While exercise may be good for the heart, the most complex organ in our body benefits from it as well.
The brain is made up of billions of cells called neurons, which are all in charge of the way the body thinks, feels and acts.
According to Harvard Medical School, “Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.”
Not only do exercise and eating well-improve overall mental health, academic achievement is also linked to a healthy lifestyle.
While there have been many studies on academic achievement and physical health for school-aged children, these numbers do not necessarily reflect that of a college-aged student, and fewer studies have been done on this age group.
One study of school-aged children by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that more participation in physical education classes correlated with higher standardized test scores and better classroom behavior along with higher academic achievement.
Coordinator of Wellness Education at Keene State College (KSC) Tiffany Mathews said, “There is a correlation between physical health and mental wellness and the dimensions of wellness and how we should look at students holistically. We realize they are not just a reporter, they’re not just a student; they’re comprised of all of these different pieces of themselves.”
It is recommended that people get at least 30 minutes of exercise on average each day, which can sometimes seem to be a daunting task.
Dr. Jeffrey Timmer, associate professor of human performance and movement sciences at KSC, said he believes that exercise is often undervalued when it comes to mental health.
“I think that more psychologists are starting to prescribe exercise, and I think there have been some recent studies that exercise can have just as good of an effect as medication for depression and because the longer you can stay off of medication, the better,” Timmer said.
Exercise has an effect on the brain and the physical well-being that is difficult to replicate anywhere else.
One common chemical that is released during exercise is endorphins, and this gives a feeling of euphoria or a certain so-called “runner’s high” that makes people feel good after or during exercise and/or physical activity.
“In response to exercise, your body has to make a lot of changes to either continue that exercise or progress, and, more importantly, your body wants to progress, and that’s from head to toe and in addition, you have other things that are released during exercise like endorphins, but they give what some people call a euphoric effect,” Timmer said.
For college students, it can sometimes be difficult to find the time and the balance to live the healthy lifestyle that they want to.
However, Timmer said he feels that people, including students, need to set obtainable goals and not hit hurdles too big, which could cause them not to see the success in their efforts when they may try to do too much at once.
Senior exercise science major Brooke Bennett said, “Exercise is the one way that I can take my mind off of everything and just focus on my workout and clear my head for a while.”
While there is much research out in the world about these specifics, there is a growing plethora of studies that still need to be conducted and completed.
Timmer said, “We want to think we know everything [about exercise], but we don’t; it’s a difficult thing to figure out, but we do know the effects and how it works.”
Some students feel that by studying within this field, they can share what they enjoy about their healthy lifestyles with others.
Bennett said, “Exercising helps me a lot, so it’s cool being able to pass on what I know to other people.”
Mary Curtin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org