Students can stay healthy during the new semester online

A new semester is an exciting but stressful time, with all of the changes that have occurred in daily life because of COVID-19. Now is the time more than ever to take care of physical and mental health so that the fall semester can be navigated with success.

Walking, jogging and running are great ways to stay healthy or improve health and also get outside. UAA students have fun and boost health at the 2019 Spirit Run. Photo by Christina Swayney.

Most classes at UAA are online this semester. Many Alaskans also work from home and in-person socializing is limited. People are home more often and can get bored, leading to more than usual social media engagement. Though contacting friends and family through Facebook and Instagram can be very helpful, an excess in social media can lead to stress, anxiety and even depression.

The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry published a study in 2019 of the negative effects of too much screen time, with social media specifically. The study took place over four years and was done on groups of people under 30. It found that the effects over time of too much screen time altered brain function in a negative way that led to more stress and anxiety.

One does not have to unplug cold-turkey but PC Mag suggests that weaning from social media just a little bit will help. Tips like changing notification settings so that one is not constantly aware if they have a ‘like’ or reply from a thread can ease the urgency to pick up the smartphone. There are also features on phones that allow users to see how much screen usage and how they use it. iPhones have a screen time usage widget that shows how many hours are used on the phone using specific apps and if usage has gone up or down weekly.

Getting some fresh air and sunshine can be good for the body and mind as well. Another study by Scientific Reports in England and published in 2019, suggests that 120 minutes in nature every week or about 17 minutes a day, can significantly improve the overall well being of individuals. Alaska has plenty of green space to enjoy. There are many ways to enjoy the outdoors such as hiking, biking on the Tony Knowles Coastal trail, kayaking and seasonal activities, such as berry picking in August and snow-shoeing in colder months.

Winter is coming and it may also be a good idea to make sure that busy students get daily essential nutrients, especially vitamin D since human deficiency can occur in the sunlight lacking days of Alaskan winter. Taking supplements and eating nutritious food will be a boost at any time of year. Water is also essential and it can be easy to forgo enough daily intake because coffee, tea and soda are more convenient.

If one is simply not thirsty, it may be a good idea to break a sweat occasionally. Exercise is also a good way to stay fit not just physically but mentally as well. A study published by The National Institute of Biotechnology, or NCBI, suggests that there are numerous positives with exercise.

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“The evidence [in the study]  also suggests that physical activity and exercise might provide a beneficial adjunct for alcoholism and substance abuse programs; improve self-image, social skills and cognitive functioning; reduce the symptoms of anxiety; and alter aspects of coronary-prone (Type A) behavior and physiological response to stressors,” according to NCBI.

Now is a great time to get outdoors and jog, play sports or take a hike. Yoga can be therapeutic outside and can be done in the backyard or a park. The combination of sunlight and physical movement can be very uplifting. When that is not possible due to weather, there are options for workouts online and options to bring the benefits of sunlight indoors.

There are many free workouts on YouTube and many workout apps have generous free trials. CNet has a list of workout channels on YouTube with many free options. From yoga, HIIT to dance cardio, there is something for everyone. Lack of sunlight can be supplemented by Happy Lights or lightboxes. Making sure that one gets outside when the sun is out in winter may help as well.