Benefits of Exercise for College Students

College students today are increasingly overwhelmed with schoolwork, exams, extracurricular activities, and personal situations, which causes a great deal of stress for a typical college student. They usually explain that there is not enough time in the day to complete the required tasks like doing homework, writing papers, and studying for tests without compromising other essential activities. Generally, because of these required tasks, students will not prioritize activities that are imperative for their health, like exercising.

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By avoiding these important activities, specifically exercise, they are overlooking the activities that can help them effectively manage their stress. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the stress reduction benefits of exercise for college-aged students.

Background

        College students are at a point in their life where they are experiencing many new challenges that make them easily vulnerable to stress. Peate (2017) explains that these challenges could be, but are certainly not limited to, new living situations away from home, financial problems, and searching for jobs. Xu, Liu, Chepyator-Thomson, and Schmidlein (2018) found evidence that young adults between the ages of 18-24 had the highest amount stress compared to people of a younger or older age. Even though data shows that college students know the importance of getting regular exercise as is relates to stress, statistics show that many of them are not getting the urged amount of exercise for various reasons. According to Ball, Bice, and Maljak (2018), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the amount of exercise that young adults should get is about 150 minutes per week. Data showed that roughly 50% of college students are not getting the recommended amount of exercise every week. This is a concern, because excessive stress can have a negative impact on the students’ physical and mental health. For example, they are at a higher risk for developing anxiety and depression.

Exercise’s Impact on the Body

        Exercise has influences on different body systems that helps reduce stress in various ways. Berman, Snyder, and Frandsen (2016) discuss the various benefits of exercises for mental health. One of the advantages of exercise is having a positive impact on the psychoneurological system. According to data, exercise is said to help decrease stress by the following ways:

Exercise increases levels of metabolites for neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin; exercises releases endogenous opioids, thus increasing levels of endorphins; exercise increases levels of oxygen to the brain and other body systems, including euphoria; and through muscular exertion (especially with movement modalities such as yoga and t’ai chi) the body releases stored stress associated with accumulated emotional demands. (Berman et al., 2016, p. 1020)

Getting regular exercise can also adjust how students react to stressful situations. Baghurst and Kelley (2014) discuss how exercise can decrease the negative impacts stress has on a person, physiologically and psychologically. The article explained that when people participated in regular exercise they were able to recover more quickly from a stressor, . . . . may have developed a physical conditioning that allowed them to more quickly cope with the emotional stressors, . . . . and were more immune to the psychological stress response (Baghurst & Kelley, 2014, p. 440). Basically, exercise is a coping mechanism, and it can alter how college-aged students respond to their stress in a beneficial way.

        Many studies have found similar correlations between stress and exercise. Xu et al. (2018) explained a study that examined the relationship between physical activity and stress vulnerability. A questionnaire was given to 135 university students and it asked questions about the students’ exercise regimens and about how they handle their stress. The study revealed that there is a strong inverse relationship between physical activity and stress vulnerability. This means that as the amount of the college students’ physical activity went up, their vulnerability to stress went down. In another article with similar findings, VanKim and Nelson (2013) discussed a study that analyzed the relationship between vigorous physical activity with mental health, perceived stress, and socializing. A survey was given to 14,706 college students and it asked the students to rate their mental health, perceived stress, and social behaviors, and then asked about their exercise habits. It was found that students who did participate in vigorous physical activity did not report as much mental health problems and stress. It was also found through the study that socializing played a role in how much a person engaged in vigorous physical activity, therefore affecting their stress level. Both of these articles also included the important point that many studies find the same relationship between stress and physical activity, which is that exercise tends to decrease stress levels.

Nursing Interventions

        As discussed earlier, many college-aged students know the importance of getting exercise, but about half of them do not get the recommended hours of exercise per week. As a nurse, it is important to understand the reasons behind the students’ choices for not exercising. By helping the client deal with problems that are preventing them from exercising, the client will then be able to begin participating in physical activity, and therefore reduce their stress. Anjali and Sabharwal (2018) discussed a study that was performed to determine some of the obstacles that college-aged students faced when it came to engaging in physical activity. There were many barriers that were discussed, but the most common were lack of time, lack of energy, lack of self-motivation, lack of social support, and lack of knowledge, specifically related to types of exercises to do. Nurses can provide the client with information about time management and types of exercises to do to improve their education in those areas. They can also counsel them through their concerns of self-motivation and social support. One type of suggestion that seems to help many students is to find a workout partner so that they are able to help motivate each other. If students receive help dealing with these problems, they will be more willing to exercise and then consequently be able to reduce their stress.

Conclusion

Exercise has many benefits for reducing stress in college-aged students. Exercise has a big impact on the psychoneurological system, and it can change the way that students respond to their stress in a positive way. Many studies have demonstrated the relationship that exercise and stress share, which supports the idea that exercise is a great way for students to reduce their stress. Although there is so much evidence for this, there is still a considerable number of college-aged students that do not get the suggested amount of exercise for multiple reasons. Nurses can teach their client information and counsel them through the problems they have when it comes to exercising. When students get help managing those problems, they are then able to use exercise as a way to lower their stress levels.

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