How physical activity can help you manage your health while studying

When people hear the words "physical activity", they often equate it to "exercise". If you don't consider yourself as the 'sporty' type, exercise can conjure up bad memories of sweaty and painful hours spent in the school gym. But did you know that physical activity is any movement with an intensity at or above that equivalent to a brisk walk? You can accumulate this in all sorts of ways, not just through sport. Other activities like walking between bus stations, climbing the stairs to your apartment, gardening, or stretching all count as physical activity.

Participating in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week reduces the risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, kidney disease and stroke! It also helps protect you against depressive and anxiety symptoms and is associated with lower stress and higher quality of life.

Many university students do not meet physical activity guidelines and those that do can struggle to maintain it as semester intensifies. Your whole life is completely flipped when university begins. All of a sudden you're juggling multiple commitments, such as living away from home, paying bills, working, spending time with friends, all while managing class attendance and assessments. Juggling study and life can be a difficult task, and this is why students are increasingly susceptible to developing mental health difficulties like depression, anxiety and loneliness. The good news is that regular physical activity may help prevent or manage these feelings, enabling you to cope with student life more effectively. 

Getting more physically active can...

Help you think and feel better

Sufficient physical activity does not just improve your physical health, it also helps you feel and think better. It’s strongly linked to better academic performance and is a great way to form deeper friendships with those who you share a common interest with.

Improve your study efficiency

Whether it’s going for a walk to the nearest coffee shop, or scaling a mountain to enjoy some scenery, physical activity is an excellent way to improve your health while taking a well-deserved break from your study desk. Sometimes taking a break can be hard, but you may just get back to the desk, feel better for the break, and complete your study more efficiently.

Keep you healthy without breaking the bank!

Being physically active doesn’t have to be expensive or need lots of equipment, it can be free! Activities like walking, running, hiking, only require a pair of shoes and a water bottle. They do not require weekly subscriptions. We all know the struggle of living from one pay cheque to the next. Free physical activity allows you to not break your bank and remain healthy at the same time!

Our top tips to help you start making progress towards your physical activity goals:

1. Set a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timed)

Goals are intrinsic to our motivation. Setting a goal helps us take active steps towards what we need to get done. It focuses our effort on what is important and enables us to persevere even when we do not feel like it. However, setting realistic goals is important as well. An unrealistic/unachievable goal is likely to hinder progress and decrease our motivation. 

A non-SMART goal might look like: “I want to be physically fit”

A SMART goal looks like this: “I aim to be going for 3km runs 2 times a week, every week. I want to be able to complete this run in under 20 minutes within 3 months and maintain this pace for the rest of the year"

2. Keeping track of your progress

Part of goal-setting is keeping track of where you are currently at. This not only helps with your motivation (imagine comparing your physical activity frequency now and again in 6 months), but also helps you track when you tend to increase or decrease physical activity. Noticing these habits increases our awareness of barriers and enablers to developing a healthy and active lifestyle. There are tons of free Apps/devices that help us track our PA automatically with or without additional devices (Strava, Fitbit, smart watches, etc.) 

3. Learn about the different types of physical activity available

Different types of physical activity are suitable for different people. The best type of physical activity for you is the one you most enjoy doing, especially when university life gets tough. This might be going for a walk or a swim, an intense sprint, or even some relaxing yoga. 

4. Join Fit4Study!

Fit4Study is a 4-week course that aims to help university students develop healthy physical active habits. You will learn about the different types of physical activity in more depth and actively engage in discussions about common barriers and enablers of physical activity that you and other students experience. It is a great opportunity to meet like-minded students and keep each other accountable as you jump into a busy semester.


  • Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2017 Report | National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE). (2022). Retrieved 28 July 2022, from
  • Cuijpers, P., Cristea, I. A., Ebert, D. D., Koot, H. M., Auerbach, R. P., Bruffaerts, R., & Kessler, R. C. (2016). Psychological treatment of depression in college students: A metaanalysis. Depression and Anxiety, 33(5), 400–414.
  • Herbert, C., Meixner, F., Wiebking, C., & Gilg, V. (2020). Regular physical activity, short-term exercise, mental health, and well-being among university students: the results of an online and a laboratory study. Frontiers in psychology11, 509.
  • World Health Organization. 2022. Physical Activity. Retrieved 28 July 2022, from

Last updated:
9 January 2023