Ohio State University: Women’s History Month event emphasizes mental, physical health

As the observance of Women’s History Month continues throughout March, the Undergraduate Business Women’s Association (UBWA) is hosting a series of events emphasizing the importance of wellness and self-care.

“The Undergraduate Business Women’s Association is a student organization here on campus,” said Tori Holzwarth, UBWA’s vice president of special events. “We bring together all students who want to empower women, and we do that through professional development, philanthropy, community building and engaging discussions.”

UBWA kicked off Women’s History Month with a March 1 discussion of how support systems are key to mental health. The event, held at Busch House on the Columbus campus, brought together about 50 students who shared perspectives on how women and men can serve as allies and contribute to each other’s sense of well-being.

Ryan Patel, staff psychiatrist with the Office of Student Life’s Counseling and Consultation Service, offered tips on how nutrition and exercise can help students manage stress and ward off depression. He related that the intake of fruits, vegetables and protein-rich foods influences the body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, emotions, appetite and digestion.

“When serotonin levels are low, you’re going to have depression symptoms, you’re going to have anxiety symptoms, and (depression) medications are not going to work as well because there’s not enough serotonin to begin with,” Patel said.

Patel cautioned students to monitor their intake of caffeine, which can provide a “pick-me-up” when energy is flagging but can also elevate levels of the stress hormone cortisol when overconsumed.

“The other effect of caffeine is the impact on the depth and quality of sleep, so you’re not going to be as refreshed the next day, you’re going to be more sluggish and need more caffeine,” he said. “It kind of turns into a spiral.”

Exercise is also essential to mental health, Patel said. He cited studies indicating that sedentary behavior – defined as getting in fewer than 5,000 steps a day – can lead to anxiety and depression.

“It’s not just that people get depressed and as a result, they’re sedentary. It’s that if you become sedentary, you can become depressed,” Patel said. “It is a bidirectional relationship.”

While regular physical activity is important to overall health, studies show that overtraining can exacerbate stress levels, and a moderate approach to exercise tends to be optimal, Patel said.

“If you’re working out intensely … every few weeks, you might want to just take a week off or do something easy that week: an easy bike ride, throw the Frisbee around, take a walk,” he said. “Pull back your workout to allow that nervous system to recover, to allow your cartilage and joints to recover, to allow that inflammation to be worked out of your system so that you come back stronger.”

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