It’s no secret that exercise is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. But while this advice is repeated often enough to feel cliché, the people who stand to benefit most from physical activity also struggle the most to build it into their daily lives.
This is a clear problem for today’s MBA students, who, while juggling a variety of tasks and deadlines, often let exercise fall by the wayside. This is a huge mistake, however, as a lack of physical activity can have a devastating impact not only on general health and wellness, but also on academic performance.
Keep reading to learn why regular exercise is such a crucial component of the graduate student experience. Along the way, you’ll discover how even moderate amounts of physical activity can completely transform your performance in the classroom, on the job, and in all walks of life.
Increases Your Focus
Rigorous academic work requires exceptional attention, so it can be frustrating when your mind continually wanders during important study sessions. Thankfully, physical activity can make a discernible difference as you strive to improve your focus.
Research reveals that acute sessions of intense activity can improve concentration for a full two hours. Shockingly, these benefits can be realized even if you’re only able to exercise for a few minutes at a time.
The takeaway? When you’re struggling to stay focused on the task at hand, it may be worth your while to take a break and move your body for a few minutes. You can always return to your studies later. A quick power walk may be all that stands between you and exceptional powers of concentration.
No matter how capable you feel of focusing on coursework, this ability will do you little good if you are later unable to recall what you’ve learned. A strong memory is crucial when pursuing your Master of Business of Administration, so it can be worrisome to find that you’re unable to recall information you’ve already examined several times.
The good news? Exercising your body may also serve to exercise your mind, so you’re better capable of storing knowledge and retrieving it when needed. Research from the University of British Columbia verifies what experts have long suspected: Regular physical activity dynamically changes the brain in ways that improve memory. Most notably? Aerobic exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus, which is largely responsible for verbal memory.
Beyond this direct impact, it’s important to consider the many indirect concerns that damage memory — and how they can be addressed via exercise. Stress, for example, has a marked negative effect on memory, as does fatigue. Exercise can be used to fix both problems, as described below.
Makes You Happier/Lowers Your Stress
Grad school can be stressful even under the best of circumstances. Rigorous classes, strict deadlines, and competing demands of life all take their toll. That said, the natural stress that accompanies a major undertaking such as an MBA program need not be completely overwhelming. Simple strategies — like exercise — make it easier to deal with stress, while also boosting your general mood and making you happier in the long run.
Exercise’s stress-busting abilities can be credited to endocannabinoids — substances that the body naturally produces. These are closely associated with the much-desired runner’s high. Thankfully, these chemicals can be accessed even if you aren’t willing to commit yourself to the most intense athletic activities. Their levels increase while exercising, easily moving through the bloodstream to reach the brain. There, these chemicals are able to swiftly suppress anxiety and promote serenity.
On a long-term basis, exercise can make you feel happier with your day-to-day life. Encouraging research suggests that exercise could play a greater role in determining personal happiness than money. Happiness, in turn, boosts many of the functions we’ve already discussed, such as concentration and memory. In essence, exercise prompts an upward spiral that, over time, improves both your physical health and your academic abilities.
Getting a solid night’s sleep is essential in all facets of life, but it’s particularly vital to meeting the academic demands of grad school. Unfortunately, many MBA students struggle to get the quantity or quality of sleep they require. Research suggests that, on average, grad students only sleep 6.4 hours per night. For many, however, simply going to bed early isn’t the answer — it’s just a recipe for tossing and turning all night.
Instead, the key to improving sleep — and with it, daytime energy — may involve a few extra exercise sessions per week. Experts agree that exercise has a positive impact on sleep onset, or the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Exercise can also be used to address many chronic sleep issues, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
While most existing research focuses on the long-term impacts of increased exercise on sleep, there is a strong indication that even a few exercise sessions could have a positive effect. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, for example, found that adults who engaged in moderate physical activity were less likely to experience anxiety prior to falling asleep.
Improves Overall Health
As we’ve previously discussed, exercise plays a huge role in maintaining optimal physical and emotional health. This, in turn, can improve your MBA educational experience as you’ll be far less occupied by health-related distractions if your mind and body are in great shape.
The following are just a few of the many documented ways in which exercise boosts both short-term and long-term health outcomes:
- Diabetes management. In people already diagnosed with diabetes, exercise is a crucial strategy for both reducing blood glucose levels and optimizing the body’s insulin sensitivity.
- Lower blood pressure. Physical activity improves strength for many types of muscle, including the heart. This, in turn, limits the effort required for pumping blood, eventually leading to lower blood pressure. A guide from the Mayo Clinic recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week to see the full benefits.
- Fewer aches and pains. Yes, some muscle soreness is to be expected after an intense exercise session. Over time, however, exercise actually reduces those aches and pains that persistently bother you when you’re trying to study or complete a paper. Experts at the Mayo Clinic explain that, without strong supporting muscles, the joints may be subject to more stress.
- Better immune system. If you regularly find yourself dealing with colds or other illnesses, your sedentary lifestyle may deserve at least some of the blame. By simultaneously increasing blood and lymph flow, exercise drives improvements in immune circulation. Specialized immune cells, in particular, are recruited after exercise, so they can more quickly wipe out problematic pathogens. Over time, this can result in fewer respiratory tract infections, as verified by a study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Whether you’re intent on improving your long-term health or enjoying quick boosts to your MBA performance, physical activity is as close to a cure-all as you’re going to find. Commit to moving your body at least a few times a week, and you just might find that your entire outlook as a student — and as a person — changes for the better.