We all know how it feels to settle down to study, only to find an hour later you’re randomly clicking on YouTube videos, or endlessly scrolling through your Facebook feed.
With social media and the internet constantly serving up distractions, it can be more challenging than ever to focus on your studies – fortunately, exercise may have the answer!
How getting active can help
It’s no secret that exercise is good for long term health, helping to battle obesity, heart disease and reducing the risks of various diseases – but did you know that it can actually have short term benefits, and improve your ability to concentrate?
A study on Dutch school children highlighted the value of exercise in the short term, with children who performed two 20-minute bouts of moderate-intensity physical activity showing higher levels of attention than those who were less active. Studies like this highlight the underrated value that exercise can have when you need to complete a task. Rather than procrastinating, it can often be much more productive to get active before returning to your work feeling refreshed and energised.
These effects are, at least partially, caused by the release of endorphins in the body – not only do these chemicals help to improve your mood, they also help you to feel better and more motivated, as you enjoy the ‘runner’s high’ effect. Research from Bristol University, has also shown that exercise can help to improve our concentration and problem solving abilities.
Interestingly, Oxford research also suggests that spending time with friends can release endorphins – so exercising with a group may be extra beneficial. A separate study from the university indicates that we have a capacity to push ourselves further when we exercise as part of a group – again highlighting the benefits of group exercise and team sports.
If you are looking to use exercise to help you focus and complete assignments, then it’s well worth considering the body of evidence which suggests that exercise can improve our ability to think creatively.
A study from Stanford suggests that short walks can boost creative thinking, while a recent University of British Columbia study found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
Even Nietzsche once observed that ‘All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.’ So while it may feel counter-intuitive, taking a break and enjoying a quick stroll, can be one of the best ways to improve your focus, and make the most of the time you spend studying.
This post is part of our Active at Oxford campaign, to encourage more students to enjoy the benefits of sports and physical activity. See here for more information.