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How to manage the stress of revising through exercise and healthy eating…

23 May 2019

Revising can be stressful and monotonous. At this time of year, students across the UK are preparing for and sitting exams. But how can a healthy lifestyle and exercise relieve some of the pressure...?

This year, England Athletics launched its very first #RunAndRevise scheme, which aims to encourage students across the UK to take time away from their revision notes to support a healthy lifestyle and their mental wellbeing through exercise and running. The aim is to relieve some of the stress and anxiety pupils face when preparing for their GCSE, A level or university exams. England Athletics would like students to take part in their scheme by running a mile (or more) or they can join an England Athletics club or RunTogether group.

Though the scheme was only introduced this year, it’s a well-proven scientific fact that exercise can contribute positively to the mental wellbeing of young people. According to the NHS website,

“Evidence shows there's a link between being physically active and good mental wellbeing. Being active doesn't mean you need to spend hours in the gym, if that doesn't appeal to you. Find physical activities you enjoy and think about how to fit more of them into your daily life.”

“Physical activity is thought to cause chemical changes in the brain, which can help to positively change our mood. Some scientists think being active can improve wellbeing because it brings about a sense of greater self-esteem, self-control, and the ability to rise to a challenge.”

Across the UK, schools and universities have also organised their own individual runs for their students to get involved with whilst revising. Dr Brendon Stubbs from the Department of Psychological Medicine at King's College London told the BBC that:

Our research has shown that being more active can protect you from developing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression in the future.
Moving and doing exercise can help reduce stress levels and improve concentration.
The most important thing is to get away from the desk and get moving during the exam period.

So, what activities can you do?

Breaking up your day of revision with some physical exercise is extremely beneficial. You could go for a run, do some yoga, meet with friends to play some team sports – the possibilities are endless! The independent schools’ association HMC recently published that team sports in fact boost exam outcomes. So, don’t put your hobbies on hold during the exam period, get out there and enjoy some friendly competitive sports such as football, hockey, cricket or rounders!

If you live in the city, why not sign up to your local gym? Many leisure centres across the UK offer discounts to the students who are in full-time education. If you live out in the countryside, you could organise a running group with some of your friends, taking advantage of your surroundings and enjoying some much-needed fresh air in between studying.

The facts!

In a recent study conducted in Germany, eighty-one healthy young women who were native German speakers were randomly divided into three different groups. Each group wore headphones and listened for 30 minutes to lists of paired words, one a common German noun and the other its Polish equivalent. The women were then asked to memorize the unfamiliar word.

However, each group heard these words under different circumstances. The first group listened to the words after 30 minutes of silence without moving. The second group gently rode a stationary bicycle (or spinning machine) for 30 minutes and then sat down to listen to the words. The third group rode a bicycle intensely for 30 minutes whilst wearing the actual headphones and listening to the new words.

Two days later, the women completed tests of their new polish vocabulary. Most of them could recall some new words. However, the women who had ridden the bicycle intensely during the process of creating new memories and learning new words, performed the best. This third group had the best recall of new vocabulary in the experiment, far better than the first group who had sat in silence and not moved.

The experiment went on to show that combining exercise with your revision schedule won’t only improve your mental wellbeing but may also allow you to obtain information far better than having sat still for hours on end. If you’ve written copious amounts of notes to learn, why not record some of them and listen to them back whilst going for a jog or doing exercise in the gym? You may just learn your notes much faster!

What foods should you be eating?

A healthy diet may seem an obvious choice to make when actively learning and trying to obtain revised information, but so many students forget! Ditch the pot-noodles, sugary drinks and copious amounts of coffee and replace them with a healthy balanced diet!

Some of the very best brain foods to eat whilst revising are:

Oily fish – full of omega 3, fishes such as salmon, sardines and mackerel will keep your brain functioning well and for longer periods. Try combining a fishy meal with some wholemeal bread for much needed carbohydrate energy.

Eggs – full of nutrients and can be cooked in so many ways!

Green vegetables – Broccoli, spinach and kale will support your learning with much needed vitamin K which is scientifically proven to build pathways in the brain.

Green and fruit teas – why not swap the ‘buzz’ of coffee (which can be harmful when drank copiously) for some herbal alternatives. Late night revising is never recommended, but if necessary, a nice cup of mint or lemon tea should do the trick to keep you alert but not up all night when you need some sleep before an exam the next day.

Fresh fruit – an obvious one but never underestimate the power of natural sugars to give you energy.

Taking a break from revising and getting into the kitchen to prepare some healthy sustenance is a great way to remain focused in the long term. At the end of the day, a healthy brain is a productive one!

In conclusion…

By combining a healthy diet with some exercise, you should be able to hit the books with focus and commitment this academic year. Albert Einstein quite rightly once said that insanity is “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

So, to avoid going insane this exam period and to break up the monotony of revising, eat smart and exercise well. You have nothing to lose and potentially even better exam results to gain!

UK Study Centre fully supports and encourages our students to maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle whilst learning. We have lots of tutors that can assist you with your revising techniques and preparation this exam season too. Have a browse of our tutors here.

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