Revision: Put down your books and get your heart rate up...
Forget that Friends is on Netflix, getting active can relieve stress, improve your memory, sharpen concentration and give you more energy.
At this time of year, conscientious students will be spending long spells revising. But be warned. “We were not designed to sit still for hours on end,” says Geraldine Joaquim, a clinical hypnotherapist who advises students who experience anxiety especially around exam time.
We have limited concentration spans – don’t expect to study productively for any length of time without a break. Educational psychologists recommend interspersing blocks of intense concentration of around 30 to 40 minutes with short breaks – ideally doing something completely different.
You could take a leaf out of Tom Bourlet’s book. As a sixth former, he taught himself – via YouTube tutorials - to Crip walk between bouts of A level revision. “Thankfully before the days when everybody videoed everything, so there’s no evidence.”
Sitting down for long periods left him restless and twitchy. “It worked to do a ten minute dance workout and then get right back on it. I was dancing for up to two hours a day – I was pretty decent at the time. It helped calm me down and use up my energy and it seemed a good time to do something new.” He also learned to juggle and play the saxophone.
You can actually prepare physically for mental challenges such as exams. Experiments show that the hippocampus in our brains grows as people get fitter through aerobic exercise, says neuroscientist Ben Martynoga. This part of the brain is the centre of learning and memory – being fit is shown to improve memory.
Exercise can also help you focus – research among school children showed their attention span improved if they did aerobics style workouts between lessons.
“And if you’re trying to memorise something, try walking around. As soon as you take a step you’re switching on other parts of your brain,” says Ms Joaquim. “You engage your spatial awareness and balance, which improves learning. Try reciting what you want to learn while you’re moving. It will help you consolidate what you’ve just studied.”
Physical activity is also a brilliant way of neutralising and managing stress and anxiety which are rife as exams approach, says Sport England. “It can help us make better decisions when under pressure,” says a spokesperson.
And the onset of study makes it more important than ever to take maybe 20 minutes out, says Kate Dale, who leads Sport England’s “This Girl Can” campaign. “It’s also about having the fun of doing something that isn’t about getting perfect grades, something just for the fun of it, not because it has a direct result.”
And the more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, says sports scientists from Birmingham City University. “A good 15 minute break to move around, even just around your living room, makes your body produce more energy whilst also making you feel happier,” says Irfan Khawaja in the School of Health Sciences.
Do we do enough exercise? No, says Public Health England (PHE). Children who exercise enough are mentally and physically healthier. But the older they get, the more sluggish they become, PHE research shows. By the time they leave primary school, fewer than a fifth get the recommended 60 minutes of moderate exercise a day – with 29 per cent of 11 year olds worrying they’re no good at certain sports. Children born today will be 35 per cent less active by 2030.
But team sports and jogging aren’t for everyone, so what can you do? Yoga? Swimming or going to the gym? Even dancing around your living room is beneficial. Walking round the block, a game of table tennis, bouncing a ball. Anything that gets your heart rate up, say the experts.