The effects of physical activity on stress and depression

Rhodes University recently held their annual ‘Wellness Week’ which aims to educate students on the importance of wellness in all aspects of life. Psychological wellness is an important factor to maintain, especially among university students.

According to a study done by the James Madison University, the biggest factors of stress among undergraduate students is time management and the academic workload. One of the ways to deal with the stress is through physical activity.

Dusty Zeisberger, a personal trainer at the Rhodes Health Suite emphasises the importance of dealing with stress through exercising: “Your mind needs a break from the books just as much as your body needs a break from heavy physical activity.”

IMAGE: Tebatso Molapo

The study also shows that colds and flu become prominent among students during stressful times. However, this is not the only symptom of stress – other symptoms include exhaustion, back and neck ache, difficulty concentrating and poor sleeping patterns.

It is important to deal with stress the correct way to prevent a burnout or long-term psychological damage. “Exercise reduces the body’s stress hormones and increases the levels of endorphins – the ‘feel good’ hormone”, said Zeisberger.

Endorphins released from physical activity give the body a natural high and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression.

According to an article published by the Harvard medicine school, a study on depression was conducted with 156 people suffering from depression, participants were divided into three groups. The first group carried out an aerobic exercise program while the second group were administered an anti-depressant for severe depression. The third group participated in both aerobics and anti-depressants.

At the end of the study, it was found that approximately 60 percent of the participants no longer showed symptoms of major depression. The study showed that while anti-depressants help, so does exercise and the effects of exercise have shown to last longer than the effects of medication.

Just as endorphins relieve stress, they are also known to improve emotions. Taking a short walk through the botanical gardens or a quick run through the campus will enable the body to release feelings of euphoria and improve the body’s emotional wellness.

Roberta Kisubi a weights instructor at the Rhodes health suite states that depression is usually as a result of an unhealthy life style, “I am not saying that exercise is a one way ticket to happiness but it is definitely one way of doing something about a bad situation” she adds.


Words by Samantha Johnson and Marjorie Rugunda

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