Student days – finding a breath of fresh air in all the madness

Mary Jennings: Spending time outside clears our head and lifts our spirit, something from which students could greatly benefit

While many of us are returning to the comfort of a familiar routine this September, others are starting a brand new chapter. I’m thinking especially of the college students who, for the first time, will step away from their structured school routine to embark on a fresh venture full of opportunity.

Busy timetables, a new environment and future friends await. All this change makes for an exciting, yet possibly daunting, time for the parents and young people.

Back in the day

At this time of the year I always look back on my own university days, an era long before I had started running or discovered any of the benefits of spending time in fresh air. When we weren’t studying or socialising, our time was spent chatting in the haze of the smoking section of the college restaurant. Even though I never smoked, it was my social hub. But times have changed. My student campus is hardly recognisable. Long gone is the goldfish bowl of a smoking room. The communal areas are now set up with comfy chairs and wifi connections as communication and studying are more dependent on screens. Students today are much more aware of wellbeing and looking after their mental and physical health than I ever was, but even armed with the knowledge it’s still not easy to leave the cosy indoor comforts for a blast of fresh air.

Beyond the college walls

Students today know as much as the rest of us that spending time outdoors can help us feel better, calmer and more in control. But like us all, the kick out the door is the hardest bit. As this new college year starts, I want to remind students that there is life beyond the university gates. Local paths, parks and public amenities offer a little escape and perspective away from the hectic college life. I’m embarrassed to say that I never did a loop of the beautiful park that lies alongside my university until many years after I graduated. My only memory of spending time there is on a sunny summer day drinking cider after getting exam results. Those exam results might have been a little better if I had known that getting up off my chair and clearing my head had so many benefits.

Why bother going outside?

There is a growing body of research on the power of time spent in fresh air and green spaces. It improves our energy and mood. Lower levels of fatigue, stress and depression have all been linked to outdoor activity as well as better concentration, focus and sleep. There is something magical about time in fresh air that makes everything seem better. It clears our head and lifts our spirit. But often it can seem too simple to bother doing as we feel too busy to take a step away from the books or deadlines.

Create your best work

Fresh air sparks creativity too. Some of the greatest scholars of the past claim their daily walk gave them inspiration for their best work. They were lucky back then not to have had the distraction of technology. Today, we all need the break from indoors even more. Imagine what we could gain from putting the tech on silent, taking a quick walk and letting the creative juices flow. We could return back to the desk with renewed enthusiasm, energy, perspective and inspiration. It would certainly be worth a lot more than another hour sitting in the library looking busy, procrastinating and checking messages.

Fitting it in your day

I don’t write this to add more to the busy schedule of new students. The timetables and new environment are enough of a challenge. Instead what I hope to do is plant a seed and offer a little reminder that you can always step outside to feel better. Whether you feel daunted or drained by an exam, assignment deadline, sleepless night or indeed a hectic party week, you can go outside to clear your head and refill it with fresh air, energy and life. You don’t need to be sporty to be someone who makes time for getting outside. You just have to decide you are going to do it and make it part of your routine.

Go with a group

If you know you will find it hard to make time to go solo, why not find someone who will help you get up and out. It’s always easier to move when someone is waiting for you at the end of the path. One of the huge perks of university life is that you are not the only new person in town. Everyone else is finding their feet too so keep an eye out for clubs and societies that organise outdoor meetups. The routines you create at the start of the college year and the people you meet along the way will stand to you long beyond those first few months. University might seem all about studying and socialising, but to thrive in this environment, knowing you have your fresh air escape will help keep all in perspective.

To the nagging parents

If you are a parent of one of these young people who will start on a new path this autumn, rather than lecture them on the perks of fresh air, eating well and the amount of time they are spending on their phone, practise what you preach instead. Take the time to rediscover your own locality, pop on your walking shoes and leave your phone in your pocket. It might help you worry less about your offspring and appreciate the free time that you have dreamed about having for so long. But you can still cut out this newspaper article and send it to them in the post. Or are newspaper clippings just another piece of nostalgia from my own college days?

A link on WhatsApp might get to them quicker but just don’t expect a response. They will be having too much fun to get back to you.

  • Mary Jennings is founder of and encourages people of all ages to go outside, get moving and feel alive. Her autumn beginners running courses are now open for booking in Dublin and online.

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