Healthy body, healthy mind. We’ve all heard it and we all try to accomplish it, but given the pressures students, and parents, are under something tends to give. Ensuring that we get enough exercise, eat well, sleep well, and have some time to just relax or spend time with friends, along with completing studies or work, is difficult. Research is consistent in stating that exercise, good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and relaxation, help improve focus and the ability to think clearly.
As much as possible this is about everything around studying, rather than the studying itself, though it does try to give some tips for ensuring that you’re in the right physical and mental space for studying.
Running, dancing, playing sports, even walking or cycling, preferably briskly, to or from school or university, are all necessary to keep the body in shape. However, before starting any work requiring focus and deep thought and intermittently during long sessions, it helps to get the blood pumping. Sitting for an extended period of time has been shown to negatively affect health, with the NHS stating that the metabolism is slowed, which affects the bodies ability to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar.
It may seem vaguely silly initially, but I’ve always found it helpful to stand up regularly, every 30 minutes or so, to walk around for a couple of minutes, get a glass of water, maybe do some push-ups. I’m not proposing that people go to this extent, but attention does fluctuate and when it’s ebbing, it does help to take a break, and get away from the desk or the computer for a brief period.
The difficulty is having the willpower to return after a short period of time, otherwise, time will just disappear. If this is an issue, setting an alarm has always helped me. If this does not work for you, then trying alternative solutions, such as performing a task that you know will take only a short time, may be better. The main thing is to avoid social media or YouTube and similar sites. It appears that these sites activate the same impulse control parts of the brain associated with drug addiction, making it increasingly difficult to get back to the work you were initially doing.
Now it may seem obvious that good nutrition is an important part of staying healthy, especially with the information that is now available about effects of too much salt and sugar in the diet. However, how do you eat well when you’re racing out the door in the morning and haven’t had the time for a proper breakfast, or when you get in the house and are just looking for a quick delicious snack?
Most people don’t realise that the brain is one of the most metabolically heavy organs of the body, requiring up to 20-25% of the body’s basal metabolism (the minimal rate of energy expenditure to maintain vital functions such as breathing & keeping warm).
This is a difficult task. For most people, there are only so many apples and bananas you can eat before you get tired of eating healthy snacks and want something really tasty to satisfy that craving. A bit of preparation can help here. Having some nuts at home to nibble on (if you’re not allergic obviously), some dried fruit (and yes you can make your own in an oven), even some chips (as long as you don’t lather them in ketchup which is loaded with sugar). The thing to remember here is that a quick sugar rush will give you that quick boost, but won’t last long term and you will end up feeling like you need more shortly.
Much of the hunger sensation is caused by an empty stomach. It’s not a long-term solution, but drinking a lot of liquid does help reduce the feeling of hunger, though admittedly not for as long as eating something. Again, drinking something without any sugar or an artificially sweetened drink is better than full strength soda. I find just having a glass on the desk beside me and a coffee or tea beside me is the best solution and gives me another reason to get up to top them up every hour.
Ah the one thing that always seems to either be forgotten or, if you’re a night owl, makes it hard to be fully active in the mornings… Sleep.
Some people need a full 8 hours, some seem to need 9 hours, and some seem to get away with 6 hours during the week with a top up on the weekends. Then we have the early birds, those people who seem to be able to wake up early and be immediately active, but then aren’t as mentally active late at night, and night owls, who crawl out of bed as late as possible, but keep going full strength late into the evening.
Sleep also affects so many aspects of our bodies other than just our mental acuity. Willpower, appetite control, immune system, muscle repair, metabolism, and memory are all affected detrimentally if we don’t get enough sleep. It’s been shown that sleep is vital to the top performance of athletes, not just in terms of muscle recovery, but also solidifying the muscle memory. Long-term sleep deprivation has a close association with depression and an inability to cope with stressful situations. It’s also good to realise that this can occur very gradually, with an hour less one night, an hour the next, without a drastic reduction in sleep that it’s commonly associated with.
The thing to remember is that while there are many differences in our sleeping habits and that they seem to result, as with many things, from both social and biological sources, we all need to sleep well and likely for a similar length of time. At the moment the necessary length seems to be about 9 hours for teenagers and 7-9 hours for adults, though this seems to decrease further as people age.
We all feel the pressure of time; we end up working later than we should. So we’re not as efficient the next day, resulting in us needing to study a bit later the next night. While it can be a pain, the best bet sometimes is to cut your losses and just stop. Organise your work so you hit the important stuff first, and then even if you haven’t completed everything necessary, stop at a decent time and get a good night’s sleep. It will enable you to reset your brain and hopefully be back to full efficiency the next day.
Of course, there are also the usual tricks about avoiding caffeine, having a quiet and dark room, and avoiding looking at a bright screen just before bed (or at least using an app to reduce the level of blue light).
And last, but definitely not least. We all need to have time to just chill. To let our brains switch off from the task we have to do, whether that’s doing something physical, or still thinking, but about something we enjoy, mucking around with electronics, coding, or playing a game online, or just sitting and watching a tv show.
Having an fun activity, a place and a time to do it, and a group of people to spend that time with, if you’re so inclined, or a quiet place to be by yourself, if not, is necessary to make sure that you have a reward for all the hard work you put in. Sometimes you’ve just done the work you’re rewarding yourself for, sometimes the reward is earned by the work you’ve done the previous day. Just get out there and enjoy it as much as you can, lose yourself in it, and do the best you can to forget all the pressure around you.
By Matthew D, Maths, Physics and Chemistry tutor in London. Interested in arranging private 1 to 1 tutor either in the comfort of your own home or online? Contact Us today.