Advice from the Trenches: Off Your Ass

Dear C;

offassI’m back in school. I know this is a great opportunity and a privilege, but it’s also stressful as hell. Last semester, I felt like I lost myself while I kept up my studies and grades. I let my exercises and yoga slide. Not only that, I seemed to get sick a lot; I’d catch every cold and virus that blew through.

How can I take better care of myself when I don’t have any time? I need to have some kind of a social life, so don’t tell me to “establish my priorities” and go to the gym instead of down to the pub. I need some help I can live with.

Harried Harriet

Dear Harried;

God forbid I should suggest you establish priorities. What am I, your mother? But if you want some real help, I gotta give it to you straight: Right now, all you are doing is shooting yourself in the foot. If you keep it up, you may not make it through the next semester.

Sacrificing exercise in hopes of making better grades is a bone head idea. Research shows that when people stop moving, their brains get sluggish too. Recent studies by an international team of scientists found that, while physical activities can take students away from school work, this time out is a valid investment to improve academic performance. A single session of moderate-intensity exercise can improve grade performance, brain function and cognitive reasoning. In fact, a study by the American College of Sports Medicine found that college students who regularly participated in vigorous physical activity consistently had higher GPA’s (grade point averages) than their more comatose counterparts — 3.5 compared to 3.0. That’s a pretty significant difference.

You also mentioned that your health seemed to suffer. Students are famous for infecting each other through sheer propinquity. If a bug is going around, you’d better have a strong immune system or you are like a piece of walking Velcro to which every floating virus and bacteria will attach. Chosun University in South Korea recently conducted a research series that showed that long-term, regular exercise considerably improved the immune defense mechanism against infections such as colds and the flu.

I’m guessing that you chain yourself to a chair while you study. This is probably the direct cause of your repeated illnesses last semester. And this effect goes further than short term; even if you exercise a few days a week, if you spend six or more hours a day in a chair (and this is amazingly easy to do) you are far more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes as you age. Get out of the freakin’ chair! Hemingway typed all his books standing at a bureau because furniture makers hadn’t heard of ergonomics at the time. These days, it is easy to elevate a work station; there’s a ton of options on the internet. I use an old fruit crate to raise my own computer so I can work standing up.

If you want to get some exercise AND you want to hang out with your friends, there’s no reason that you can’t accomplish both goals at once. Correct me if I’m wrong, but “the pub” sounds like a place where you sit on your ass and drink. If the idea is to have fun, you’ll probably have a whole lot more fun if you go out dancing instead of flattening your butt on a bar stool. If you try grooving at the pub, in about 60 seconds someone will be bitching, “Hey, siddown! We’re trying to watch the game!” I suggest a gay bar. Things may have changed, but in my day, they always had the best music AND ventilated dance floors. Or go on a walking tour of the city while drinking out of a brown paper bag (did I just say that?). It’s a helluva lot cheaper.

If your friends just aren’t into it, that doesn’t mean that you have to be a slack head.Your school probably has work-out equipment available. Take a book and get some of your reading done on the treadmill or stationary cycle before you head out for a night with your pals. Trust me, you probably spend that same 25 minutes playing video games or scrolling through social media without even realizing it. Just do it at the gym instead of the student lounge or your dorm room.

Exercise is also a remarkably effective anti-depressant and helps to alleviate anxiety. Considering the stress that you are going through, putting exercise on the back burner in hopes of winning the paper chase is probably the worst thing you can do. It just turns you into a sick rat on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

You wanted some help you could live with. Now you’ve got it. If you were hoping there was a comfortable, pub-friendly solution, there just isn’t. I’m not saying that it’s easy … but if you opt to simply grit your teeth and soldier on, you are far more likely to find yourself in the infirmary than at the head of the class. Get moving!

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