Boosting Intellectual Creativity with Exercise

This year, much of our teaching is on line, and one downside is it can mean that we don’t even need to move to get to class!! Instead we spend hours in front of the screen. We (Jack Doyle, Mirela Ivanova, and Lyndal Roper) have teamed up with Michael Duncan of Oxford’s Fit Union and with Dr Kat Hill, History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck to run a project investigating what difference exercise might make to brain work.

Each week we do a brief round of exercises half an hour before class. We demonstrate the exercises, and then time the intervals. We started light: a grand total of three minutes of movement!!! We are gradually building up.

We are interested in how exercise affects group dynamics and trust, and how physical movement might enable people to think more creatively.

Report June 2021


This Trinity Term in Theme Paper Masculinity and it Discontents we have continued working with the Oxford Athletes Centre’s Fit-Union, a social enterprise that is getting people in workplaces to become involved with movement and exercise. Fit-union provides the exercises, and then we demonstrate and run through the exercises together in an exercise session of about 15 to 20 minutes before class. Each ‘round’ lasts six minutes, they require no equipment and no previous experience with gym work, and they are great for getting people out of their chairs during lockdown.


Rebecca Davies, Second Year, Brasenose, writes:-

Whilst I would say I am generally an active person, my exercise of choice tends to fall more into the realm of yoga and sunny walks than anything too much more strenuous. To my surprise, therefore, I enjoyed the group exercises with my class far more than I was expecting! Initially, it was a great way to break the ice in our first class and for us students to feel more comfortable with each other and our tutors before delving into academic work. Moreover, doing the exercise before our classes helped me deal with my usual nerves before academic contact time by getting me out of my head and focusing on my body. This allowed me to enter into my classes far calmer than I usually would have been, and thus far more ready to engage and get the most out of it. Finally, the classes following these exercise sessions have in fact been some of the most engaging and rewarding of my university career, and I’m sure the exercise played a part in this! Overall, it was a very fun, engaging and bonding experience which I am grateful to have been given a chance to do with my class.

Report November 2020


Much of the teaching this term is on-line, which means we cannot meet face-to-face, we spend more screen time a day and are not MOVING. even to get to class. So with help from Michael Duncan of Oxford’s Fit Union, Jack Doyle, Mirela Ivanova and Lyndal Roper launched a project to investigate the impact of light exercise on our engagement, participation, comradery, and overall wellbeing.

Michael provides a programme of four and a half minutes, which we run through twice. The movements are short, quick, require no equipment and easily done in an office or small room, so participants can stretch, move, connect, and think more creatively.

After six weeks, these were some student responses: 


“In all honesty, I was a bit confused about why my Theories and Methods class was starting early with thirty minutes of exercise, but I was in quarantine at the time, so I welcomed the opportunity to get up and move,” said Cameron Kline, MSt student, American History, St. Cross College, Oxford. “After a few weeks, it became a welcomed habit, and when we are done, I feel ready to dig into the week’s discussion.”

“Exercise was definitely a surprise when I started the course; never done anything like this before- I think it helps to wake you up, it's very easy to get lethargic at 2pm on a November Tuesday (especially after lunch)- it's also a nice icebreaker for bonding within the class.” said Elliot Jordan, New College.

“I’ve really enjoyed the exercises that we’ve been doing. I’ve found the combination of aerobic exercise, muscle training and stretching has really helped me get alert for class. I’ve continued to repeat the exercises during the week, and have really found that my concentration levels significantly increase once I have done some exercise! These particular sets are quick and easy to do, so are an effective five-minute study break if you have a deadline to meet or the cold weather makes going out for a run seem unappealing!” 

“Inspired by this, I’ve encouraged my Quidditch team into doing an exercise competition over the second lockdown. We’ve set some exercises that target more specific muscle groups and are competing to see who can do the most. This week has been excruciatingly painful arm and planking – I swear I couldn’t sit up this morning after yesterday’s routine! The aim isn’t that people get overly competitive and over-exert themselves, but rather keeping active during lockdown,” said Louise Earnshaw, MSt in Modern European History, Lady Margaret Hall.

Lyndal Roper said: “This was probably the most diverse group I’ve ever taught. Radically different backgrounds, some of us in the US, some here, all ages and perspectives. I worried how we would bring the class together. I believe exercise made a real difference: it helped us trust one another, and to my astonishment, the group really took off. Plus it’s impossible to come out with highfalutin theoretical nonsense if you’ve just worked up a sweat. This was one of the best teaching experiences of my life.”

Many of the students have indicated that they enjoy the exercise. They also look forward to more fun and engaging ways to manage the challenges and isolation brought on by the pandemic and the necessary precautions we all need to take to stay safe and to keep teaching and learning.


- Cameron Kline, M St in US history, St Cross College.