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Healthy Minds Healthy College

Get moving — it’s good for your mind!

September 9, 2014

Running feet in autumn

We’ve all heard it a million times — exercise is good for us. But not only do our muscles benefit when we hit the gym or go for a run, exercise also does wonders for our brain and our mental health.

One of the biggest reasons for this is because exercise and sleep are the only two things that help our bodies rid themselves of the hormone cortisol, which causes us to feel stressed. Exercise also pushes positive endorphins through our brains and this helps alleviate feelings of depression.

“Since students are often running low on sleep, exercise is even more important for getting the cortisol out of their system,” says Tessa Blaikie, youth mental health promotions worker at the Canadian Mental Health Association Winnipeg. “Exercise also promotes sleep because it tires us out, making it more likely we’ll have a restful night.”

But between papers, projects and presentations, let’s be honest, how many of us have time to regularly hit the gym?

Fortunately, the gym is just one place where we can get the exercise we need. Research shows it only takes about 10 minutes of moving our bodies before our brains release those positive endorphins. So whether it’s taking several flights of stairs, getting off the bus a few stops early or parking the car across the parking lot and walking, it will still benefit your mental health.

Another bonus of being active is how it can sharpen our mental focus. This is why taking breaks during study sessions for physical activity can actually end up increasing our productivity and ability to absorb information.

“When you’re at a point where you’re re-reading the same page in your textbook, it’s better to go for a walk, do some jumping jacks, run around the block — anything to get you moving so when you come back, your brain is ready to learn,” says Tessa.

Even taking a break to laugh with friends can improve our ability to focus. How come? Because laughing is a form of exercise! Studies show laughing for 15 minutes a day can help you burn about 15 to 40 calories.

So, next time you find yourself falling asleep in your textbook, don’t feel guilty about taking a break to catch up with friends at the Cave or in the Atrium. But just keep in mind that it’s only a break…

How does physical activity help your concentration? Let us know in the comment section below!