Studying for the bar exam is one of the most taxing experiences law students will have to endure. It can cause anything from severe, crippling depression and extreme panic attacks, to basic FOMO (fear of missing out) in everyday life. It’s hard on the mind and the body, as sitting for hours each day can end in achy joints, terrible posture, and lethargy that can take months to shake off.
But simple movement throughout the day can ease the symptoms of bar prep burnout and boredom, and the ailments associated with long periods of sitting (i.e. increased blood pressure, increased blood sugar, poor blood circulation, and anxiety and depression).
Exercise is Good for your Mental Health
Say it with me now, “exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.”
Chances are you’ve heard those words uttered at some point before or during your time in law school by a bubbly blonde while explaining why her client couldn’t have killed her husband. (And if you haven’t, Google the quote and spend one night after you study to watch the movie.) While this sentiment isn’t 100% correct all the time, exercise does cause you to secrete endorphins and endorphins trigger a euphoric feeling in the body that is similar to the one created by morphine -although it’s not quite as addictive.
Taking just 30-minutes a day to walk has been shown to secrete enough endorphins to battle malaise and significantly reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. Thus, if you were to block out a few 10 to 15-minute-long walk breaks during bar prep, and/or a 30-minute exercise session each day, you could greatly reduce the toll studying has on your mental health.
Exercise Helps You Sleep Better
Sleep is the one habit that flies out the window during law school and bar exam prep, but it is probably the most important. Your mind is already overtaxed from studying, and when you don’t get enough sleep, or good quality sleep, you are just asking your mind to do more, with less, which can in turn cause more anxiety, depression, lack of self-esteem, and stress.
Exercising regularly can increase the quality of your sleep. In fact, it increases the time you spend in deep sleep, which is the phase of our sleep cycles where our minds get restored the most. In addition, most people have a hard time falling asleep because they are anxious or stressed out. We’ve already discussed above how exercise can help with anxiety and stress, and this help extends to aiding anxiety at bedtime.
Try and take a few minutes before bed without your phone, or even the lights on, to do a couple quick yoga poses and some box breathing (in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four, repeat). I promise, you’ll return to your pillow feeling calmer and ready to fall asleep.
Exercise Makes You Smarter
When you exercise, your brain takes in more oxygen than it usually does. This influx of oxygen allows your brain to function better overall. If your brain function improves, you are able to recall the exam material better.
An easy way to do this is to take a few breaks throughout the day to move around. Taking breaks from studying has been shown to increase productivity during the time you are actually studying and ease stress. Using some of those breaks to throw a kettlebell around, go through a quick yoga flow, or simply walk around the block, will give your brain the time to absorb and process what you have learned. In addition, consistent movement can also aid in memory recall because it helps combat stress and anxiety (which can negatively affect your ability to remember what you’ve studied).
As you can see, consistent exercise greatly affects stress and anxiety, which, I think, are the two major issues that plague bar examinees and inhibit them from doing as well as they are capable of on the exam. My tutor used to tell me that half the battle was showing up to the exam fresh and relaxed enough to do my best. And the only way to do that was to make sure my stress and anxiety were not only under control, but that I had an outlet to get them under control.
Exercise became an integral part of my second attempt at the bar. I even signed up for a half marathon so that I had a set exercise schedule to follow in the weeks leading up to the exam (but, I don’t recommend this). In addition to those workouts, I took the time to walk or ride my bike whenever I started to feel anxious or stressed. Physical activity became the thing that centered me and helped me really focus when I sat down to study next. In addition, I was having fewer panic attacks, I was sleeping better throughout the night, and my relationships with my family and friends suffered less.
So, go for a walk, do some squats, and know you are not only building your quads but your brain as well!