioritize their mental health, academic life and overall well being.
Taking the stairs to class, riding a bike around Laramie and enlisting a friend for mutual workout encouragement are easy, helpful ways to stay active. UW also offers opportunities for students to get active, even in the winter. Intramural sports like billiards, curling, tennis doubles, wrestling, table tennis, and even innertube water polo are good options for students.
“Exercising allows our muscles, and our ligaments and our tendons to do some work, and have our brain focus on the work that’s being done… Some physical work creates clarity in our mental state,” said Jennifer Knerr, a certified athletic trainer who works in Half Acre.
She also recommended the University’s outdoor program through campus recreation. Students can sign up for fun weekend trips, and those looking for their own adventures can rent outdoor gear like sleeping bags, bikes or cross country skis at a discounted rate.
Choosing what kind of physical activity depends on personal goals. Knerr encouraged students to see a personal trainer in Half Acre to get a better sense of their goals or to have a private space to exercise.
The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans maintains two general exercise recommendations for adults, including cardio and muscle-strengthening.
For cardio, the guidelines suggest getting one’s heart rate up with moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, which will increase the strength of the heart and lungs and increase endurance. Cardio can also help improve cholesterol levels, control blood sugar and maintain weight. A mood boost, an energy boost and a decrease in stress and anxiety is another benefit of fitting in cardio. The guidelines suggest 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity per week, and 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.
When it comes to muscle-strengthening, benefits include strengthening bones, managing chronic pain and improving balance. The CDC and Department of Health and Human Services suggest working all major muscle groups at least twice a week, by doing weight training for resistance and strength, endurance exercises, push-ups, sit-ups or yoga.
Danielle Bruns, an assistant professor in the College of Health Sciences, mentioned how physical activity often drops when students come to college, especially students who were athletes in high school but did not continue to pursue that in college. Fighting that decline in activity level and making an effort to be physically healthy can lead to lower depression, higher cognitive ability, a more positive body image and improved self-esteem.
Physical activity in excess can be dangerous, though. Exercising safely to reduce risk of injury or extreme weight loss, and using it as a healthy coping mechanism is important. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends choosing types of physical activity that are appropriate for a person’s current fitness level and health goals because some activities are safer than others.
The Department of Health and Human Services also recommends protecting yourself by using appropriate gear and sports equipment, following rules and policies, choosing safe environments and making sensible choices about when, where and how to be active. People with chronic conditions and symptoms can consult a health care professional or physical activity specialist about the types and amounts of activity appropriate for them.
Adults with chronic conditions or disabilities, who are able, can also do muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week and avoid inactivity, after consulting a healthcare professional or physical activity specialist about the types and amounts of activity appropriate for their abilities.
Ultimately, physical activity, in any form, can help busy college students to stay focused, maintain good mental health and have a more positive body image.