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The mental benefits of physical health

How activity combats stress and anxiety
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FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a stressful year, especially for students. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reported that since the pandemic, the stress and anxiety levels of Canadians has drastically increased. 

While there are so many ways to reduce stress, paying a little extra attention to your physical health is one of the best ways to ease your mind while battling those last few assignments and preparing for exams. 

The brain benefits of moving

Health Canada recommends that individuals over 18 years of age perform 150 minutes, or about 2.5 hours of physical activity every week. Regularly exercising plays a large role in achieving a healthy mind, as incorporating physical activity into your daily or weekly lifestyle has several positive effects on your mental health.

First and foremost, physical activity has several psychological benefits, as it reduces your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that might be particularly elevated at the moment. When you exercise, your body releases its happy hormones, like endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins are chemicals that work to relieve stress and help your body chill out, and serotonin works in a similar way, as it increases your happiness and helps to regulate your sleep schedule.

Another reason why physical activity is so important is because it helps to subside feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, which further decreases your cortisol levels. More specifically, working out or engaging in challenging activities like yoga forces your mind to concentrate on the exercise you are performing. 

Student-friendly ways to get active

New activities that you engage in serve as a healthy distraction from other stressful priorities, like school, work, and other social factors. While more challenging exercises are a good option, simple movements like walking or running while listening to your favourite playlist do just as well. The goal is to revert your attention to light activities that reduce stress and improve your physical health, so any activity will result in a positive change.

The longer you maintain an exercise regime, the more likely you are to see positive results in your mental and physical well-being. As students, it is important that if we are going to make this change to live a healthier lifestyle, we need to make this a maintainable process. But what does ‘maintainable’ look like?

Make sure that your goals are specific to your current work schedule; if you can only devote 10 minutes a day to exercise, then consider this a simple 10-minute change that will positively benefit your mental and physical well-being. 

As a reminder — any kind of activity counts! Going for a walk, doing a workout you found on YouTube, or even some yoga are all great ways to ease your mind. Find your favourite activities or exercises and stick to them.

In order for you to maintain your health and fitness goals, it is important to do what works best for you. These habits will also make maintaining your health an enjoyable process because you are in control of the activities you enjoy doing, and it won’t feel forced or dreadful. Hopefully, the consistent release of these happy hormones and decreased stress levels encourages you to implement your own physical activity routine!