Because it's your health: Exercise your way to stress-free finals

Tip of the Week: Exercise Your Way

to Stress-Free Finals

People who exercise regularly will tell you they feel better. Some say it's because chemicals called neurotransmitters, produced in the brain, are stimulated during exercise. Since it's believed that neurotransmitters mediate our moods and emotions, they make us feel better and less stressed. Who couldn't use a little of that this time of the semester?

While there's no scientific evidence to conclusively support the neurotransmitter theory, there is plenty to show that exercise provides stress-relieving benefits, as seen in three areas.

1. Exercise relaxes you. One exercise session generates 90 to 120 minutes of relaxation response. This is often called post-exercise euphoria or endorphin response.

2. Exercise can make you feel better about yourself. This feeling of self-worth contributes to stress relief.

3. Exercise can make you eat better. People who exercise regularly tend to eat more nutritious food. And it's no secret that good nutrition helps your body manage stress better.

Fitness Programs

There are three important elements to a fitness program.

Aerobic activity: The popularity of walking as an aerobic activity is growing by leaps and bounds. A regular walking program can help lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol, increase bone strength and burn calories to keep weight down. All you need are comfortable clothes and a pair of sneakers with good support. Begin with short distances and build gradually. Walk at a comfortable pace. Swing your arms and take deep breaths. Most experts recommend that you walk a minimum of 20 minutes a day, but there are no hard and fast rules.

Strength training: You don't need to be a body builder to benefit from strength training. A simple program provides increased strength of bones, muscles and connective tissue, which decreases the risk of injury. You will also increase muscle mass. As muscle mass increases, basal metabolic rate increases, making it easier to maintain a healthy body weight.

Flexibility training: Flexibility training provides greater freedom of movement and improved posture. It also increases physical and mental relaxation. Muscle tension is released, and risk of injury is reduced. Before stretching, you should warm the muscles up for five to 10 minutes with a low-intensity activity such as walking in place while swinging your arms. Start each stretch slowly, exhaling as you stretch the muscle. Try to hold each stretch for at least 10 to 30 seconds. Don't "bounce" a stretch, don't push a muscle too far and don't hold your breath while stretching. An easy way to fit stretching into your day is to do it in the morning, before getting out of bed. This can clear your mind and help jump-start your morning.

Finding the time: We all know that exercise is good for us, and we should do it on a regular basis, but we all struggle with finding the time. What's the best time to exercise? Anytime is fine, really. When you're sitting studying, stretch your muscles. Walk to class the long way. Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. Choose a place across campus to study and walk there briskly, with a book in each hand. Take a study break and go to the Workout Center or for a walk. It clears your mind and gives you energy for the next session at the library. However you choose to get your exercise, start now and stick with it. You will feel better, sleep better, eat better and it definitely can't hurt those final exam grades.