How Physical Education Can Help Students Beat Exam Stress


a high school teach helps a student during his exam

Did you know that almost a third of children in the U.S. say they have experienced symptoms of stress? This stress impacts everything from academic performance to behavior in classrooms. So, what can be done to change this, especially during high-stress times like final exams?

Physical education teachers are in a good position to help students work through anxiety and stress with activity. By introducing physical activity as a form of stress relief during exam time, students have shown improved concentration and a marked reduction in fatigue. When outside stressors affect the brain, the entire body is impacted, as well. That means, when the body feels good, the mind is likely to follow. Take a look at some of the key factors that come into play when adopting stress-reduction exercise routines into daily life.

Exercise as a Stress Reliever

In addition to being a contributor to overall health and well-being, exercise has a direct impact on the body’s ability to react positively to stressors. At any level of fitness, from beginner to intermediate, individuals can train their body to manage day-to-day stresses in a manageable fashion. What’s more, children up to age 18 need 60 minutes of aerobic activity a day to maintain high levels of health and fitness.

Some of the benefits to adapting healthy lifestyles to include daily physical fitness are:

  • Pumping up endorphins. By engaging in health-focused exercise routines, individuals are able to see increases in the level of endorphins – the brain’s feel-good hormones – produced by the body. In no time at all, these increased levels of “pleasure pangs” spill over into all aspects of life; be it relieving stress levels at home or in the workplace. Try running on the track, enjoying a brisk nature hike or even shooting a couple games of basketball with a few friends after school or during lunch to see the benefits in motion.
  • Boosting overall mood. One major benefit to exercise is an increase in self-confidence. Studies have also shown that individuals who exercise on a regular basis are less likely to develop depression and bouts of anxiety.
  • Improving sleep cycles. Don’t forget the healing and restorative power of sleep: a fully actualized and regular exercise regimen naturally tires out the body, making it more susceptible to deep sleep and the possibility of waking up more refreshed to tackle the day. This benefit in particular becomes vital when adolescents reach high school; dealing with above-average stressors, students who have more sleep perform much better in national testing.

Stress-Free PE Activities

Exercising shouldn’t be an added source of stress. Some students suffer anxiety when it comes to traditional PE activities, like laps or obstacle courses, because there is so much competitiveness, discomfort and high expectations — just like during their exams.

Make sure your PE classes provide students with a healthy break from their other school stresses with these ideas for fun and pressure-free lessons:

Freeze Dance

This fun-filled activity can be achieved by simply pressing play on a music device. Modern dance crazes like the Cha-Cha Slide, the Cupid Shuffle and Whip/Nae Nae are crowd favorites. The fun part for educators is in knowing that students have no idea they are enduring intense physical exercise while performing some of their favorite dance moves. Try adding a little extra fun to the mix by instructing kids to freeze every time the music stops.


By integrating controlled poses, deep breathing and stretching into exercise routines, students find true inner calm with yoga. Not only does it offer immediate stress relief, but it also promotes an overall sense of well-being while lowering anxiety levels significantly. The only materials needed are a mat, a towel and some inspiration for sequences.

Ultimate Frisbee

This game has lots of twists and turns and is fun for all fitness levels. It also has the added benefit of being played outdoors, offering students a breath of fresh air. So when the weather’s good, seize the opportunity to introduce Ultimate Frisbee into your lesson plan.

It’s clear that exercise and stress relief go together. PE teachers can help students deal with their everyday stressors with activities that improve physical and emotional health. Just make sure your lesson plans don’t add to your students’ burdens by creating more risk of failure.

What are your favorite activities to help your students burn off anxiety?

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