Five types of exercise that'll help you study better

October 30, 2015
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If you want to improve your studying prowess, don’t throw money at lattes and energy drinks. Instead, do something that’s free: exercise. Besides the physical benefits, exercise can also improve your mental and emotional wellbeing, thus making you a better studier.

Tai chi chuan: slow and steady

Tai chi chuan (or simply tai chi) is not only a martial arts form, but also a meditative, low-impact exercise that reduces stress in the body and mind. Harvard Medical School shows that it improves physical conditioning, as well as relieving some of medical conditions. As for the mind, a study in 2012 showed that doing tai chi three times a week can increase brain size and improve memory. The core philosophy is to never stop moving using slow but effective motions: this teaches you to view concepts holistically and to connect and flow from one idea to another. Plus, the movements make you look graceful and elegant.

Cycling: best incidental exercise

Walking may be a great way to get free incidental exercise, but if you want to get somewhere faster while improving your health, then cycling is your best bet. Compared to running, cycling doesn’t bugger up your joints and instead improves memory, reasoning and planning if done for only 30 minutes a day. It also reduces stress, anxiety and depression because it’s a transport mode that’s filled with less hassle (for example, road rage or peak hour traffic), as well as natural surroundings boosting these benefits. Its incidental nature not only reduces costs, but it also encourages you to combine tasks and activities to be more efficient. By riding to uni, you’re all set once you reach the lecture halls, while other students are still blurry eyed and sipping lattes.

Boxercise: antidote for stress and aggression

Boxercise is the best way to learn boxing without waking up in hospital from a coma. A circuit-based exercise, it uses boxing training stations and techniques to keep the tempo high and provide variety. This allows you to release aggression in a controlled manner, making you learn how to control and release stress to remain calm during exams, group work conflict and uncooperative vending machines during late-night cramming sessions.

Learning and knowing how to perfect some of these boxing techniques require immense focus, immersion and concentration skills, which results in increased mental agility and decision making - skills that are easily transferable to university life. Finally, because it’s a whole body workout, it requires strong coordination between upper and lower bodies; this encourages you to look at the whole puzzle and make them work together.

BATAK: move without moving (much)

If you don’t like to move much with your legs but still want to feel productive in one spot, then look no further than the BATAK machine. The machine is designed to improve hand-eye coordination and reaction speed (think racing drivers and cricketers). While not a conventional exercise, it still boosts stamina and fitness levels, as well as speed, accuracy and concentration. As well, it encourages you to use peripheral vision to focus, resulting in much faster reactions and greater awareness of surroundings. These are all good training for MCQ tests (it's almost a truism that some questions are left until the last minute, so speed and accuracy are paramount) or university games, for examples. And because it keeps tabs on highest scores, it promotes persistence and the desire to improve.

Pilates: stretch the body, stretch the mind

If the above exercises focus on cardio and weights, then pilates is the stretching exercise that allows the body and mind to work the lungs long, and the muscles to go longer and lift more weight. Pilates’ principle is about the quality, rather than repetitions or quantity, of movements. It elongates the whole body and gives each muscle equal attention and elasticity to create an evenly balanced musculature that trains several muscle groups at once: this encourages you to look at things holistically and in synergy, rather than as individual parts.

Because pilates requires you to be in unstable positions and move your limbs at the same time, it promotes body awareness, which leads to better willpower (procrastination be gone) and knowing how to calm yourself to release emotional tension in a controlled, smooth way.

Toby Vue

Toby is a Master of Arts (journalism) student at Charles Sturt University. He tweets at @tobyvue.

Image: Kamyar Adl, Flickr Creative Commons license