Why and How I Exercise Before a Test

As highlighted by Harvard Health Publishing, exercise is “the single most important thing you can do for your health.” It improves our mood, our day-to-day function, and our survival. However, adhering to an exercise routine can be challenging. One of my main motivators to continue my exercise routine despite being a busy medical student is the knowledge that exercise boosts my school performance. In this article, I’ll let you in on how I use exercise before a test to improve my results.

In a 2018 study, healthy young adults who did 10 minutes of aerobic exercise improved their performance on a visual task that was used to measure executive control. Aerobic activity has short-term benefits to cognition if it’s performed for 10-20 minutes at a moderate to vigorous intensity.

Knowing this, my routine before an exam is to do 20-minutes on my elliptical about an hour and a half beforehand. I did this for my MCAT, my CASPer®, my medical interviews, and then all of my medical school exams. If I need extra review, I’ll read notes on my elliptical. I feel like this practice helps to calm my nerves, boosts my brain power, and gets me more focused.

If you’re going to try this, I have a few suggestions. First, I do aerobic activity rather than strength training because I don’t want to tire myself out too much. Going all out in a workout will be counterproductive if it zaps your energy. Swimming, walking, running at an easy pace, cycling etc. would all be good options. Next, make sure you have enough time set out. The last thing you want is to be rushing around in order to squeeze a workout in. Lastly, the week of an exam is not the time to start a new workout routine. I know this from experience. Being sore ended up distracting me from doing my best.

Good luck and go Crush It.