Give Yourself an Exercise Break

By Stephanie Schwartz, Elon iMedia Class of 2013

I was only two days into Bootcamp when my hand started bothering me. Oh no, I thought, as I rubbed my wrist, flashing back three years to a workplace-related injury. By the end of the week, I was frantic. My entire right arm was hurting me. An old injury had resurfaced with a vengeance, but I knew there was no way I’d ever be able to get through this computer-heavy program with this much pain, let alone the next week.

I, like the rest of my iMedia cohort, knew when I chose this program it was going to be intense. Studying interactive media, obviously, and living in the twenty-first century, my classmates and I knew it was going to involve a lot of time sitting in front of a computer, editing, tweaking, designing. But we didn’t quite realize that the nature of the program was going to mess with our bodies.

The piles and piles of homework seemed never-ending – the only way to get through it was to take it one day at a time. There was always something to read, a project to work on, a dreaded Flash assignment to start, and many of us felt that we could barely keep up. And then our advisors and professors would remind us about portfolios, conferences, competitions, outside projects and job searching tactics, which only served to work us up into another tizzy.

To say we were stressed is laughable. Stress is par for the course here.

But we also were in pain.

Eye strain. Sore backs. Numb fingers. The lack of sleep and odd eating habits weren’t helping, certainly, but that’s part of school. The pain, which was too common and too frequent to be an aberration, is not.

With our tight schedules – five classes, a seminar and a workshop for the first half of the semester – finding time to exercise was tough. But several students, myself included, realized that we needed that breather.

“I handle everything by eating sweets and exercising twice a week. Counterproductive, kind of, but it works for me,” said Dioni Wise, who takes Zumba classes in Greensboro, where she lives, twice a week. She also added that her commute gives her some down time where she can’t work on work, even if she is just sitting in a car.

Other students, like Ruth Eckles, say that the commute – she drives from Durham – is relaxing because it forces her to step away from the madness and focus on something else.

However, that’s not a real break. She quickly noticed that she was stressing herself out. “Working so hard in the program, I pretty much dropped all my personal self-care regimen (eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, being social with friends), telling myself ‘there’s no time!’ Over time, this has caused my anxiety to escalate and as a result, it felt harder to concentrate, and I just felt physically and emotionally bad. I could tell if I kept it up, I was heading for a serious case of depression. I knew I needed to nip that in the bud and be more proactive. So I basically have just been making myself do all those things I tell myself there’s no time to do: I work out, I get enough sleep,” she said.

Other students echoed her sentiments. Marshall Beringer realized that his lower back pain was “probably due to the amount of sitting in front of a chair while working on the laptop. Now, I’ve been taking more breaks by walking around for a little bit. That actually seems to be helping quite a lot.”

Beringer and Eckles have the right idea. Even though our 10 months here gives us the feeling that there’s never enough time to devote to everything we want to do, we need to fit in exercise breaks, even if it is just a walk around campus. Those walks stimulate thoughts, open up our mind and can lead to inspiration or a breakthrough in a way that staring at code for ten minutes won’t.

As Elon students, we also have access to a large gyma swimming pool, and a program where $20 will get you unlimited exercise classes like yoga, Pilates, kickboxing and yes, Zumba for the whole year. If we can find time to get away, Elon is situated near some wonderful parks and hiking trails, and we aren’t far from Greensboro if we want to do some urban exploring.

Keeping our bodies refreshed will help us think clearly, enabling us to focus our energy where it really matters: on our studies. Breaks are good and absolutely necessary, especially in a rigorous graduate program that leaves little time for much else. In between classes, I try to move around, taking quick strolls around campus, and I try to go for a run or do some form of sustained exercise at least once a week – my absolute minimum.

As for that pain: all I needed to do was switch the mouse. Now I just have to make sure that I can teach myself to step away from the computer.

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