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Monday, October 25, 2021

Column: Schoolwork workout

Last week, I sacrificed some practical advice in favor of narrating a story about the history of exercise in schools. This week, I won’t be storytelling so much as putting some actionable tips to paper (cue collective sigh of relief). As I mentioned at the close of the previous column, exercise can help you in school. Not only does physical activity stimulate your brain by increasing blood-flow and oxygen, research shows active students are happier, have more energy and find it easier to concentrate on a task at hand.

But you’re busy, and I get that. No matter how appealing the prospect of a better “you,” this “you” has shit to do. So the question is how to cram that miracle workout into your day. In true academic fashion, I can offer two schools of thought: workout at length and study at the same time, or workout as little as possible to keep your schedule free for studying.

1. Hack the ARC

No one ever set in stone the notion that gym-time was only for breaking a sweat. It’s possible to get a decent workout and study for your classes at the same time – if you do it right. I’m not claiming we all go out there and sprint, chem lab in hand. Or better yet, put paper prompt on the ground as motivation to run as fast as possible in the other direction. If you’re in the humanities or the social sciences, print your readings, grab your lecture notes or put some important terms on a page or two. If you’re in the sciences, copy down sample problems from lecture, or the really difficult problems from homework onto a couple pages.

Next, find a workout that allows you to move and read at the same time. The elliptical machine, stationary bike, and step master are your best bets on a machine. Or you can lose the machine and walk along a track, notes in hand. Be careful though, the point isn’t to fall off the machine or walk off the track because you’re studying hard. If you work out a fair amount with notes, you can probably afford to study less because you’ll be reviewing the material so often.

Let’s say you want to involve your body in a workout that requires more coordination, like running or weight lifting. No problem, just find a way to put your notes on your iPod. Before heading over to the ARC, record your notes to an mp3 file and build a study playlist. Chances are, if your laptop has a webcam, it can also record your voice lecturing to yourself. If your class podcasts lectures, you can get pumped listening to your professor as you pump iron.

2. HIIT it and Quit it

If you really can’t make the ARC for a moderate hour of study-workout, you could opt instead to exercise as little as possible so you have more time for studying. The only catch is that you have to up the intensity of your workout significantly. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) takes the idea that we can condense a long, drawn out workout to achieve better results in less time.

The name entails the essential idea of the workout: you alternate intense training over intervals. This workout should only last for 10 to 15 minutes, 20 at the max. If you have any energy left after 15 minutes, you’re not doing it hard enough. Start out with a light, one to two minute warm-up jog. Then sprint for 30 seconds, followed by moderate jogging for 30 seconds. Then sprint for 30 seconds. Lather, rinse and repeat for 10 minutes, before concluding with a one to two minute cool-down jog.

You’re done! If you’re completely winded, bent over panting, your heart is about to break out of your chest because it’s beating so hard, and you’re wondering why the hell you even followed my advice, then congratulations, you HIIT it correctly. If not, try harder next time.

I’ve found that combining workout with schoolwork is the only way to do either. I’ll be honest, when I put off the gym, it’s not because I’m so swamped in my four GEs that I can’t spare an hour to exercise. Really, I can’t spare an hour from watching “How I Met Your Mother,” “Community” and “30 Rock.” I can’t spare an hour from Super Smash Bros. Melee. I can’t spare an hour from Facebook-stalking the cutie from anthropology lecture. Or was it philosophy discussion? You get the point.

RAJIV NARAYAN will answer your e-mails at rrnarayan@ucdavis.edu while he’s bench-pressing 100 lbs.

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