Physical Health of University Students During a Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic left many of us confined to the safety of our homes, with major closures of public areas and social distancing a core recommendation to maintain the safety of us and our loved ones. It goes without saying that this had a huge negative impact on general mental health, both because of the fear and anxiety caused by the danger of the pandemic, as well as the low mood attributed to the inability to directly contact close friends and relatives. However, the mental impacts bled into repercussions for the physical health of previously healthy individuals. Being physically active requires energy and commitment that many of us have found difficult to gather up with the current state of affairs. This article doesn’t want you to beat yourself up over the fact that you have found it difficult to remain active in the wake of a crisis. Instead, it is about recognizing the benefits of maintaining one’s physical health in accessible ways for those who have the capacity to do so.

In an era laden with stress and anxiety, exercise and maintaining physical healthcare can be an important method for addressing low moods and negative emotions. Generally, students feel that an important part of maintaining a healthy mental state during quarantine is to listen to the physical needs of your body. This includes the importance of making sure you are eating properly and drinking enough water. It is easy to forget the importance of these factors in determining how good you feel about yourself when you are rushing to submit a paper before the deadline, but the benefits of doing so are many. 

Mattioli et. al. write about how being stressed and depressed can lead to engaging in a diet low in fruits and vegetables, which can be bad for the body as it receives less antioxidants and vitamins. Thus, quarantine “carries some long-term effects on cardiovascular disease, mainly related to unhealthy lifestyle and anxiety.”

On the flip side, doctors recommend physical exercise to patients who experience symptoms of poor mental health. In fact, “as little as ten minutes of moderate intensity walking can improve your mood.” Your method of maintaining your health does not need to look like anyone else’s- you will probably be the most aware of what is most useful to your body. If you are able to maintain some form of activity, then this could have a variety of positive consequences for your health. 

The harmful effects of a previously active person putting a pause on their activity come in many forms, such as a higher insulin level in the blood than normal, and a loss of cardiorespiratory fitness. Before quarantine, many of us had places to go for our daily responsibilities. For example, we had to go to university for a set number of hours in order to complete our classes and engage in other elements of our busy schedules. This alone caused us to move quite a lot, as opposed to when we became quarantined and essentially would go from our desk to our bed, oftentimes staying in the same room for prolonged periods of time. However, resuming exercise, even to a minor extent, can reverse the negative effects that come from highly reduced physical activity. It is possible to incorporate more physical self care elements into your daily schedule in a way that benefits you and your health.

Zoom University has left students feeling exhausted and unmotivated. We are unable to directly control when the pandemic will end, when cases will decrease, even if we do our utmost to practice social distancing. We are left with a very small sphere of things we can control. For some of us, this culminates in our ability to take walks outside, or follow Youtube workouts or yoga tutorials. For some of us this means making sure our water bottles are filled for the day. Sometimes, it might even be a realization that we need to book a doctor’s appointment in order to follow up on any health issue we might be experiencing. We can collectively agree to stay away from beating ourselves up for our actions and instead, listen to our body’s needs and try our best to fulfill them. Finally, it helps that we are able to communicate with each other on our social media, where we can find helpful peers and accountability partners to stand with us through these difficult times.