Staying Active for Good Mental Health: Why Students Should Exercise During Exam Season


Today’s post comes from Andrew Hanna. Andrew is a M.Sc Candidate at Western University in the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. His research  focuses on the benefits of exercise to treat chronic disease, specifically depression and other mental illnesses. 

Finding time to stay physically active in university can be difficult. The balance between maintaining healthy day-to-day habits and academic responsibilities places students in a dilemma, since prolonged periods of studying generally require long bouts of sedentary behaviour. As academic workloads increase, many students find it difficult to set aside time for physical activity. However, it may be especially important to stay active during stressful times since physical activity can help to improve mental alertness, reduce stress and improve quality of sleep (Sharma, Madaan & Petty, 2006).

As a student, it’s totally normal to feel anxious during the school year and often, this anxiety can even help propel the drive to study; however, it is also important to remember that while a bit of stress may help fuel your academic fire, it’s also important to incorporate ways to reduce and regulate anxiety. Being overly stressed may lead you to procrastination, self-doubt, or depressive thoughts. One study found that subjects who were less physically active were more likely to report higher levels of anxiety (Zschucke, Gaudlitz & Strohle, 2013). Furthermore, research has shown that physical activity can positively impact symptoms of both anxiety and depression (Craft & Perna 2004) – meaning less stress for you. While it may seem that the time spent being active is ‘wasting’ valuable study time during exam season, research has shown that physical activity improves cognitive abilities. So think of it as your own personally study aid, or  supplementary tool to help increase academic performance (Hogan, Mata & Carstensen, 2013).

If lack of time continues to be a factor – especially for procrastinators and night owls – solutions do exist to help you remain active during crunch-time. Research has found that breaking up prolonged periods of sitting with low-intensity walking breaks can help reduce mental fatigue, which is invaluable to students during exam season (Wennberg et. al., 2016). Walking can also increase creativity and problem solving! So the next time you decide to take a quick break from studying, consider going for a short walk instead of scrolling endlessly on social media; your brain will thank you.

So remember research has shown that it is essential to find the time to exercise during exam season to help:

  1. Reduce stress
  2. Improve quality of sleep
  3. Improve mental alertness
  4. Reduce anxiety
  5. Reduce depressive symptoms
  6. Reduce mental fatigue



Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(3), 104–111.

Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106.

Hogan, C. L., & Carstensen, L. L. (2013). NIH Public Access, 28(2), 587–594.

Zschucke, E., Gaudlitz, K., & Ströhle, A. (2013). Exercise and physical activity in mental disorders: clinical and experimental evidence. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health = Yebang Ŭihakhoe Chi, 46 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S12-21.

Wennberg, P., Boraxbekk, C.-J., Wheeler, M., Howard, B., Dempsey, P. C., Lambert, G., … Dunstan, D. W. (2016). Acute effects of breaking up prolonged sitting on fatigue and cognition: a pilot study. BMJ Open, 6(2), e009630.

Photo credit: Arek Adeoye 


I have a PhD in population health from the University of Ottawa looking at why children are sedentary, the difference between types of sedentary behaviour (as you’d expect screen time is much worse than reading a book!) and what we can do about it in Canada, and around the world. I completed my master’s at Queen’s University in kinesiology and epidemiology, and graduated from Acadia University with a double major in biology and kinesiology. I am also a Certified Exercise Physiologist with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, a Clinical Exercise Specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine and a Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine/National Physical Activity Society. I love to be active, especially when I get to be outside and especially when I get to explore a new city!

One thought on “Staying Active for Good Mental Health: Why Students Should Exercise During Exam Season

  1. Excellent points are made here. Recently a study was published citing exercise itself as the best way to combat fatigue in cancer patients. Making this information readily accessible to the public; especially the student bodies on college campuses will go a long way in promoting the principles stated above.

Comments are closed.