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Smart Professors - Exercise

Professors are pretty smart people. We have to be smart to complete all of the requirements for doctoral and other terminal degrees that qualify us to teach. At the risk of being contrary, I want to suggest that we are not smart enough. Having had the privilege of looking into professors’ lives for many years through my coaching and workshops with professors, I have noticed that while professors are very dedicated to their students and their institutions they can get into habits of working hard without always working smart.

For the next few issues of this newsletter, I am going to challenge you to work smarter instead of harder. I want you to be smarter for your own sake because as you handle your academic responsibilities quicker and better you will have time and energy to create a great life. I also want you to be smarter for the sake of higher education because the smarter you are, the more creatively you will contribute to your discipline and to the quality of instruction at your institution.

This article draws on the research on how peak performers maximize their brain power and skills to do their best. Getting smarter is a matter of building new habits, not ever an easy task of course. However, as you finish the work of this semester and prepare for the next, this is the perfect time to build habits of working smarter.

Maximizing Your Brain Power

One way that you can become smarter is to establish a habit of regular physical exercise. By exercise, I am emphasizing primarily aerobic exercise, any exercise that elevates and sustains your heart rate for 20 minutes or more. Although weight training and stretching support fitness it is unclear at this time whether those activities benefit your brain in the same ways that aerobic exercise does.

Here are some research findings why aerobic exercise makes you smarter.

Why Exercise Is So Hard to Do?

Here are some of the reasons why establishing the exercise habit is so difficult to establish.

How to Use Exercise to Get Smarter

  1. Start slow. Don’t exceed your respiratory threshold. Even though you may breathe deeply, remain able to talk while you exercise.

  2. Check with your doctor before you begin an exercise program if you any disease condition such as heart symptoms that might be adversely affected by exercise.

  3. Change the cultural mythology of exercise as leisure by inviting fellow professors to join you on a campus walk. Set a work agenda for “walking meetings” such as discussing research ideas or new course offerings. Make it normative for professors on your campus to exercise.

  4. Set exercise time into your schedule, and then build your work obligations around it. You will never “find time” to exercise.

  5. Stretch a little before exercise and a lot afterwards to prevent injury.

  6. Find an activity that you like to do or at least don’t hate. Jogging isn’t the only aerobic exercise. Swim, walk, row, take a spinning class, or just put on music, dance DVD or a Wii dance program and dance around for 20 minutes in your own living room. No one will judge your dance moves nor your fitness level in the privacy of your own home.

  7. Mix it up. Muscles adjust to routines and fail to produce the same benefits. Alternate walking every other day with an aerobics class to provide variety for your brain and your body.


Use your winter break to get moving. Then keep it going when the new semester starts.

© Copyright 2010 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information.

CONTACT INFORMATION: Susan Robison, PhD.; 3725 Font Hill Drive; Ellicott City, MD 21042 Voice: 410-465-5892; E-mail: Website:

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