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Exams, stress, and exercise: using the gym as an aide not a distraction!

22 May 2018

For many, exams are around the corner. This typically means 72-hour coffee-benders as you beat yourself up about how you should have gone to more lectures, and how next semester you will definitely go to more (you won’t). So, although 3-days straight of caffeine and lecture notes while listening to panopto’s on 2x speed is surely one way to do it, maybe there’s a better way?


Here is where exercising comes in. Exercising has consistently been shown to improve memory recall. This comes from exercise’s physiological effects on the body: it regulates insulin response and stimulates the release of growth hormones: basically, the body recognises that it is exercising, this innervates the endocrine system to better handle the effect of exercise and releases a mountain of good hormones into the body to derive most benefit from the exercising.

On the topic of hormones: all that stress you’re accumulating from skimming through the readings list trying to figure out which questions will be in the exam- that’s not exactly great. Chronically being stressed (which is an easy state for a student) inhibits the immune system, and reduces memory retention. So in a way, more might actually be less when it comes to study: particularly if your methods involve long sessions with little sleep, poor diet and isolation.

What do we suggest: well, health isn’t limited to the gym. So, first: sleep! Sleep for 7+ hours. Don’t think of it as opportunity-cost for time that could be spent studying; it is instead a time where you will internalise the information, reduce the negative effects of being stressed out, provide more energy for the next day’s revision.

Second: eat! I’m not saying start going on a kale-only, organic, non-GMO, paleo-friendly, locally-sourced diet, but just eat regularly (regularly=every 3-4 waking hours), try have a vegetable or two (preferably 5) and you’ll be fine.

Third: study with friends. Social revision (provided there aren’t consistent distractions) will lower your stress-levels. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.
Finally: Move! I don’t want to repeat myself, but exercise helps memory. Exams need memory. So… if you want to do well in your exams, why aren’t you exercising?

N.B. Refer to one of our exercise consultants or our nutritionist for specific recommendations on how exercise and food can aide the brain and mental processes.

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