A fun fact about Audrey Niblo is that she was a competitive cheerleader growing up. Cheerleading—and other sports—can be challenging and fun, as well as build friend- ships that last a lifetime. They can also positively impact mental health. Audrey’s opti- mistic disposition was well known to all who had her in class or met her on campus, and many athletes find that their mood and mental health improve when doing a sport they love with people who motivate them.
Staying active, such as by joining a sports team, creating a hiking group or exercising regularly, has a positive impact on both physical and mental health. In fact, exercise in any form is known to act as a stress reliever. Participating in physical activities such as yoga, strength training and cardio can aid in stress management. It’s important for students to manage their stress levels since stress can harm both mental and physical health.
According to Mayo Clinic, exercise increases the production of endorphins. Physical activity also serves as a form of meditation in motion since participating in fast-paced activities such as running and swimming laps around a pool helps people focus on their body’s movements and temporarily forget about the struggles and stressors they face. Additionally, exercise improves sleep cycles, which are often disrupted by stress and anxiety.
Sacred Heart University is known for its athletics program, with the athletic department consisting of 33 Division I teams and 30 club sports. From golf to football to figure skating, there are countless options for students to choose from, and each of these teams provides students a chance to destress and improve their mental health.
Sports teams bring students together on campus and make the community stronger. They serve as a way for students to make new friends, destress and simply have a fun time.
Emaly Pereira is a junior at Sacred Heart and a member of the fencing team, and she says fencing has helped her manage her stress levels. A typical morning at practice involves a warm-up and footwork, and then team members practice by fencing each other.
Emaly said that fencing practice aids in managing her stress levels because exercise distracts her from anything stressing her out. When she has had a stressful day, she can attend practice and play a sport she enjoys. She has something to look forward to, which pushes her through anything stressful going on in her life, and fencing serves as an outlet to release any stress she feels.
Carlos Ruiz, a graduate student on the club cheer team, agreed that exercise helps him both physically and mentally, especially by releasing stress.
“I believe that exercise and working out are vital for having a stress-free life,” said Ruiz. “You’re working on yourself and becoming the best version of yourself, which I think is amazing to see.”
Teamwork is also a big proponent of sports and stress relief, as it establishes trust and a close bond between teammates. However, successfully doing a sport competitively or for fun involves trust in yourself, too.
“While there is a team aspect to it, cheerleading is also an individual sport,” said Ruiz. “The progress you make as a cheerleader is your own journey. You learn to trust yourself and not let your mind affect what you can do.”
The first step toward using exercise as an outlet to release stress and build a healthy lifestyle, according to Mayo Clinic, is to create an exercise program that is consistent and attainable. The best way to create this program is to choose a sport of physical activity that you enjoy. It is also vital to begin exercise at a slower pace and gradually build up the fitness level over time. For example, you have to walk or jog before running. Finally, a critical step toward creating a successful exercise program is to create a schedule and pencil in workout days and routines.
Exercise is a great way for students to manage their stress levels. College can be a stressful time, especially when it comes to studying, writing essays and managing time efficiently. However, by following these steps, students are likely to improve their stress management skills by using exercise and the athletic programs that Sacred Heart offers as an outlet to relieve stress and build a healthier lifestyle.