Another Kind of Active Learning

Exercise Can Be a Study Strategy

Faculty and students alike may be exhausted at this point in the semester. It’s common to experience a mid-semester slump, which can be worse for people experiencing ongoing pandemic-related stress. We can all benefit from breaks, physical activity, and a change of scenery, so even when we’re busy, no one should feel guilty taking time to get some outdoor exercise. Doing so can even help students learn.

Our students often experience studying as a lonesome and sedentary activity, like poring over their notes or highlighting the textbook, but those are not particularly effective study strategies. They’d be better off taking a walk, ride, or roll with a classmate or friend and talking about what they’re learning.

Humans are social mammals who learn best in community and need frequent opportunities to talk through our thinking. There is also a considerable body of research on movement and cognition. Many of us might take a walk to clear our heads, mull a decision, or develop an idea; since exercise increases our heart rate and moves more oxygen to our brains, it’s no wonder that we think better while we’re moving.

More vigorous exercise has different but related benefits. While we wouldn’t recommend intense activity at the same time as studying, physical exertion before learning seems to enhance both memory and cognition. Exercise increases levels of neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin that not only help to regulate mood but boost concentration. Exercise has been shown to increase the volume of the hippocampus and cortex, areas of the brain associated with executive function and higher-order thinking.

Not everyone can (or wants to) go for a run before starting a paper, or take a walk to prepare for an exam, of course. Students with mobility impairments can benefit from physical activitiesthat work for them, from changing their context—even shifting to a new location can give a new perspective on the material—and from connecting with friends and classmates to talk about concepts. Explaining the most important ideas from a class to a friend who’s majoring in something else is such a great exercise for all learners that it could be a regular homework assignment. And as long as we are flexible and consider accessibility, we can nudge students away from their desks with assignments that ask them to identify plant species on campus, or count the number of pedestrians vs. cars on a given street at a given hour, etc.

Here are a few student-facing resources you can consider sharing:

If you’d like additional resources, support developing activities, or any other support for your teaching, please contact us at We look forward to working with you!