How to study in comfort

We take a look at how to sustain yourself through long periods of study
A distance learning student reading in a cafe
Limit time spent on iPad and handheld devices, these are best suited for short term periods of study
Breaks will counteract mental fatigue and if you forget set a timer to remind yourself to stand up and stretch every half hour

Many of us know we now lead a more sedentary lifestyle in terms of study, work and recreation time. While this balance does depend on your occupation, we still spend much of our time sitting down engaged in activities such as surfing the web, watching Netflix and Skyping. Over a lifespan, this adds up to a vast amount of time.

If you sit still more than five hours per day, that alone is a risk factor independent of hard exercise and BMI [body mass index]. You might ask yourself next how all this accumulative sitting down could impact on your health.

One of the largest pieces of research on sitting down, based on a study of almost 800,000 people, was undertaken by Loughborough University and the University of Leicester in 2011. It indicated that people within the group who sat the longest had increased risks from 49 – 122% in these key areas:

  • Diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular events.
  • Death caused by cardiovascular events.
  • Increase in death from any cause.

While this can appear a bit grim there are simple and easy changes you can do to offset those possibilities.

Changing your lifestyle pattern

The general recommended guidelines for adults from 19-64 to stay healthy are at least 150 minutes or two and a half hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week. This should also include muscle strengthening activities on two or more days per week to work all your major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.

Factoring in weekly physical activity reaps overall health benefits and can even improve your study performance. You can successfully incorporate activity time into your day by breaking that down into manageable 30-minute chunks over a seven-day week. Bear in mind this is a guide and not a one size fits all, so some people may need to factor in more time.

You don’t have to travel to the gym to slog away in a noisy, artificially lit environment. Walking and cycling are attractive alternatives to using the bus or train. On a daily commute make use of the outdoors, if your destination is further away break your journey near the end to factor in some brisk walking. You just need to do enough to increase your heart rate above resting level.

A pedometer is a useful small device, clipped on it monitors how many footsteps you walk in a day. 10,000 steps daily is a general guide which is equivalent to eight kilometres or five miles. So 30 minutes of walking equates approximately to 3,000 - 4,000 steps as determined by your pedometer. It sounds impressive and will hopefully spur you on for extra steps, like using the stairs instead of the lift.

Tips to study in comfort

Where possible, set up a regular study space to which you can return to any time. A healthy, sustainable posture will aid focus over long periods. Make sure you have a decent, ergonomic chair and adjust it to the right height. The seat of your chair should be just below the height of your knee so your thighs are parallel to the floor and your feet rest flat on the floor when seated. This will ensure good circulation in your legs.

You could also consider a height adjustable standing desk enabling you to vary periods of sitting and standing as you please. Standing upright for periods uses your core stability muscle groups, increases energy and improves posture, as well as increasing blood flow.

Standing desks are more commonly available now and need not cost much - office liquidators are an affordable source of ergonomic chairs and desks.

Be aware to limit time spent on iPad and handheld devices, these are best suited for short term periods of study, such as when you commute on a train. If you must use an iPad for longer periods, for example in a cafe, consider using a clip-on keyboard which will also prop your iPad upright.

Try to move frequently and avoid staying in one positon too long. Breaks counteract mental fatigue and if you forget set a timer for standing up and stretching every half hour. Use the break to organise your study papers or some related activity.

"Adequate lighting in your study space is important. A combination of internal and natural light from a window is best."

We often forget to blink enough when using a computer, hence our eyes dry out and become irritated. Breaks rest your eyes too, use the rest to focus on distant objects. Keeping hydrated also helps, and adding herbs and slices of fruit into a big pitcher can impart a lovely fresh infusion to water.

Adequate lighting in your study space is important. A combination of internal and natural light from a window is best. Windows are best located to the side or above and not in front of your computer.

Bright fluorescent light can add to eye strain. A general rule is your ambient lighting should be about half as bright as that typically found in most offices.

Some laptops automatically adapt their brightness according to ambient lighting so you don’t need to adjust the screen manually. The brightness on your handheld devices can be changed too, usually in the settings section and then go to display.

At night, a darker screen can be more useful in dimmer rooms, but remember bright light mimics daybreak and can trick your brain into wakeup mode, potentially making sleep more disruptive. If you use a computer at night try f.lux - this free software warms up your computer display. After nightfall it changes the blue glare of screens to a yellowy evening light timed to synchronise with the sunset.

Some of these tips should point you on the way to making more positive changes and hopefully make your studying a more enjoyable experience.

More information

Read our Student Blog for more about shared study experiences. There are a range of posts from philosophy, effective exam practice to how pencils can make you smart and hip!

More about the Loughborough University and the University of Leicester 2011 Study – NHS Choices website.