As students come into their final week of the semester at the University of Maine, a quiet tension settles over the campus. Twenty-four-hour quiet hours come into effect in residence halls, Raymond H. Fogler Library stays open into the early hours of the morning and students buckle into the caffeine-fueled rollercoaster that is the end of the semester. Needless to say, this is a stressful time, and those who were already struggling throughout the semester are especially susceptible to crumble beneath rising stress levels. UMaine has a dedicated counseling center and a network of residence assistants on campus to provide support and a helping hand, but there are options for students to help themselves by either supplementing or replacing these resources. One alternative is running.
If you’ve heard it from your high school physical education teacher once, then you’ve heard it a million times: running and other forms of cardiovascular exercise are extremely beneficial for both your physical and mental health. Researchers have found that running boosts immune system responses, helps fight cognitive decline and is extraordinarily beneficial for cardiovascular and heart health. For many runners, the physical benefits are much less of a priority than the mental ones. The appeal being in the pursuit of the runner’s high, another word for the rush of endorphins one feels after bouts of strenuous exercise. Although many scoff at the runner’s high as mere propaganda created by masochists seeking to indoctrinate sedentary victims into their tribe of short-shorts and blisters, there are undeniable mental benefits.
One study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013 found that testing running mice actually increased anxiety inhibiting mechanisms in the hippocampus. Running also opens doors into new, supportive communities. A study published earlier this year in the BMJ Open Sport Exercise Medicine Journal found that individuals with mood disorders that participated in group runs experienced greatly reduced anxiety and depression. According to the American College Health Association, 40 percent of college students struggle to function as a result of depression, and with the numbers of students seeking help from on-campus counseling centers increasing by 30 percent in recent years, many schools are struggling to keep up with demand.
Highlands College in Alabama has recognized these trends and used them to conjure an unconventional way of combating student anxiety and depression. Highlands requires that students run a half-marathon twice in their college career. The college’s president, Mark Pettus, cites both the physical and mental health benefits of following a strict training plan resulting in reaching a substantial goal. What Pettus is attempting to create at his school is just a microcosm of the extremely positive and supportive running community that exists across every state and countless parts of the world. Although Highlands is a very small school that has only been in existence since 2011, it may encourage other schools to take after its own approach to students mental health instead of dumping more money into counseling centers that are often ineffective and overburdened.
The Millinocket Marathon and half-marathon were held this past Saturday. A number of UMaine students from the campus Track Club participated in the half-marathon, a free event to all participants which is an amazing value in an era of running where most events of the same caliber cost upwards of $50 per participant. The event started in 2015 as a way to bring revenue to a town that has struggled since both of its mills closed. Not only does the event exist for a good cause, but it presents a valuable opportunity for UMaine students to exercise away the stresses and anxieties that they may be facing with impending due dates and finals.