By Rosa Juffer
— The high workload, demanding classes and attendance requirements of Amsterdam University College (AUC) often take their toll on its students. For many, the prospect of an upcoming deadline is stressful enough to opt for an extra hour of study instead of hitting the gym. However, according to mental and physical health experts, it is exactly this exercise that could relieve some of stress students experience.
Lotte Peetz, a third-year Social Science major, says “I never went anymore, just the workload, extracurricular activities… Now I cancelled my gym membership.” Peetz is not the only one, as there is a general trend noticeable AUC: A widespread survey regarding health problems among students conducted by general practice Oude Turfmarkt, showed that 45% of AUC students feel they are not exercising enough, making their lack of exercise the number one health complaint at AUC. Peter Vonk, general practitioner at Oude Turfmarkt and Office of Student doctors, finds this a serious problem. Talking about exercise, Vonk says that many students want to exercise, but that they don’t actually do it.
Jacob van der Ham, third-year Social Science major, treasurer of Catch and captain of the AUC basketball team, doubts it is only stress that causes people to exercise less. According to Van der Ham, “It is the idea that they don’t have time to exercise.” This does not only count for the gym; Van der Ham notices a similar pattern with the sport events that Catch organises. “This year around 100 students joined Catch, but not everyone makes it happen,” van der Ham says. “I notice it within my basketball team: the team consist out of twenty people, but only 8 or 9 show up. The others cancel, stressed over a deadline,” he says.
According to Vonk, it is easier to cancel your training or skip the gym, because there is no sports culture at University Colleges or Dutch universities in general. “In the United States, the student that doesn’t join a sports team is the exception,” Vonk says. “Here, students have other priorities, they’d rather go to the student café. Many students don’t think “well let’s not exercise anymore”, it is more of an unconscious decision,” Vonk says. He explains that if you are not used to exercise regularly, it is hard for students that have a high workload to continue to exercise which means that stress could have an inhibiting effect on working out.
However, it is actually exercise that can reduce this stress, Vonk says. Vinika Porwal, student life officer at AUC, emphasises this as well. “Physical health affects mental health, exercise can help promote stress relief and decrease anxiety,” Porwal says. Stress is the number one reason why AUC students visit Porwal, as high levels of stress effect students mentally but also physically, according to Porwal.
The Oude Turfmarkt and Universum Sport Center work together to tackle the high levels of stress students’ experience. “We started a project where we offered thousands of students with mental health issues the opportunity to exercise for half of the price at USC,” Vonk says. “Only 3 of them went.”
However, some students do exercise more since they joined AUC. Connor Barette, third-year Humanities major, plays ice-hockey and goes to the gym three times a week. Although the capstone deadline is approaching, he still manages to exercise. Barette says the gym helps him to not think about school. “It reboots my brain,” Barette says. He is not the only one; Van der Ham also sees the positive effects of working out to reduce stress. “I notice myself that when I exercise, I can relax, and afterwards I can find back my focus”, Van der Ham says. He also notices this with other students during the basketball trainings. “A lot of students arrive stressed at a training, but during these two hours they let it go,” he says.
It seems like a basketball training or a one-hour session at the gym will give students not more, but less stress. With USC Science park located only 400 meters away from the academic building, the answer for AUC students seems to be around the corner.
Editor’s note: This news story is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was entirely reported, written, edited, and fact checked by members of the journalism course. Some material may have been altered by The Herring’s editors to fit its style guidelines.