The stress of exams, lack of sleep and poor diet choices can take a toll on a student’s brain. Follow these diet and exercise tips to maintain your brain health.
By Grace Derocha
As a college student, it’s easy to let self-care and wellness fall to the wayside during the school year. Students often experience high stress levels, get an inadequate amount of sleep, skip exercise to study and eat whatever they can afford. However, these habits can negatively impact brain health, which is detrimental to academic success. According to the American Heart Association, neglecting brain health can also lead to dementia, stroke and other complications later in life. Try these tips to keep your thinking cap in shape for the upcoming school year:
1. Fuel up with antioxidants and healthy oils.
Foods such as blueberries, broccoli, fish, nuts, eggs and dark chocolate can boost brainpower for long hours of studying. The antioxidants in blueberries and other deep-colored fruits and vegetables help prevent and delay cell damage in the brain, while the healthy fats in salmon build brain and nerve cells. Remember, eating on a college budget doesn’t have to mean pizza and fast food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plan out meals, and buy in bulk to save money and maintain a nutritious diet.
2. Carve out exercise breaks.
Research shows exercise may lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and slow brain aging by 10 years. Aerobic exercise such as running, walking or swimming can improve memory by increasing blood flow to the brain. In preparation for a big exam, try taking a break to go for a walk or squeeze in a quick workout. These brief periods of separation help reset the brain to better retain the information already studied and come back with renewed energy.
3. Make time for self-care.
The fight-or-flight reaction generated by stress leads to an increased heart rate and the release of cortisol, a hormone that can build up in the brain and lead to cognitive decline. College can pose many threats to mental well-being, so it’s important to take time for other activities outside of school. Go for a walk, be creative, unplug from technology, journal, meditate and spend time with friends to lower stress levels and increase productivity.
4. Take adequate sleep seriously.
Sleep helps the brain clear toxins, repair itself and create memories. The body’s circadian rhythms influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits, digestion, body temperature and other important bodily functions. To fall asleep easier, turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed and try sticking to a regular routine. Limiting light stimulation helps the body recognize it’s time to sleep and sends signals to the brain to release melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Adequate sleep significantly contributes to the brain’s ability to focus and properly comprehend information, which makes it a vital component to student success.
Grace Derocha is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health and wellness tips, visit ahealthiermichigan.org.