man in white shirt using macbook pro

The life of a student can be very stressful:  homework, preparing for exams (Did somebody mention the IELTS?), writing essays….  If you’re doing your studies in a second language, even more so.  When we get busy and stressed out, we often don’t eat right, let alone exercise, and sleep is something we constantly dream of, because we’re not getting enough of it.  Not to mention the fact that even when we do get a chance to log a few hours of sleep, we might have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because of all that anxiety–the constant worrying that comes from all that STRESS.  We know we should take better care of ourselves, but it’s hard.  

But making a little time for yourself (and not just for your studies), can actually make you more successful.  In particular, taking some time out of every day to exercise might help you to do better in your classes.  Not only does exercise reduce stress and help you sleep better; it has also been shown to help you learn better.  

According to Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a professor at New York University, exercise stimulates areas of the brain that support learning.  In order to demonstrate this to students, she designed a class that included both:  during the first half of the class, students followed an exercise routine that included aerobic activities; in the second half, they learned about neuroscience–the study of how the brain works.  Dr. Suzuki tested students on how well they learned the course material, and found that exercise actually helped them to learn better.

I invite you to try this for yourself.  Try taking a walk the next time you need to learn a bunch of new vocabulary.  Or get on a stationary bike and listen to an English-language podcast.

As for myself, I couldn’t make it through the week if I didn’t exercise.  But balancing the duties of teaching and being a parent, I’ve sometimes found it difficult to find the time.  What I’ve learned over the years is that exercise works best for me if it’s “built-in” to my schedule. So, whether it’s biking to and from work or going running or swimming in my free hour between classes, I try to plan some time to get my heart beating faster.

So if your idea of “fun” is studying for the IELTS, take thirty minutes out of your day to run, walk, ride a bike, do some yoga, or do whatever else that gets you moving around.  Don’t have half an hour? Then try this seven minute high intensity (HIIT) workout.

To learn more, read this interview with Dr. Suzuki or watch her TED talk.  For more tips on how to manage the stress of being a college student, check out this resource.