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Students counter stress and depression with exercise

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Students work out at the CSU-Pueblo Rec Center Photo by Dustin Cox
Students work out at the CSU-Pueblo Rec Center
Photo by Dustin Cox

It’s not unusual for students to experience varying degrees of stress, anxiety, and depression as they encounter both academic and non-academic stresses during their college experience. Non-academic stressors can include personal relationships, work life, and family, and because of the pressure of managing all aspects of college life, mental health issues have increased among students.

Seventy-five percent of mental disorders are diagnosed before the age of 24, according to a study done at Penn State University. For traditional college students, this means that many mental health issues will emerge before or during their time in college.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that women are two times more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime. In their survey of college students, 38 percent of students were recorded as having either depression or anxiety disorders. Eighty-two percent of students who were recorded to have these disorders were female, compared to 16 percent who were male and two percent who were transsexual.

According to the American Psychological Association, “anxiety is the top presenting concern among college students (41.6 percent), followed by depression (36.4 percent) and relationship problems (35.8 percent). Many students search for an outlet to their academic and non-academic stressors, which often leads to unhealthy choices involving alcohol and drugs.”

There is a healthy way to combat mental health issues, and many college campuses offer the resource needed to do so. At Colorado State University- Pueblo all enrolled students are given free access to the recreation center on campus.

Junior Kayla Booton said, “I think it is important to have a workout somewhere in your routine because it will help to destress in a healthy way compared to partying and drinking, which can inhibit and damage your body even more. When you work out it gives you more energy to get through the day, and you feel healthier.”

Many students at the recreation center on CSU- Pueblo’s campus exercise between one and three hours per day and said that exercise positively affects their mental health.

“I get about an hour and a half [of exercise] on most days, but if I have a lot to do, then I get about 30-45 minutes,” Booton said.

When struggling with anxiety or depression, exercise often seems like the last thing students want to do, but exercise can make a big difference in their mental health.

Brittani Trevithick, a senior at CSU-Pueblo said, “Before entering college, I hated working out. But because of all the stress and demands college places in your life, I found working out to be my outlet from it all.”

Some researchers suspect exercise alleviates chronic depression and anxiety by increasing serotonin which is the neurotransmitter in antidepressants and antianxiety medications.

“After working out, I believe it gives me a burst of energy to finish out the day and all the other things I need to accomplish. It also gives me time to just clear my mind,” Trevithick said.

“I think [exercise] does positively affect my mental health because it usually decreases my stress and I have more focus and energy for the rest of my day,” agreed DJ Aguilar, a criminology major at CSU-Pueblo.

Students who have experienced the positive effects of exercise on a daily basis have great advice and encouragement for other college students.

“My advice to other students would be to get up early and work out. It’s a relaxing way to start the day, and you feel more energized and alert throughout the day,” Aguilar said.

“My advice would be not to think of exercise as going to the gym. There are a lot of ways to get daily exercise such as taking walks, sports, dancing, and so on. I even get my studying in while I am riding the stationary bike,” said Cristi Meyer, a mass communications student.

The recreation center at CSU-Pueblo offers its students many opportunities to work out which include all types of exercise. Fitness classes consist of circuit training, high intensity interval training, kick boxing, yoga, and Zumba. The facility is also equipped with basketball courts, a rock climbing wall, a swimming pool, and cardio and weight rooms.

“I recently have become really interested in lifting, but I also still really like to do some type of cardio on occasion.” Trevithick said. “I really enjoy lifting because you get to set goals for yourself and get the satisfaction of meeting those goals. I also enjoy it because you are pushing your body to its limit.

“I would also say, no matter how busy you are, you should set aside 30 minutes and fit in some exercise. It will not only make you feel better physically, but also make you feel a lot better emotionally. You will immediately notice a difference in your stress levels and your attitude in general.”

“My favorite kind of exercise is to run on the treadmill because that is how I let off all my frustrations. I also like Zumba because you feel like you are working out but having fun at the same time,” Booton added.

The CSU-Pueblo Recreation Center is open Monday-Thursday from 6 a.m.-11 p.m., Fridays from 6 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m.-10 p.m.

For more information about the facility and the fitness classes, visit the recreation center website at www.csupueblo.edu/SR.