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This summer, take a hike (for your brain) – Reprise

The Gradifying team is paying homage to summer posts from the past, and rightfully so.  Kingston in the summer is a beautiful place, teeming with activity and providing the opportunity to break those chains that have kept you bound to your desk during the school year… right?  RIGHT!?  Well the truth is, the work of a grad students is never really over until it’s all over and the summer doesn’t always afford a reprieve, especially for those nearing the end of their degree.  As such, finding excuses to step away from work during crunch time can be difficult; however, taking 30 minutes to walk away from your work can greatly improve your overall productivity.

For this week’s #ThrowbackPost, I’ve selected a post that I wrote last year on the benefits of hiking (exercise) for your brain.  This post is especially relevant to me as I have just returned from 15 days of hiking as part of a research trek in Nepal that explored this very phenomenon at high altitude.


Spring has indeed sprung, as most obviously noted by the mass orgies of midges that basically dominate the entire waterfront of Kingston.  If this is your first spring/summer in Kingston, these innocuous creatures won’t be around for very long, so get your extra protein while you can!

The completion of the undergraduate school year brings about an end to TA/TF responsibilities and generally a shifting of attention to impending major deadlines.  From proposals to comprehensive exams to the big bad thesis, when deadlines are abound the resurgence of warm weather can be more of a tormentor than an invitation to relax.

So how does one justify getting outside and enjoying the beautiful weather when there is so much work to be done?  My recommendation, take a hike and do it for your brain!

Participation in regular physical activity (PA), such as walking, confers numerous benefits on your brain.  The major benefits that top an extensive list include enhanced attention/focus, better problem solving, improved memory, reduced stress, and better quality of sleep.  While I’m certain that this notion isn’t new to a majority of readers, when I say ‘take a hike for your brain’, I am advocating for the strategic use of PA to enhance your work this summer; specifically, in terms of your cognitive performance and stress management.

A fascinating phenomenon created by exercise is a transient improvement in cognitive function following a single exercise session!  It’s as if exercise creates a window during which your brainpower is enhanced and this window seems to last for up to an hour after exercise, affecting a range of cognitive functions (especially attention).  Think about that for a minute… a single session of exercise can boost your cognitive performance!  So if you want to kick your brain up a notch before an upcoming work session, I encourage you to get outside and take a hike (aka a neature walk).

So, how much exercise is enough?  Well the answer to this question is not totally clear, which I think can be a good thing.  Based on a collection of research, it seems as though exercise sessions that are >20 minutes in length at a light to moderate intensity (brisk walk, jogging, cycling, etc.) appear to have the greatest acute effect on cognitive function (create the biggest window of improved cognitive function).  However, rather than getting hung up on specific intensities, I encourage you to see what works best for you, keeping in mind the purpose of your outing and what you hope to get out of it.

Where to go?  Well that’s entirely up to you!  The pier/waterfront across from KGH is always a great escape from the office and is reasonably close (2.4 km return trip from Union St. and University Ave.).  Also, City Park offers a great location to have lunch and the blood flowing to the brain on your walk (1.6km return from Union and University).

If you have any personal experiences of using exercise or other types of activities (i.e. meditation) to re-focus your brain before a work session, please share in the comment section.  Also, if walking or conventional exercise is inaccessible for you, I would be very interested in learning your perspective on this topic.

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