The verdict is in: sedentary lifestyles (aka spending everyday sitting down for long periods of time) are dangerous for your health. Some have even compared sitting to the new smoking. Now if that doesn’t light a fire under your butt, how’s this? Research shows that for people who sit for more than 12 hours a day, death is imminent. OK, dramatics aside, there’s no question that being sedentary leads to increased risks of cancer, heart disease and dementia. Plus a handful of other annoyingly unhelpful and sometimes fatal ailments.

If you won’t get moving for your life’s sake, maybe you’ll do it for really good test scores. Studies show that physical activity is extremely beneficial for your brain. It is a muscle, after all. So, get on up and – in the wise words of Olivia Newton-John – let’s get physical, physical

Benefits of exercise on your brain

The hippocampus is the part of our brain that responds to aerobic exercise (that is, any physical activity that elevates your heart rate and oxygen intake). Your hippocampus’ structure actually grows as your body’s cardiovascular fitness improves. Now, because this part of the brain hosts our learning and memory systems, it’s a no-brainer (ha!) that physical exercise is closely related to better learning outcomes. Interspersing studies with 20-minute chunks of cardio has been proven to improve attention spans. And exercise can also help memory formation; for example, researchers found that walking while learning a foreign language can help new words stick.

Yoga and mindfulness have also been proven to shrink the amygdala, the part of your brain that processes stress, fear and anxiety. And cardiovascular exercise amps up your body with endorphins, a natural pleasure-enhancing, pain-relieving chemical. This explains why exercise can be effective in treating depression. That upbeat and happy state that Richard Simmons seems to perpetually be in? That’s the real deal, folks!

Being active can help with problem solving

Being free range is not only good for chickens; our creative brains thrive on it. Walking, either on a treadmill or around campus, can boost ‘divergent thinking’: the free-roaming, lightbulb-moment-generating part of the creative process. That’s why brainstorming sessions are usually better done while on the move (case in point: every single episode of Law & Order).

Ideas for getting active without trying too hard

Being physical doesn’t have to mean formal time in the gym. Incidental exercise is just as effective. Here are some simple tips:

  • Stand on public transport during your commute.
  • Set an alarm for you to walk around the room every 30 minutes.
  • Opt for the stairs rather than escalator or lift.
  • Place your laptop on a higher surface for a makeshift standing desk.
  • Stand up or walk around when you want to talk on the phone or text.
  • Limit your time binge-watching Netflix. Who are we kidding? That’s impossible. OK, maybe try these TV-friendly exercise moves instead.
  • Take the long way home on your coffee or tea runs.
  • Set up walking meetings with your supervisors if possible.

Exam prep to keep you in top form

We did the heavy lifting for you and spoke to a health expert at Swinburne Health & Wellbeing. Here’s their advice on how to structure your routine to avoid stress during exams.

1. Structure your day

This is important in order to maintain a clear sense of purpose, and make sure you are still looking after yourself (which is so important for general physical and mental health during exam time!). Schedule in:

  • Study time (including what you’ll study, for how long).
  • Meal breaks (plan nutritious meals and snacks at regular intervals throughout the day. This can give you something to look forward to as well).
  • Physical breaks.
  • Your finish time. Set a time that you plan to finish studying for the day, and include some ‘relaxation time’ afterwards, to help you switch off – and sleep well – ready for another study session the day after.

2. Take breaks

Taking yourself away from your desk can sometimes help you process complex information. You never know; when you get back, that really tricky problem might make just a bit more sense. Just checking your phone at your desk doesn’t count! Physical exercise and a change of scene help to refresh your body and mind. Some ideas for effective study breaks:
  • Go for a short walk around the block.
  • Chat to a friend while walking: Having a social chat, either in person or on the phone, can help to reduce any building anxiety and distract your mind from study.
  • Stretch: stretching your body for 10-15 minutes at a time can help to reduce muscle tension, making you feel more relaxed. It also reduces your chance of getting tension headaches with too much study.
  • Make yourself a nutritious meal or snack (and enjoy time away from your desk): Keeping yourself nourished is important. Too much sugar or caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety and may disrupt your sleep.

3. Set study goals

Each day, make a list of the things you want to achieve that day. Make it realistic. If it’s unrealistic, you might not achieve it, and then you might feel worse. At the end of the day review your progress. You might be surprised how much you have achieved!

4. Set a broader study plan

That way, you can schedule in days when you know you’ll be busy and allocate time/days to each subject you need to study for. Having a (realistic) plan can help keep you on track. And not to mention help keep everything feeling under control.

What’s your excuse?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but we’ve heard it all before. Our health expert at Swinburne Health & Wellbeing gives some practical advice on how to get over that hurdle to exercise:

‘It costs so much!’

Yes, gym memberships can be expensive. But you don’t need a gym membership to be active! Go for a walk or run around a park. Visit your local council website or check out different ‘walking maps’ to find a scenic track near you.

“I don’t have time!”

The truth is: there’s never enough time anyway! It doesn’t take much to be active; 30 minutes before your first class in the morning, or even 15 minutes up and down the stairs between classes. Or just get off the train two stops early. Even 10-minute exercise sessions make a difference.

“But it’s just so boring.”

You mean you don’t have a virtual reality screen set up in front of your treadmill? Just kidding. We’re no Tony Starks either. But instead of spending money in a cafe, you can catch up with a friend by going for a walk or swimming. Bonus points for mental health perks too!

Did you know?

Swinburne’s Hawthorn campus offers fully confidential on-site sessions at our Hawthorn campus, and all campuses offer general medical and counselling services. Call +61 3 9214 8483 to book an appointment or find out more.

Full list of health services
Want to know more about managing depression with exercise?

Download the Black Dog Institue fact sheet to learn about helpful strategies to keep you motivated to become more active and where you can get help.

Download the fact sheet