Exercise can help students cope with stress



    Stress seems to be a part of life around campus these days, with assignments due and midterm exams coming up for many students. Stress doesn’t have to get the upper hand, however, and exercise and good eating habits are two tools that can help manage it.

    Larry Tucker, professor in the Health and Human Performance Department and director of health promotion, said, “Your management of stress can be improved because of exercise.”

    Lora Beth Brown, associate professor of food science and nutrition, said that good health in general improves your ability to do just about anything.

    Tucker said that the body prepares itself to meet the demands that are placed on it, whether in a fight-or-flight situation, or dealing with the day-to-day demands of college life. When this happens, adrenaline is released, muscles tense up, breathing accelerates and your mouth becomes dry.

    When the body is under continual stress for extended periods of time, it becomes fatigued, which limits its ability to cope with stress, Tucker said.

    “In our society, overload is a problem. We have so many demands and too many adaptations to make, so the body prepares itself (for those demands). We have relatively few ways to calm those reactions,” he said.

    Enter exercise …

    Keith Karren, professor of health sciences, said that relaxed, aerobic exercise helps him to relax and cope more effectively with stress.

    “I jog and walk every day — a nice gentle walk, then a nice gentle jog. I use my mind in a creative way,” he said.

    Karren said that this type of relaxing exercise can provide a break from the normal routine and help a person think more clearly.

    Exercise is also a way to control stress response.

    “Exercise is a stressor, in the sense that it raises your blood pressure and your heart rate,” he said. “Doing it in a controlled way makes your body more adapted to stress.”

    He said that people tend to grow and adapt to stressors, in much the same way as weight lifters adjust to lifting heavier weights by developing stronger muscles.

    Brown suggested that proper nutrition and good health in general can also contribute to the body’s ability to cope with stress. She warned, however, against resorting to bad eating habits as a method of dealing with stress.

    “If you use foods to cope with stress, you need to choose them even more carefully,” she said. “Otherwise, you may feel more guilty in the long run.”

    Karren said that although fat is necessary to some extent, people don’t need the amount of fat that most Americans take in.

    Tucker said, “One of the purposes in life is to learn to deal with change and demands that are placed on us.”

    He encouraged people who are having difficulties managing stress in their lives to seek outside help.

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