Introduction

It’s crunch-time! Staying physically active during exams

It’s crunch-time! Staying physically active during exams

Crammed with school-work? Make time for your health!

Frozen fingers, frozen toes, and it seems, a frozen commitment to staying active as a busy student. Yes, I’m hanging my head in shame. Several times this month (urgh…daily), I’ve taken the subway from St. George to Spadina Station to avoid the cold. I have put my bike away for the winter, and have become committed to getting my money’s worth from my Metropass.

Yes, it’s a clever survival tactic for enduring cold Canadian winters, but it’s also exam-time. This means that the over-achiever in me has kicked in and I’m not replacing the 10 minutes it takes me to walk from St. George to Spadina with other physical activity. The only sustained movement I seem to be prioritizing these days is the occasional trip to Starbucks for a dose of “essential” exam-fuel.

Earlier this year, I made a commitment to staying healthy and active, but is it okay to put my health and fitness goals on hold during exams?

Don't become a potato head during exams. Give your brain a break!
Are exams turning you into a study spud? Give your brain a break!

I had a chat with Dr. Guy Faulkner, a professor in the Faculty of Physical and Health Education and head of U of T’s Exercise Psychology Unit. He has initiated the “Walk@Work” program to help U of T staff become more physically active on the job.

Dr. Faulkner indicated that we need “a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity a week to be healthy.” What is moderate-vigorous activity? “It’s walking at a pace you would if you were late for a meeting,” Dr. Faulkner explained.

Dr. Faulkner told me that many students “report lack of time as a barrier to being physically active.” Like me, they care about doing well academically first and foremost. However, he emphasized that “you are not wasting your time by going to the gym.” In fact, university students who are active are reported to have less visits to health services, experience less stress, have improved concentration, and better sleeps. So, staying healthy during exams needs to be a priority if I want to do my best.

Take a 10 minute walking study break!
Take a 10 minute walking study break!

Dr. Faulkner stressed that physical activity doesn’t need to happen at the gym. If lifting weights, running on a treadmill, or doing a fitness class isn’t for you, you can still find other ways to reap the benefits. The minimum target of 150 minutes can be broken up into bouts of 10 minutes (turns out that short walk I’ve been missing by taking public transit was doing a lot for my health).

Even though ten minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, you still need to schedule it into your day. “It is really all about planning. If you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen,” Dr.Faulkner warned. “Part of the planning process is identifying barriers to being physically active and coming up with strategies to overcome them.” For me, this means making time to be physically active without drastically altering my precious study schedule. It also means dressing appropriately, like remembering to bring my hats and mitts, so that I’m prepared for winter weather.

Dr. Faulkner also suggested finding social support for being active. “The majority of people find it easier to do physical activity with friends.” I usually study at the library with my friend, Ali. So next time, instead of taking our breaks at the cafĂ© at Gerstein, we could go for a walk through Queen’s Park, to refresh, re-energize and re-charge.

So, newly inspired and informed, I am recommitting myself to my goal to stay fit; I shouldn’t let the stress of exams and the cold of winter freeze my commitment to being physically active on campus. Simple things like getting off one subway stop early, having walking study breaks, walking to a further coffee shop than I normally would, having “walking meetings,” or walking “catch-ups” with friends will help me survive the exam crunch and hopefully, help me to get better results.

Readers, do you have any strategies for being more physically active during exams? Please, tell me your secrets! Gotta run, have a meeting to go to…guess I’ll bundle up and walk there!

-Shannon

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