How it Works: when to study and when to walk away

Madeline Bombardi

October is a wonderfully bittersweet month the beautiful colors on the trees, selfies in sweaters and, of course, the dreaded midterms.

It’s that time of the year when every professor decides they need students to show what they’ve learned so far. Studying in preparation for an exam is undoubtedly important. However, overworking your brain could be hurting you more than helping.


When you spend two or more continuous hours studying, your brain becomes overtaxed in trying to convert all the information from short-term memory to long-term memory.

Although you may be sitting still, your brain is using an enormous amount of energy to maintain focus on the task at hand. Many of us will quickly find that studying for many hours is exhausting and attempting to continue to study becomes increasingly more difficult in maintaining retention.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology stated that people learn best when we take a 10-minute break for every hour spent studying. During this time, the brain has time to rest and retain the information previously studied.

Attempting to study straight through fatigue will result in decreased productivity.

Researchers at the University of Georgia conducted an experiment on this very topic in 2008. Results showed that adults who participated in low-intensity exercises for 20 minutes per day experienced less fatigue over the course of six weeks.

When you are engaging in intense activities, like studying, for long periods of time, the mind experiences stress, which puts additional fatigue on the body.

By taking a 10- to 20-minute break and walking around the Oval or your residence increases blood flow that brings oxygen to the brain and nutrients to muscle tissue, which, in turn, increases the body’s ability to produce more energy.

Shelby Bowden, a graduate student studying journalism and communication technology commented on the benefits of taking breaks when studying.

“When I step away from my studies for a bit, I feel refreshed and reenergized when I return to my work,” she said.

Activities like checking social media or a quick nap gives the brain time to rest and regain energy.


So the next time you’re too tired to keep studying stop, step away and skip around outside.

Collegian Science Beat Reporter Madeline Bombardi can be reached at or on Twitter @madelinebombard.