Image Credit: Fatima Yazdi for The Campus Trainer
Wake up, Zoom, study, Zoom and before you know it the day is over. Unfortunately, this schedule has become the reality for most students.
During these times, it can be difficult to stay mentally and physically healthy.We must remind ourselves of how important it is to take care of our mental health.
“Working out plays a huge role in how I feel about myself, how well I function and how happy I am overall,” freshman Cell Biology and Genetics major Hana Bagheri said. “On days where I wake up early, do a quick workout or even a light stretch and then start my day, I have so much more energy and tons of endorphins for the whole day.”
Exercise has been proven to provide numerous benefits to one’s mental and physical health. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, staying active is proven to reduce anxiety, depression and negative mood swings, as well as improve self-esteem and cognitive function.
“We tend to automatically think about the physical benefits that result from being physically active, but the mental health benefits are certainly equally as important,” University of Maryland Assistant Director for Fitness Programs Tami Lee said. “Even a single bout of exercise has shown to improve sleep, sharpen our focus, reduce our stress, and boost our mood! Engaging in regular physical activity can actually reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and show improvements in cognition.”
Stress is something that all of us experience in one way or another. Exercise is a great natural remedy for reducing stress. Some form of activity in your day builds mental energy and helps you feel energized throughout the day.
Any form of activity is great - even if you can’t get your desired workout in, simply taking a walk in between classes will do wonders for your health.
“During COVID-19, it can be easy to get sedentary as we find ourselves at our computers a lot more. We are not walking to class, going to stores or other places as much, or socializing like we were before, so we need to find ways to still get in physical activity every single day,” Lee said. “There are endless ways to be physically active, so do not feel limited to a gym or a typical workout. Try gardening, dancing, hiking, swimming, exploring nature (bonus: being outdoors has additional benefits for mental and physical health!), biking, yoga, and even the chores we don't always love like yard work, cleaning the house, carrying groceries, etc all count as physical activity!”
According to a HelpGuide article on mental health benefits of exercise, physical activity promotes various changes in the brain, such as “neural growth, reduced inflammation and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being.”
It’s especially important to ensure your body often releases endorphins, and staying active is the best way to do so. Endorphins give your body an overall sense of happiness and well-being, something necessary especially when we’re spending so much time in isolation.
“Working out definitely helps my mental state. It helps me focus on a goal that only I myself can achieve,” freshman Government and Politics major Devorah Sklute said. “In this way, it’s like a distraction from reality.”
With COVID-19 and many of us spending the majority of our time indoors, this is a great opportunity to get creative with ways to stay active. There are endless amounts of workout videos on Youtube, ranging from interactive sessions to quick and easy workouts for specific types of exercises. Just grab a yoga mat or a blanket and bring the gym to your dorm room!
“When COVID hit, I couldn't really play any sports because of social distancing. It completely transformed how I stayed active,” Bagheri said. “Slowly I started learning about the best moves for my body... I started doing yoga, biking, different pilates Youtube workouts and going on long family walks. Without COVID I never would’ve had so much time with no responsibilities to truly learn how my body could flourish and perform at its best.”
In addition to staying fit, spending time outdoors everyday has countless benefits for your mental and physical health. According to a Dec. 2015 National Alliance on Mental Health article, sunshine and vitamin D can directly affect your mood. Simply being outdoors for a period of time can lift your mood. You can also try moving your office outdoors to your backyard/porch, a park or seating around campus.
“Spending time outside positively contributes to your mental health. Research suggests that spending time outside is linked to improved mood and self esteem, improved short-term memory, and increased focus,” UMD Assistant Director of Adventure Program Amanda Preperato said. “It also eliminates mental fatigue and restores mental energy which fosters creativity. To experience the full benefits, it is recommended that people spend 120 minutes per week outside; it can be one two hour session or multiple shorter visits to the outdoors.”
This is particularly important with the fall and winter coming up. Many experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mood disorder that tends to affect many during the colder months. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health article, “SAD causes people to feel moody, gain weight, crave carbohydrates, lack focus and feel more tired even if they are sleeping more.”
It’s vital we take care of ourselves, especially during these times where we’re all experiencing great change and adapting to a new normal. Take small steps and incorporate them into your daily routine. You’ll feel better without even realizing it.
“I think the more we can make ourselves happy and get excited about little things during this time, the easier we can make this for ourselves and others around us,” Bagheri said.