The Mind-Body Connection: How Exercise Can Help You Ace Your Exams

We all have different strategies for our study holidays. But we all face this one problem: learner’s block. You try new highlighters, start using Post-It notes, or even start rote learning like back in school out of sheer desperation, for the clock doesn’t stop for the block. The solution to this frustrating phenomenon is simple, though many find it hard to accept: physical exercise. Of course, exercising, especially starting a regimen for the first time during exam season, seems like the very last item on your to-do list. To understand why this is not so, you need to understand the connection that exists between the mind and the body.

When you are stressed (say, you are cramming a particularly stubborn chapter), your body releases hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. When the levels of these hormones remain high, your memory and focus take a hit. You are also at risk of several health problems, like anxiety, headaches, digestive problems, sleep problems, muscle pain, and even more serious issues like a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, and heart disease. One of the simplest ways to reduce the levels of these hormones is by exercising. Exercising does one other thing: it increases endorphins. These are chemicals that boost your mood and function as natural painkillers. And being in a good mood is great for getting those tough concepts in.

Interestingly, many of the well-known intellectuals who adorn our textbooks understood the value of exercising for their mental sharpness. For instance, Alan Turing is known for his love of running. He is quoted to have said, “I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard; it’s the only way I can get some release.” Albert Einstein is said to have come up with his Theory of Relativity while riding his bike. And Paul Dirac solved some of the biggest problems in quantum mechanics when he was taking a walk.

Ok, so exercising could solve the learner’s block that is threatening your exams. But what kind of exercise? Starting a marathon run or an athlete’s routine would only send you to bed, not back to your books. The idea is to get oxygen-rich blood flowing, and the key is moderation. Something like a 5- to 10-minute walk around your neighborhood could help. If you have the time, invest in 15–30 minutes of light to moderate aerobic exercise. Yoga is a good option too. Even something as simple as breathing exercises could help reduce tension and help you gather your mind to tackle your lessons. But when do you exercise? Avoid exercising at night, as it could disrupt your sleep cycle. Picking a time when you are least able to focus on your studies is a good idea. Also, remember to allow a good time gap between your meals and your exercise session. One more important ingredient is sleep. Remember to get 7-8 hours of sleep along with your workout. Now, you are all set to tackle your syllabus and take the exam head-on.