Physical Wellbeing and Academic Performance

Research has consistently shown that there is a clear link between physical wellbeing and academic performance and achievement [1].

This is an important fact to bear in mind as you work your way through your research. It can be easy to neglect your physical wellbeing due to pressures of time, workload or because you feel it isn’t important enough to prioritise right now. However this can result in a significant reduction in the quality and quantity of the work you produce.

Evidence in the literature demonstrates that diet, hydration, exercise, sleep and the use of alcohol and/or drugs can all have an effect on cognitive functioning and academic performance [2]; [3]; [4]; [5]. This is true across all age groups, including university students.

The students in our panels also highlighted the risks of neglecting physical wellbeing. They reported that long hours at their desks or in labs, without sufficient breaks, exercise, healthy food and hydration had resulted in the development of chronic pain conditions, weight gain, heart problems and headaches. 

Despite the importance and challenge of completing your research degree, you are still a human being. As a result, your physical wellbeing cannot be neglected without a resulting negative impact. Your brain is part of your body and as a result, it will be influenced by how you treat and look after your body. 

For instance, exercising your body has been shown to improve brain function and academic performance. While you may be concerned that the time taken to exercise will result in you getting less done, the evidence indicates that you will be more productive and will complete better quality work because you have exercised. 

The same is true for your diet. Taking the time to prepare healthy food may seem like a distraction, when you can pick up snack food easily, but this will show up in your ability to think, solve problems, absorb new learning and maintain energy and motivation. Eating sugary and fatty foods can also result in you experiencing spikes and dips in your energy levels, that undermine your ability to work across the day.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to maintain perfect physical health, all of the time. We all experience fluctuations in our health and few of us manage to maintain healthy behaviours all of the time. But by paying attention to your physical wellbeing, you can improve your performance over the course of your research degree, produce better work and emerge at the end of your studies in better physical shape.

Video Resources

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Feeding Your Brain: Animation created by Madeleine Tizard and Ole Kristian Dale, BA Animation Students - University of Derby.

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Chair Yoga: Animation created by Madeleine Tizard and Ole Kristian Dale, BA Animation Students - University of Derby.

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Sleep: Animation created by Madeleine Tizard and Ole Kristian Dale, BA Animation Students - University of Derby.



El Ansari W, Stock C. Is the health and wellbeing of university students associated with their academic performance? Cross sectional findings from the United Kingdom. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2010;7(2):509–27.


Rasberry CN, Lee SM, Robin L, Laris BA, Russell LA, Coyle KK, et al. The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance: A systematic review of the literature. 2011 [cited 2019 Nov 28]; Available from:


Florence MD, Asbridge M, Veugelers PJ. Diet Quality and Academic Performance. J Sch Health [Internet]. 2008 Apr [cited 2019 Nov 28];78(4):209–15. Available from:


Scullin, M. K., 2019. The Eight Hour Sleep Challenge During Final Exams Week. Teaching of Psychology,, 46(1), p. 55–63.


Martinez JA, Sher KJ, Wood PK. Is Heavy Drinking Really Associated with Attrition from College? The Alcohol-Attrition Paradox. Psychol. Addict. Behav. 2008;22:450–456.