Active Lifestyles: Exercise as a tool for academic success

Hayley Blackburn

Students studying at a cafe table with drinks | Photo courtesy of Static pixels
Students studying at a cafe table with drinks | Photo courtesy of Static pixels

Sitting in front of the computer or a textbook studying is draining. Period. After several hours in one sedentary position, I can feel my brain and my body turning into mush. The words blur together while my mind wanders to the life outside my office.

Exercise is the easy cure to your academic mental block. Nothing helps me refocus and recharge like a short gym session before hitting the books again. Besides being great for your physical health, being active enhances your cognitive and academic health.


How exercise helps you study

Harvard Medical School published an article outlining how exercise impacts the brain. The researchers found that increasing activity helps memory and thinking because insulin resistance, inflammation and stress hormones all decrease. It seems that people who exercise have more volume and power in their pre-frontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) than those who don’t. Not only does activity change the composition of your hormones and brain, but it helps reduce anxiety and improve mood. In the end, exercise actually does help make you smarter, so get out there and sweat!

3 quick ways to refocus

When you only have so many hours in the day, exercise has a tendency to be pushed to the back burner. Even when I don’t have much time to break away from cramming, I complete one of these three quick ways to get my blood pumping again.

Take a walk

Few things are more distracting than sleeping feet and sore joints. Walking a single mile burns around 100 calories while allowing your muscles to stretch out and move. I love to take a brisk stroll around my neighborhood or across campus. Walk to the nearest coffee shop, stroll to grab a smoothie or just take in the sunshine for a few moments. Being out in the open air and moving gives your brain the much-needed release to help you jump back into the study guide for another few hours.

Do 100 jumping jacks

When I really can’t spare thirty minutes to walk around the block, I like to stretch and do a few jumping jacks. Jumping jacks get your heart pumping blood back to your arms, legs and brain after being crouched in a chair too long. Try to do 100 jumping jacks every two hours to stay alert.

Yoga_at_a_GymHit the gym or run for 20 minutes

I make time, either in the morning or the evening, to hit the gym, especially during a crazy week of school. No matter how swamped I am with tests and papers, really sweating makes me sleep better and feel more prepared the next day. Try to get into the gym or go for a run, even if it is only for 20 minutes, to really ramp up your academic prowess.

School is stressful and mentally taxing, especially towards the end of the semester. Don’t let your activity levels lose out to your cramming. If you balance your active lifestyle with your student-life, you may find you are more successful on your tests.

This month I challenge you to take a time-out from studying to walk around campus or do some jumping jacks in your room. Then go an ace that test!

Collegian writer Hayley Blackburn can be reached at or on Twitter @hayley_blckbrn. If you have a specific question or topic, let her know. Leave a comment!