Get Your Brain Fit for Exams

Nikki Kaufmann

Imagine this: you’re launched into the future and neuroscientists tell you that physical activity is just as important for your brain as it is for your body. You must get back and deliver this exciting information! Lucky for you, the year is 2019 and this is exactly what research is telling us.

“Exercise primes the brain for mental performance. If you have an important thinking-related task to do – try to take a few minutes and do some exercise before the task. This exercise will increase the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain and improve your mental performance.”

– Greg Wells, The Ripple Effect: Sleep Better, Eat Better, Move Better, Think Better

Academic learning and physical activity are often viewed separately; the former reserved for the brain and the latter reserved for the body. But neuroscientists have recently confirmed the benefits of exercise on brain effectiveness.

At SMUS, the question of what is best for students inspires our work every day. We continue to integrate meaningful opportunities for optimal learning and growth of our learners. We want our students to experience the positive impact exercise has on boosting brain effectiveness and on reducing the feelings of stress and anxiety. Just as students have physical education classes during the school day, we want this to extend to study and exam periods.

As we reach the end of the school year, our physical education department is piloting an initiative to do just that. We will be offering short “Brain Fit” sessions during the June exam period. These sessions will include yoga and mindfulness, minor games and sports, and fitness options.

The sessions will be offered 40 minutes before each scheduled exam. The exercise sessions will end 10-15 minutes prior to the exam to maximize the positive impact on boosting brain power. And with this quick turnaround, students will be provided with a healthy snack and can choose to write their exam in their PE uniform.

Click here for the complete list of SMUS Brain Fit sessions offered during our upcoming exam period.

The research also gives insight into what habits students should practise in the days leading up to exams.

The word studying often elicits images of long hours labouring over textbooks and notes. In many cases, it can cause stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and lack of exercise and good nutrition. We justify forgoing healthy habits with the notion that time spent studying will pay off in the exam. While it seems reasonable to argue that the time spent reviewing course materials is tied to the level of achievement, it’s not necessarily true. If the process lacks healthy habits – particularly exercise – studying won’t be efficient or effective. It could even be counterproductive.

What does optimal exam prep look like? Let’s redefine studying to include exercise, healthy fuel (nutrition and hydration) and ample sleep. How is this different from what we do in our everyday routines? It’s not different, but exam periods tend to alter schedules because the structure of the normal school day is not in place. It is often this lack of structure that allows unhealthy habits to creep in, leading to a brain that is unfit for exam success.

We wish our students the most optimal exam environment where the body and brain can thrive!

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Nikki Kaufmann
Nikki Kaufmann is Head of Physical Education and a Senior Houseparent at St. Michaels University School.

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