Active Learning

Finding the motivation to get up and go work out

With a week left of classes, McGill is in the post-midterm calm before the frenzied storm of final exams. And with those marathon library sessions and oddball sleep patterns, even the most die-hard fitness gurus may struggle to maintain routine physical activity.
Many of us are well aware from both personal experience and scientific research that exercise improves concentration and memory. Yet it’s still exponentially easier (and ostensibly more justified) to skip the gym during exams, and at many other times during the academic year. Blame it on genetics – conserving energy was beneficial for survival eons ago during the critical period of human evolution, or cite research that suggests the structures within the brain’s basal ganglia divert us from activities that require physical exertion.
But for each piece of evidence that points to a natural aversion to exercise, just as many pieces point in the opposite direction. For instance, children, oftentimes more inclined to act on their physiological cues, are usually quite active. On top of that, there are scores of reasons as to why exercise is beneficial to improving quality of life, such as the elevation of mood and self-esteem levels. All this should provide motivation to exercise, but why is it so difficult to work out?
It’s not always a question of time management and balancing one’s schedule. Usually, it’s the result of an internal debate that dictates whether or not you’ll grab your workout shorts and head outside. As a recreational runner, I know it’s all too easy to use poor weather or schoolwork as excuses to not exercise. Developing and maintaining a consistent exercise routine stems from a powerful source of self-motivation usually deeper than just purely aesthetic motives. According to runner and fitness expert Matt Fitzgerald’s book Racing Weight, competitive athletes rank weight loss “dead last” on their list of reasons for pursuing their sport. Taking a lesson from the pros, it’s important to find other reasons to enjoy sports and exercise – from the challenge it provides to the sense of personal accomplishment after a tough workout session.
How can you get involved in athletics around campus? Consider SSMU Minicourses, or take advantage of McGill Athletics’ student-friendly pricing on recreational courses. Try out unconventional workouts, like Zumba or wall-climbing, and visit Fit@McGill’s webpage for more ideas. In addition, here are some tips that might work for you during the exam period, perhaps the most difficult time of the year to find time to exercise:

-Be conscious of the amount of time spent unproductively in a day. You can’t deny that 30 minutes of exercise will only serve to make you more focused for the rest of your studying
– If you start by changing into your workout gear, you’ll feel foolish not working out
-Keep in mind that exercise has been repeatedly shown to reduce stress levels
-Tell yourself you’ll only go out for 10 minutes (and chances are you’ll be out longer once you’ve gotten started)
-Psych yourself up – with music or self-motivation – for the most wonderful break from studying you’ll have all day; then go tackle your work
-Ensure yourself a reward for consistency and perseverance through exam season!

So create a workout schedule, find an exercise buddy, and use these tips to maintain your fitness!