This post is presented in partnership with the University of Canberra.
Got some all-nighters planned as you head into exams? Not expecting to step away from your desk for even a minute? Can you feel your muscles wasting away with each marathon study session?
Turns out you’re probably doing more harm than good by keeping your nose in the textbooks without breaking for a bit of physical activity.
Andrew McKune, an Associate Professor in Exercise Science at the University of Canberra, tells Student Edge a lil’ bit of exercise before and during study can actually help your exam prep in the long run.
“What [exercise] helps to do is regulate blood glucose levels,” he says.
“We have peaks and troughs during the day in terms of our energy levels. One of the things movement and exercise does, together with a really healthy diet that’s not too high in carbohydrates, is help maintain our blood glucose levels. That in turn helps regulate our concentration.”
Andrew also says exercise helps maintain our correct cortisol levels, which subsequently lowers our stress levels (a must at this time of year) and improves our memory.
“As soon as we’re able to maintain our stress levels, our concentration goes up, and our ability to recall facts also improves,” he says.
And if all that wasn’t convincing enough, some strategic study breaks can also spare you from sickness.
“As students are gearing up for exams, stress levels increase, and stress has been shown to reduce our immune system functioning,” he explains.
“Exercise is anti-inflammatory. That’ll help reduce inflammation that’s caused by lack of sleep, lack of exercise, poor diet, and it reduces your chances of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”
Plus, it’ll even strengthen the antibodies that fight viruses and bacteria.
“[Immunoglobulin A] tends to drop in the lead-up to exam time and during exam time, which is why students tend to start feeling sick and getting sick,” he adds. “Exercise has been shown to enhance the levels of that part of the immune system.”
So, it’s settled then! Squeezing in a bit of exercise during your study is definitely essential. Andrew shared with us six easy exercises with unexpected benefits, each of which you can do from home!
It’s probably been a while since you last whipped out the skipping rope, yet Andrew reckons this old childhood activity “not only helps with general fitness but it also helps develop our connective tissue as well.”
“It just helps, even with injury prevention.”
Though it’s recommended you study for 45-minute stretches, Andrew believes you could get up for a two or three-minute skip every 20 minutes.
“It’s an exercise that people seem to love to hate,” Andrew says, and if you’ve attempted them before, you’ll agree.
Traditionally used in military training, burpees offer lots of benefits—”power, cardiovascular fitness and strength”—despite being “one of the harder exercises to do.”
“If you haven’t done it before, aim for five reps and then between those reps you have a 30 second rest. That’s manageable to start off with, and then you build up from there,” he says.
3. Overhead Squat
Maybe you’ve tried traditional squats or wall squats. Well, this isn’t your grandfather’s squat.
For this, you’ll need a resistance band (which can be found at most fitness stores). Stand on the resistance band and begin stretching it above your head. Then, squat down. And repeat.
“That position activates our core; it works our body posture as well and keeps our shoulders in a good, strong, tight position,” Andrew says.
Begin with two to three sets, aiming for five to ten reps, resting for 30 seconds to a minute.
4. Vertical Press
Still got the resistance band handy? Good. Here’s an exercise just like the vertical press at the gym; except, without the machine.
First, Andrew says stretch the band around a pipe or door frame. Then, facing in the opposite direction, either sitting on a chair or standing, push the band “horizontally away from your chest, parallel with the ground.”
“This will work your triceps and chest muscles.”
Again, begin with two to three sets, aiming for five to ten reps, resting for 30 seconds to a minute.
Now, face the opposite direction and begin pulling the band away from the doorframe or pipe. You’ve got yourself a rowing machine!
“Keep elbows tucked in close to your body, stretching out the band and bringing it towards the chest,” Andrew says.
“You’re working your biceps as well as your upper back muscles.”
6. Downward Dog
To finish off, how about a bit of yoga?
“[This is] a brilliant exercise for providing a good stretch of your posterior muscles, particularly your calves, hamstrings,” Andrew says.
“End the session by lowering your heart rate, reducing your respiration rate, and at the same time giving an excellent stretch [and] helping develop your core strength.”