The Benefits of Exercise: For College Students and Beyond

By Reshma Adwar, Staff Writer

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Reshma Adwar’s sneakers and yoga mat are her needed tools to have a good workout. Photo by Reshma Adwar

Reshma Adwar is a dietetics student who returned to school after a career as a physical therapist. She is interested in nutrition because she believes in preventing chronic diseases. Her career goal is to combine her expertise in nutrition and exercise to develop public health programming and policy.

It is well known that exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, however, there are several additional benefits of physical activity that people may not necessarily know about.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains that regular physical activity is one of the best things we can do for our health, and for individuals with no medical problems, the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), healthy adults should engage in moderate-intensity exercises, such as brisk walking, ballroom dancing and playing doubles tennis, for at least 150 minutes per week, or vigorous-intensity exercise, such as jogging, playing basketball and doing Zumba, for at least 75 minutes per week.

A combination of the two is also recommended. In addition, an exercise regimen that incorporates aerobics (cardio), strength training, flexibility and balance/coordination exercises are essential in maintaining optimal health.

A sedentary lifestyle—that is, one with little physical activity and a lot of time spent sitting down—increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, lower back pain and other ailments.

Conversely, an active lifestyle can offer the following benefits:

1. Decreased risk of obesity
As stated above, regular exercise in combination with healthful eating patterns can help you lose weight and keep it off. The exact amount may vary person to person, but according to the ACSM, when it comes to managing weight, the more physical activity the better.

2. Improved brain function
Some studies have shown that exercise can improve memory, learning and attention at every age. This is a great benefit to college students. Researchers have also found that exercise can sharpen and improve judgement.

3. Improved mood
Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of depression. In addition, group exercise classes can lead to increased socialization, community building and decreased loneliness, which can also improve overall mental health and mood.

4. Improved sleep
In some studies, those who exercised fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer than others who had not exercised. Exercise may help improve both quantity and quality of sleep.

5. Reduced risk of cancer
Research has shown that exercise may decrease the risk of certain cancers. In particular, studies have found that physical activity can decrease the risk of colon and breast cancer.

6. Decreased risk of heart disease
Exercise has been shown to reduce blood pressure and resting heart rate, improve the fitness of the heart, and improve cholesterol levels in the blood. All of these factors are important in reducing the risk of heart attacks, stroke and other heart diseases. The ACSM recommends more physical activity for additional benefits.

7. Lower risk of diabetes
Physical activity, particularly aerobic exercise, can help make muscles more sensitive to any carbohydrates taken in from food, which reduces the risk of diabetes by regulating blood sugar.

If you engage in regular physical activity, you are already reaping the benefits of exercise.

If you are new to exercise, the CDC recommends starting slowly and gradually building up your level of activity and intensity. If you have a medical condition or are worried about beginning to exercise, the CDC recommends checking with your doctor or another qualified medical professional to get clearance to exercise.

Once you become comfortable, try different types of exercise and see what you like best. The exercise you enjoy most will likely be the one you stick to and subsequently obtain the most benefits from.

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