University students are ignoring a significant stress release: exercise. December signals the start of an escalating workload, beginning with essays and ending with exams. Students are under pressure to complete all of their assignments, leading to an increase in stress and an emphasis on time management. A simple solution is exercise, but it is not a priority.
Louise Vanderwees, the UTM athletic program coordinator, says that the students she talks to “often work out less because they find themselves busy”. The priority is to study and exercise gets pushed to the side.
“Students who have a consistent exercise plan are more likely to exercise, but the hope is for more students to exercise to reduce stress,” she says.
UTM fitness program assistant and personal trainer Cindy MacDonald and UTMAC president Belal Raifai echo the same sentiment.
MacDonald says, “Attendance [in the gym] drops off, and this shouldn’t happen because exercise is a good stress relief.”
“During the first two weeks, the gym is packed, but during December you can see it’s practically empty,” says Raifai. “Students are extremely busy with courses—a lot of exams are happening at the same time—so students tend to work out less, which is bad because working out and exercise is one of the best ways to destress both physically and mentally.”
Regular studying habits are crucial to success, but exercise improves the overall quality of life.
“Physical activity helps manages stress because it helps reduce stress hormones (e.g., cortisol) and promotes the production of endorphins that help elevate mood,” says health education coordinator Chad Jankowski, adding that physical exercise also helps “clear the mind so you can return to your studies fresh”.
“During stressful periods like exams, it’s tempting for students to cut out physical activity to create more time for studying, but that studying isn’t as efficient and can lead to burnout and overall poorer performance,” he says.
“Exercise helps reduce stress levels, but students get busy doing assignments [and] they are too tired for physical activity. Students create their schedule and decide what can go and that is exercise, but it should be a priority,” says MacDonald.
There are alternatives for students who are interested in exercise other than going to the gym.
“There are increased efforts by many on campus to minimize stress around exam time in other ways, such as instructors, departments, and services participating in the Exam Jam by offering review sessions, relaxation workshops, and fun activities, and things like student union ‘destressor’ events,” says dean of student affairs Mark Overton.
Earlier this week, UTMAC hosted a FIFA tournament with prizes and free food. Raifai says that about 40 to 50 students came to the event. For him, these events allow students to “disconnect from academics and socialize”. He hopes to make this a staple for students and says more activities will occur in the second semester during midterms and exams.
According to Raifai, the best way to get students involved is to reach out and learn about what events they want to see and create an open door policy for students to express themselves.
If you start exercising more often, hopefully regularly, you feel less stressed. Exercise improves your mood and helps you sleep better.
Vanderwees believes things get out of balance very quickly for some students during exams.
“Everything is good in balance—eating a good healthy meal, getting lots of sleep before an exam, and getting a quick workout before an exam if you can,” she recommends.
For students interested in going to the gym, Raifai says they should review their schedule and make the time, but remember to have reasonable goals. The purpose of the exercise is to be more active, to have more energy, and it doesn’t have to involve going straight to the gym.
An alternative Vanderwees provides is “taking the stairs to your exam; anything to get your body moving”. She is aware that students don’t always have time. “Take a break and go for a brisk walk, go to the gym, or go swimming, and come back and focus. You have to [do] something, and this helps you concentrate more,” she suggests.
According to her, some benefits of exercise are “circulation improvement, you focus better, and you manage your time better. Your body is more efficient, and your mind thinks better”.
MacDonald suggests “incorporating a little exercise into daily life; for instance, taking the stairs and parking far away so the walk on campus is longer”. Another suggestion is to “find a friend that holds you accountable”.
And for students who might not come to the gym, there are fitness classes such as yoga, the mind-body program with a drop-in schedule, and the option of a personal trainer. For a quieter setting, there is yogilates, and for the more energetic, there are boot camp classes in the athletic facilities.
The MoveU Sneaker Squad also held their final walk last week and were joined on Thursday, by SOC100 lecturer Nathan Innocente. The MoveU Crew will also participate in Exam Jam and run a physical activity auction to promote healthy, active living during the exam period. Sneaker Squad will also lead short walks as study breaks.
The best result of exercise is brain stimulation. You are more relaxed, less anxious, and the exercise gives you a break to sharpen your mind, strengthening focus for studying. Take advantage of the opportunities on campus offered this December.