College students are often torn between doing what’s good for themselves and doing what’s enjoyable. Sometimes that means eating fried chicken and french fries instead of grilled chicken and broccoli. It can also mean staying in bed all day on weekends instead of getting up and exercising.
Rather than choose the easier option, students should consider doing something good for their mind and body. In a recent study conducted by PloS One, a connection was made linking happiness and physical activity. It is commonly known that physical activity can make a person happier, but this specific study tracked individuals’ moods and physical activity through a phone app.
The app passively gathered information about participants’ physical activity through accelerometers on the users’ phones, according to the study. The app also sent two random notifications every day to assess the users’ mood and other personal health questions.
This study tracked both physical and nonphysical activity in order to determine how non-physical activities such as standing, walking or fidgeting effects an individual.
“The frequency with which people physically move throughout the day, even if that movement is not rigorous exercise, is associated with both physical health and happiness,” the study stated in its conclusion. “The current research reveals the important connection between physical and psychological processes, indicating that even slight changes in one has consequences for the other.”
The commonly known reason exercise can make a person happier is because of endorphins. When your body is under stress or experiences pain, neurochemicals called endorphins are produced in the brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland, according to an article from CNN. Endorphins are natural painkillers and help bring feelings of euphoria and general well-being.
PSUC cognitive psychology professor Jeremy Grabbe said exercise is extremely helpful in the emotion and learning areas of the brain. Exercise also increases blood flow to various areas of the brain, which also increases the likelihood of transport of waste materials he said.
“Increased blood flow from exercise actually makes it so you create a healthier environment where all these things are transported away,” Grabbe said. “They’re (parts of the brain) nourished and metabolically active so they can engage in more activities that will be conducive for learning.”
For PSUC students, especially in the winter, it can seem difficult to actually get up and go to the gym or even go for a walk. However, the study also discovered that poor health has significant individual and societal costs. Lack of physical activity was linked to poor psychological health or happiness.
For some students, going to the gym and staying active is necessary to their daily lives. Junior criminal justice major Amanda Settino feels like she needs to go to the gym once a day to feel good physically and mentally.
“If I have to skip a day at the gym, I get anxious and feel bad about not going,” Settino said. “I love working out because it gives me a natural high and I feel amazing afterward.”
The natural high or “runner’s high” Settino refers to has been widely discussed since the mid-1970s. This is just another way people describe the rush of endorphins in their body. Settino said she thinks more people should try exercising more because you feel so satisfied and happy after a workout, even if it burns after.
This research also found that people who moved more often tended to report greater life satisfaction overall than those who spend most of their time on a chair or couch.
“We look at exercise and it really does help that learning area and emotion area of the brain,” Grabbe said.
Grabbe thinks college students have greater opportunities for exercise than older generations because they have more free time and not as many responsibilities.
“Whether they dedicate the right amount of time is a different issue,” Grabbe said.
Being physically active all comes down to being motivated and wanting to do good for yourself. Setting aside time to exercise may seem daunting to students who already have hectic schedules, but doing something good for your body once a day is going to make you much happier down the road.
Email Laura Schmidt at firstname.lastname@example.org