Sweat away anxiety: Relieve stress with Move for Your Mood

Move+For+Your+Mood+-+Photo+via+PxFuel

Move For Your Mood – Photo via PxFuel

Feelings of stress and anxiety go hand-in-hand with the end of an academic semester. What is a good way to manage stress and anxiety at a crucial time like this? According to Karyn Smith, health educator for the Division of Health and Wellness and fitness coordinator within Recreational Wellness, the answer may be exercise.

“When you’re exercising, your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which give you that high, just like happiness,” she said. “It also reduces stress hormones such as cortisol, so not only are you getting the benefits of releasing these great chemicals in the brain, but you’re also reducing the stress hormones, too. It’s very impactful, and such a great stress reliever, too.”

Stress relief and “feel-good” hormones are not the only cognitive benefits of exercise, though. Smith said exercise helps the neurons in your brain to operate more efficiently due to the oxygen and nutrients that are being transferred, which helps your brain to function at its best.

“Research shows that exercising consistently over time will develop new brain cells in the hippocampus and the frontal cortex, and that helps with memory and creativity,” she said. “I think people get so focused on the physical benefits and don’t even realize how beneficial it is to enhance their mood, relieve stress and improve their cognitive function, too.”

Smith helps to coordinate the Move for Your Mood program, a fitness program that was started a few years ago at BGSU. It was created to increase awareness among the BGSU community regarding the benefits of exercise and movement and to provide free opportunities for faculty, staff and students to take movement breaks. Furthermore, a health assessment survey that helps to evaluate BGSU’s performance in health and wellness topics found that stress, anxiety and other mental health issues were continuing to increase, which prompted its creation.

“And this was even before the pandemic that we were seeing a rise in issues,” she said.

The program utilizes the gym in Eppler South to provide a centralized location for people to incorporate exercise into their day when they are on campus, but the program also collaborates with different groups and offices.

“We go out and do outreach, too,” she said. “We go into classrooms, residence halls, department meetings and we’ll provide a low-impact movement break. We try to keep it fun and provide opportunities for people to take that mental break and get some movement.”

One of the goals for the Move for Your Mood program is to make it accessible for all fitness levels and provide a space in which everyone feels welcome. Smith said she wants to change the culture and encourage people to make their health and wellness more of a priority.

“Knowing the research and just knowing how beneficial exercise is, we wanted to be able to provide those opportunities and educate, to be able to help our faculty, staff and students to make lifestyle changes and hopefully become more active,” she said.

Smith encourages people to try different things for exercise and find what works for them. Many people struggle with exercise, whether it’s the physical exertion or the stress of expectations. It may be time to change the approach.

“I think it’s really important for people to find something they enjoy doing,” she said. “I feel like people have such a negative feeling sometimes when it comes to exercise, and it could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe they had a bad experience, or they just never found anything they enjoyed, but there’s just so many options and ways for people to be accessed.”

Additionally, there are a lot of ways to be active and a lot of places in which you can engage in physical activity so don’t be discouraged by limitations.

“If you don’t enjoy running, don’t run,” she said. “There’s a lot of other ways that you can be active. You can dance, you can swim, you can ride your bike. You can do so many other things whether it’s in the student rec center or on campus, or even in your residence hall or apartment.”

An evaluation is conducted at the end of each semester for the Move for Your Mood program in which participants self-report benefits that they obtained from the program.

“It’s really awesome to see the feedback we get from participants,” Smith said. They are reporting that it’s allowing them to go back to their desk, go back to studying or go to class feeling re-energized and more productive. It is a change for them to release some stress and it’s a change for them to be able to take that much needed break.”

Smith wants to promote a culture in which people take care of themselves and encourage others to do so at BGSU through the Move for Your Mood program. The goal is to expand, keeping the sessions that they have now and adding more.

“We’d love to collaborate with more campus partners to be able to provide more opportunities and other spaces on campus,” she said.

While completing papers and projects and studying for exams are at the top of the list of priorities, make sure to include yourself in that list. Don’t hesitate to take a walk, stretch, or engage in low-impact movement to manage your stress and anxiety.