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Do you ever find yourself camping out at the library or a café for hours and days on end during finals week? Do you ever feel yourself getting antsy, distracted, or restless after sitting and studying for long periods of time? While many students can relate to these two habits, research shows us that adding movement and exercise into your study periods is one of the most beneficial things you can do. This handout discusses the importance of incorporating movement into studying and how you can add movement into your study routine.

Why is incorporating movement with studying important?

Contrary to popular belief, sitting and studying for hours (or days) at a time is not the most effective way to go about it, nor is it healthy for our bodies or brains. While it is important to plan ahead and study effectively and enough, it’s also crucial to take breaks, be balanced, take care of yourself, and move around. Research shows that standing and moving around while you are studying and taking movement breaks in between study sessions has numerous benefits to our bodies, brains, memories, and academic performance. Research shows us that:

What is your current movement level?

The first step in incorporating more movement into your schedule and study times is to evaluate where you are currently. Monitor your routine for the next two days and note the following:

  • How much did I move within 5 hours BEFORE studying?
  • How much did I move DURING studying?
  • How much did I move AFTER studying?
  • How would I rate my mood on a scale from 1-10?
  • How would I rate my productivity on a scale from 1-10?
  • How would I rate my energy level on a scale from 1-10?

How to incorporate movement into your routine

Once you have evaluated your current movement and study habits, you can better decide how much movement you want to add. Here are a few practical ideas to try this week to add more movement to your study times and achieve the benefits that go along with it:

  • Try the treadmill desks in Davis Library and the Union or any of the Library’s standing desks.
  • Take 5, 10, or 15 minute breaks during your study sessions to walk around, change locations, or complete a series of exercises from your favorite routine. Don’t have a favorite routine? Mix and match 5 or more bodyweight exercises from this list.
  • Make your own standing desk using a counter in your apartment or at a coffee shop or use cardboard boxes, a plastic tote, or a dedicated adjustment for your current desk.
  • Find an empty classroom or reserve a library study room and make use of the whiteboard. Do you really love whiteboards? Buy a mini whiteboard for your room.
  • Choose a keyword to look for in your reading. When you see the word, do 10 jumping jacks or 5 push-ups.

Stick to it

Knowing and understanding the importance of incorporating movement into study times is the first step. Evaluating your current level and finding ways to add more movement is the next step. In order to follow through on these ideas, make an action plan with goals for the next week.

Make an appointment with an academic coach at the Learning Center. Academic coaching will help you set goals, identify unhelpful patterns, plan strategies for change and take steps toward your academic goals!

Don’t overdo it! No need to go out and run a marathon. Plan to incorporate a few manageable changes into your habits. Choose one manageable goal in each category and get to it:

  • To add more movement to my weekly routine, I will…
  • While studying, I will…
  • After my study session, I will…

Overcoming barriers

Sometimes it can be difficult to motivate yourself to get moving, and it can be hard to fit it into your already busy schedule. Below are some common barriers to movement and exercise and some practical tips to overcome them.

“But, I don’t have the time to exercise.”

With all of the benefits of movement, you don’t have time not to! With that said, movement doesn’t have to take up a bunch of time. Exercise in small chunks, during your breaks for a few minutes or a few movements at a time.

“But, I don’t like jogging or jumping up and down in aerobics class.”

Movement doesn’t have to be strenuous or high impact to effectively increase your study muscle. Walking or stretching during study breaks, completing a few yoga poses, or standing while studying work just as well as the high impact stuff for learning. There is no right or wrong kind of movement; try different movements until you find something you enjoy. If you get bored easily, switch things up by exploring some of the programs, facilities, and group fitness classes at UNC.

“But, I don’t feel like moving; I’m feeling down.”

Good news! Exercise releases a flood of feel-good chemicals in your brain that will boost your mood, increase your energy, and promote overall wellness. If you are having trouble getting started, try starting with small goals and work your way up. Instead of committing to an hour of movement, start with just five minutes. Be kind to yourself on days when you may be too tired to incorporate as much movement as you would like.

“But, I have ADHD; won’t moving around be more of a distraction?”

While everyone should incorporate movement to help them learn better, for students with ADHD, movement is a must! Movement provides people with ADHD with the perfect amount of stimulation to increase attention naturally.

“But, I’m off campus and don’t have gym access.”

Incorporating movement at home can require more creativity than going to a gym or using on-campus resources, but there are a variety of ways to get moving at home. Take a study break by going for a walk around your neighborhood or finding a short exercise video online. If you live in a small space or are worried about disturbing your neighbors, try these movements that are well-suited for quiet, at-home exercise. You can pepper your studying with a couple of these movements, or create a combination of these movements as part of a longer exercise routine.

How can technology help?

Need some help changing your habits? Technology can help you with various steps in the habit-formation process:

Timers for remembering to move. Using timers on your phone or desktop or timer apps can help remind you to move at regular intervals throughout the day. You can also download applications for your phone specifically designed to remind you to move, or set up goals in Apple Health or Google Fit. Depending on your goals, you can find apps that have features like:

  • Recurring movement reminders
  • Short videos or exercises to help you get moving
  • Reminders for multiple tasks, like standing up, going for a short walk, or stretching your back

Online workouts. Platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook can be a great place to find workouts that you can do from home, in a small area, or in a short period of time. In addition to using keywords like, “yoga,” “kickboxing,” or “stretching,” you can also filter by length and popularity to help you find a video that suits your needs.

Screen trackers. There are several computer applications and websites like Awareness and Workrave that track how long you spend at your computer. You can find features like:

  • Automatically monitoring how long you spend at your computer
  • Dimming or turning off your monitor after a certain amount of screen time
  • Suggesting stretches and exercises you can do during your break time

Testimonials

Wellness in the Time of Corona: a Learning Center coach shares their experience incorporating movement into their daily routine.

Writing and Walking: A UNC graduate student describes the role of walking in their writing process.

Works consulted

Aguiar Jr, A. S., Castro, A. A., Moreira, E. L., Glaser, V., Santos, A. R. S., Tasca, C. I., Latini, A., Prediger, R. D. S. (2011). Short bouts of mild-intensity physical exercise improve spatial learning and memory in aging rats: Involvement of hippocampal plasticity via AKT, CREB and BDNF signaling. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, 132(11-12), 560-567.

Ding, Q., Ying, Z., & Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2011). Exercise influences hippocampal plasticity by modulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor processing. Neuroscience, 192.

É.W. Griffin, S. M., Carole Foley, S. A. Warmington, S. M. O’Mara & Á. M. Kelly (2011). Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males. Physiology & Behavior, 104, 5, 934-941.

Mehta, R. K., Shortz, A. E., Benden, M.E. (2015). Standing Up for Learning: A Pilot Investigation on the Neurocognitive Benefits of Stand-Biased School Desks. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 13, 1.


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