Move It! Why Moving is Important for Focus

College is–for the most part–a sedentary activity. You sit in class. You sit while you study. You jack yourself up with caffeine and sit to write that term paper you left until the night before it was due. But all that sitting, combined with the dark and gloom we get in the U.S. this time of year is an excellent recipe for feeling tired, down, and unhappy.

The solution? Find time to move.

I am by no means a natural gym rat. I wasn’t in sports as a kid, and I joke with my students now that I probably couldn’t run the mile (let alone run it at the military standards). But I do know that on days when I make a conscious effort to move–walk, lift weights, yoga, etc. I feel so much better: I have more energy, I feel happier, and I get more done.

Early in college, moving every day was pretty easy: I didn’t have a car, so I had to walk everywhere I wanted to go. But once I got a car, and wised up on how to more effective stack my course schedule, I found that I moved dramatically less each day. Today, if I don’t make a conscious effort to move around, I probably average 2,000-3,000 steps a day.

Here are some of the strategies I’ve used to make sure I get moving every day:

1. Start with 10 minutes of yoga.

I am NOT a morning person–far from it. But on the days that I get myself out of bed and get in 10 minutes of yoga before starting my day, I feel more focused and refreshed and ready to tackle whatever is coming at me than the days where I blearly stumble into the kitchen to find the coffee pot. There are a lot of free resources available on a variety of platforms. I use “Yoga with Adriene” on youtube.

2. Take a walk at lunch (or during a break)

When I was a graduate student, I used to walk around the campus lake during my lunch break. Even though I was walking to and from class, taking those 30 or so minutes to walk in a green area really helped me refocus during the afternoons.

3. Use the track at the gym

Some days it’s simply too cold to walk outside. On days like that, I would head over to the gym, change into my asics, and walk the track while listening to music, a podcast, or an audio book. This was great–it counted as exercise, but it took very little effort to achieve: all I needed to do was change my shoes. If you don’t have access to a gym, try walking the halls of your dorm or classroom building.

4. Use the Pomodoro Method and Walk on the break

I’m a big fan of the pomodoro method, or “work sprints.” You work for a certain set amount of time (typically 25 minutes) and then you get a short break (5 minutes), using a timer to keep you on track. I use the breaks to get up and move around: sometimes I stretch, sometimes I pace by my work table, it depends on the mood I’m in. But working in that helps keep me focused during the next “sprint.”

5. Use an exercise plan

I may not be the most athletic person in the world, but I am still extremely competitive, even with myself. I found that I was much more likely to hit the gym if I had a program that I was working my way through. Apps like BodySpace (for weight lifting), or FitBit Premium (for body weight programs) are great ways to create a plan that you can stick to. I also really liked being able to track my progress.

Disclaimer: Always talk to a doctor before starting any kind of exercise plan!

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