Staying Fit And Active To Ace Your HSC

Staying fit, healthy, and active is key to achieving your study goals. In this article, we discuss what you can do to ensure your fighting fit for your HSC.
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Too often, students overlook the importance of staying fit and active to ace the HSC. This is why we go through the benefits of physical activity on one’s memory, concentration and mood, and provide 7 ways you can incorporate physical activity into your busy study routines.


In this article about staying fit and active to ace your HSC, we discuss:


What is the official recommended amount of physical activity?

The Australian Government Department of Health defines physical activity as anything that moves your body and increases your heartbeat and breath. This includes:

  • Incidental activity (eg. doing chores, walking to school etc.)
  • Exercise (eg. swimming, jogging etc.)
  • Sport (eg. netball, basketball etc.)
  • Muscle-strengthening activities (eg. lifting weights, body-weight exercise)


They recommend that young people aged 5-17 years old should engage in at least 60 minutes each day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. This includes:

  • Heart-pumping exercises like football, brisk walk, scooter riding or dancing (at least 3 days a week)
  • Muscle-strengthening activities like running, lifting weights, push-ups or yoga (at least 3 days a week)

They also recommend young people to include a few hours of light physical activity like walking to school, playing handball or doing chores.

Note: Vigorous activity is when you are out of breath and sweaty. Moderate is where you are putting in some effort but it is not too difficult. Light activities are activities that don’t require much effort or concentration.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018), only 1.9% of 15-17-year-olds meet both the physical activity and muscle-strengthening guidelines. However, a higher number of young people meet the individual requirements:

  • 10.3% of 15-17-year-olds completed 60 minutes of exercise every day
  • 15.8% of 15-17-year-olds completed strengthening activities at least 3 days a week

This is a very low rate of physical activity among young people between 15-17 years old.

Staying Fit and Active for the HSC - student wellbeing articles - different sporting equipment


Why is staying fit beneficial for your HSC?

It is very easy to overlook the importance of staying fit when you are busy studying for your exams or completing your assignments. However, did you know that staying physically active is actually very important for your memory, mood, and overall physical and mental health?

Let’s go into this in more detail!


1. Increases your memory and concentration

When we think about staying fit and exercising, we think about the effects physical activity has on our bodies. However, numerous studies show that physical exercise can, directly and indirectly, improve your brain!

Physical activity prevents loss of brain volume and shrinkage of the hippocampus (the learning and memory area of the brain), and increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain.

Our hippocampus is a part of the brain that is responsible for our memory. Every time you memorise something, a new neural pathway is created from the hippocampus.

Our body cells and organs function by receiving oxygen and nutrients from our blood. In particular, our brain uses approximately 15% of our body’s blood supply despite taking up 2-3% of the total mass. Studies show that regular exercise improves the function of existing blood vessels and help develop new vessels.

So, when you do physical activity, you increase the blood flow to your brain, which increases the amount of oxygen that your hippocampus receives. In return, your hippocampus is able to easily produce new neurons to increase your memory and thinking!

This is supported by numerous neuronal studies with mice. The group of mice who regularly ran on the treadmill showed growth of neurons and hippocampus regions, and also performed cognitively better than the group of mice who didn’t exercise.

So, it’s time to get physical to boost our memory and brainpower!

Staying Fit and Active for the HSC - student wellbeing articles - brainmindmap


2. Boosts your self-esteem, confidence, and mood

Exercise is a great way to improve your mood, confidence and self-esteem! Remember, maintaining your mental health during your HSC year is integral. There is no point aiming for a high ATAR if you are sacrificing your health for it. You won’t be able to achieve your best if you are highly stressed and anxious.

A good way to help prevent this is to incorporate physical activity to maintain and increase your mood and self-esteem.

Numerous studies show a strong link between physical exercise and mood and self esteem.

This is mainly because physical activities increase your serotonin levels. This is a ‘feel good’ hormone that helps stabilise your mood and increase feelings of happiness. When you have low levels of serotonin, you may feel more depressed, stressed and anxious. The negative feelings will affect the way you think and process information!

Serotonin also regulates your sleep and appetite, which both play crucial roles in your brain development. (Check out our articles on ‘How Sleeping Will Boost your HSC‘ and Eating Right for the HSC to learn more).


3. Chance to take a break and socialise

Finally, staying fit and getting some physical activity into your routine is a great way to take a break from studying and/or socialise with friends and family.

It is impractical and inefficient to study every minute of the day.

So, instead of trying to cram or go on your phone, take this chance to get physical and socialise!

There are plenty of sports or physical activities that you can do just for fun to get your mind off school work. You can also meet up with your friends and play sports together.

Staying Fit and Active for the HSC - student wellbeing articles - baseball boys hugging


Ways to stay fit whilst studying for your HSC

So, now that we know the benefits of staying fit for your HSC, let’s see how we can add physical activity to our busy everyday lives!


1. Plan and schedule your exercise time

It is very easy to put off exercise times and “reschedule it for tomorrow” because you’re busy studying or working on an assignment. This is why it is crucial that you are planning and accounting for exercise/sport time in your weekly timetable.

When you are planning your daily and weekly schedules, remember to add in 1 hour worth of physical activity in your days.

This can be broken up into smaller chunks of physical activity, like two 30-minute sessions or three 20-minute sessions a day. They can also consist of different physical activities to keep it interesting!

For instance, you can do 15 minutes of yoga when you wake up to start your day, play 20 minutes worth of handball during school lunch, and go for a 25-minute walk before dinner to unwind from your studies.

Remember, it is a good idea to specify what physical activity you will be doing.

If you simply write “30-minute exercise” in your planner, you might end up skipping the session because you don’t feel like doing anything in particular.

On the other hand, if you specify your activity (eg. 30-minute jog, 1 hour of dance, or 15-minute ab workout), you will feel more obliged to complete it because you don’t need to waste any time thinking about what you ‘feel’ like doing.

It is about discipline, not motivation. Trust us, you might not feel like exercising, but you will feel good completing it.

Staying Fit and Active for the HSC - student wellbeing articles - planner with specified exercise time


2. Get up every 20-30 minutes to stretch and get the blood flowing

We spend a large amount of the day sitting, whether it is sitting by the desk or sitting on the car ride home.

Remember, this is not normal from an evolutionary standpoint. In the past, humans have spent most of their days hunting or gathering; they are always moving and staying on their feet. So, it is a good idea to try to get up and move as much as possible, even if it is just some jumping jacks or stretched.

So, every 20-30 minutes, take a quick break from your studies and get up from your seat!

You should:

1. Stretch your arms, legs, wrists, ankles, back and neck

Typing on your laptop or writing in your notebooks for a long period of time will put unnecessary strain on your body. Sitting in one position can cause stiffness in your body and carrying out repetitive motions can overuse your muscles and strain them.

So, remembering to stretch out these parts of your body every 20-30 minutes will help loosen your posture and prevent any injury from overuse. It will also make you feel a lot better, as muscle tensions can affect your mood!

Remember, this doesn’t have to be a long stretch. Just hold each position for 10-15 seconds to move your body!


2. Do some aerobic movements to get your heart pumping

Remember how we mentioned that blood flow is crucial to help your brain function and improve your memory and concentration? Well, doing small aerobic movements in your study breaks is a great way to boost your concentration.

So, get up at do some jumping jacks, high knees, or jog on the spot. This will get your blood pumping through your body to get you energised again.

Staying Fit and Active for the HSC - student wellbeing articles -stretching at desk


3. Do a fun sport or physical activity

Many students dislike doing physical activities or participating in sports because they don’t enjoy it. However, this doesn’t mean that they hate physical activity in general. Often, they just haven’t found the physical activity that they enjoy doing, yet!

Different people like different types of physical activities and sports.

It’s all about finding the one you enjoy. There are so many different options available:

  • Basketball
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Fencing
  • Tennis
  • Soccer
  • Rugby
  • Ice skating
  • Hiking
  • Skateboarding
  • Horse riding
  • Cycling
  • Lifting weights

Try different physical activities and see which one you like best! Once you find something you like, try to incorporate it into your weekly routine.

You can also join your school or community club, take classes, or meet up with your friends on the weekends to play some sports.

SportAUS from the Australian Institute of Sports has gathered resources of different sporting organisations to help students get active and stay fit from home.

This will help you approach physical exercise as something fun and enjoyable as opposed to a chore.

Staying Fit and Active for the HSC - student wellbeing articles - girl putting on ice skating shoes


4. Commute to and from school

Another easy way to add physical exercise into your daily routine is to commute to and from school if it is possible for you.

Instead of driving to school, take public transport, walk, or ride a bike to school. Commuting is a great way to get in your extra steps for the day.

Remember, brisk walks are considered moderate+ activity, and casual walks are considered light physical activity. So, commuting will be a great way to help you meet your government-recommended amount of physical activity.

You can also use this time to study or catch up on your prescribed readings on public transport. So, it is a win-win situation!

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5. Complete relaxing and meditative exercises to unwind

Some exercises and physical activities can be very meditative and relaxing, like yoga, walks in the park, tai chi, or cycling through the city.

This is because the activities require you to focus on your breathing and give you a chance to concentrate on your body.

You will begin to let go of your stresses and anxieties and stay calm and focused.

For instance, yoga is great at helping you relax because breathing is such an important component of the activity. Yoga’s different breathing techniques helps lower anxieties and will calm down your body.

Going on walks or bike rides in the park is helpful as it immerses you in nature. Studies show that being in nature helps you focus on the present and de-stress. It is calming and relaxing.

So, find some relaxing and meditative activities to unwind and destress from your studies and assessments. This will help you maintain both your physical and mental health to stay fit for the HSC exams.


6. Add physical activities to your study time, vice versa

You don’t have to separate physical activities with your study time, you can do it together! Add small physical movements to your study time, or use your exercise time to revise. This is a good way to multitask, especially if you’re nearing exam periods.

Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Use a standing desk when you study and march on the spot
  • Voice record your notes and listen to them when you are working out (eg. walking or cycling)
  • Read your notes and walk around the house
  • Read your notes while you’re on the treadmill

Moving whilst studying also helps you memorise your notes better. So, this is a great way to hit two birds with one stone!

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7. Remember to adjust to your needs

The HSC is a stressful time. So, adjust your exercise intensity and duration to your body’s needs.

Listen to your body and mind. Don’t overstress it.

If you find yourself stressing about your exams, find some time to do some relaxing and meditative physical activities, or play a sport to unwind and have fun. You don’t need to do an intense workout that will require too much energy.

If you are running out of time to cram your notes, just add some simple stretches and jumping jacks to your small breaks to get your blood flowing.

And, if you’re tired and burnt out, take a break!

Just remember to listen to your body and work out appropriately.

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What 95+ ATAR students say about staying fit and active

High scoring graduates all stress the importance of staying fit and active during their HSC years to relieve stress and unwind. Let’s take a look at these selections of past high achievers’ blog articles and what they mentioned about staying fit:


Anastasia’s Time Management Tips to Win Gold in Sport and 97.05 ATAR ?

My (sports) training and competitions acted as stress relief in a way where the exercise and the fresh air provided a break from the HSC, where in the moment I would solely focus on the drill I was doing or the event at hand. It also allowed me to socialise, where talking to people relieved pressure allowing me the ability to get my thoughts together.

I strongly recommended that during your HSC you do take time to go outside, exercise and socialise whether that be at a group study or sports team.

It doesn’t just relieve stress it also provides you with support groups and helped me stay focused and relaxed.

Staying Fit and Active for the HSC - student wellbeing articles - anastasia


Coco’s Hacks: Getting Into Actuarial Studies At UNSW

“My extra-curriculars were mostly volunteering/leadership-based, and I only realized the importance of keeping up my fitness when I started running out of breath after walking up two flights of stairs!

If you are currently playing a sport, please don’t drop it (unless you feel that it is taking up way too much time) – it will keep you fit and energised, which is surprisingly useful for maintaining focus and concentration while studying.”

Staying Fit and Active for the HSC - student wellbeing articles - coco xu


Emma’s Hacks: How I Scored An ATAR of 99.85

“While it is a personal choice, I think it’s beneficial to keep at least one activity that is not study-related and something that engages your whole body. Participating in weekly sports or joining a gym maintains your physical fitness and should be regarded as a break from your study, not something added onto the endless list of tasks to complete.”

Staying Fit and Active for the HSC - student wellbeing articles - emma


Eric’s Hacks: How Hunger For Success Can Drive You To Ace Your HSC And score 96.00

“I enjoy working out and achieving fitness goals. So, during the School term, I followed a 3-day per week gym routine to stay physically fit and attended Matrix term courses before and/or after my session to stay academically fit.”

Staying Fit and Active for the HSC - student wellbeing articles - - eric


What should you learn from this?

Achieving a high ATAR doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice and neglect physical activities. There are many ways you can incorporate physical exercise that is beneficial to your physical and mental health and useful for your studies.


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