It is widely accepted that a healthy body helps to keeps your mind healthy, not only in terms of your brain function, but also your general sense of well-being.
At CDU we have facilities to help you stay happy and healthy.
Empower yourself through health
Most people recognise the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and getting sufficient sleep and exercise. Without them your brain cannot function optimally.
The brain is a complex, dynamic organism that needs a good supply of oxygen, the right nutrition and minimum stress levels to function well. The good news is that your brain capacity continues to grow with mental stimulation!
As a student your health is in your hands. Neuroscience is now providing us with evidence that the brain is a highly complex organism that works best with proper attention to diet, exercise and sleep.
Learn more by viewing the topics below.
Eat well, think better
Eating a healthy, nutritionally sound diet will help your brain function well, which in turn will enable you to study effectively. If you look at the healthy eating pyramid below, you will notice that you need a good mix of vegetables and fruits, protein, carbohydrates, milk products and oils.
Faculty members at the Harvard School of Public Health built the Healthy Eating Pyramid based on 15 years of research.
Avoiding refined sugars
High levels of sugar are not only found in fizzy drinks, and cakes and sweets they are also found in most highly processed foods. Foods with high levels of sugar are referred to as food with a high Glycemic Index (GI) and too much of these can have a very negative effect on our energy levels, weight and long-term health.
As a student, your energy levels and physical health are vital to help you cope with the pressure of study. Sticking to foods with a low GI is a great way to safeguard your health.
Developed through studies by David J. Jenkins, a professor of nutrition at the University of Toronto, a low GI diet is:
- Naturally more filling so you will automatically take in fewer calories
- Higher in fibre, which can help to reduce your cholesterol levels
- More sustaining, giving far greater energy levels throughout the day
- Higher in essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which help to keep your immune system strong and healthy.
- Higher in fruit and vegetable content. Research shows that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of developing certain cancers by up to 40 per cent.
The table below gives you an idea of the different GI counts in foods. Anything below 50 is viewed as an acceptable GI.
Want to find out more about reducing the GI in your diet?
The importance of Omega-3 for health
The latest health research shows that there are benefits for health and brain functioning when our diet has a proper ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega fatty acids are termed essential fatty acids because they cannot be produced in the body and must be obtained from our diet. They are key building blocks for the membranes in all cells in the body, but are highly concentrated in the brain. About two-thirds of the dry mass of the brain comprises fatty acids. (Oddy et al 2011).
People in Australia generally consume too much Omega-6; the Australian ratio is now estimated to be out of balance by as much as 1:20, due to over consumption of vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed soybean oil, which are all high in Omega-6 fatty acid.
While both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are necessary, benefits to health and well-being are achieved by increasing Omega-3 in your daily diet, so there is a healthier balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
To gain more of an understanding about Omega-3 fatty acids, download the following document.
We know that physical activity keeps you fit, is good for your health and can make you feel better, but it is now becoming evident that exercise can also improve brain function.
Neuroscientists are finding that physical activity improves learning and memory in human and animals. (van Pragg, 2009). Many of the effects occur in the hippocampus, a brain region central to learning and memory (Cotman and Berchtold 2002).
Exercise can increase your cognitive capacities by improving your alertness and capacity to stay focused. There are many anecdotal reports of students being able to find a solution to a problem that has been troubling them after having exercised.
McMorris, Tomporowski and Audiffen in their book entitled, Exercise and Cognitive Function found that steady-paced aerobic exercise improved the brain's ability to solve problems and make decisions quickly and effectively. After exercise, people seemed to be able to concentrate and focus much better than before. They were better able to block information that was irrelevant to the task at hand, and responded much faster to information relevant to the task. The benefits were seen in both men and women.
In addition to this, exercise is helpful in alleviating stress and improving mood. Exercise enhances the production of endorphins which make you feel naturally high.
Exercise can also improve your sleep which can be disrupted by stress and anxiety.
Exercise and stress relief
The following information is adapted from the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-and-stress/SR00036
Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being. It does so in the following ways:
- It pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a runner's high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike also can contribute to this same feeling.
- It's meditation in motion. After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you'll often find that you've forgotten the day's irritations and concentrated only on your body's movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything that you do.
- It improves your mood. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise also can improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All this can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.
- It enables you to sleep better. Studies have shown that exercise in the morning or afternoon can improve sleep patterns, enabling you to go to sleep more quickly and sleep more deeply. A good night’s sleep allows your body to grow and repair itself and also helps to improve your immunity against common colds, the flu, and other illnesses.
You should aim for a minimum of 20 minutes aerobic exercise a day. Remember that exercise does not have to be confined to a single exercise session. It can be a combination of walking to the shops, running up the stairs, riding your bike to uni as well as more specific sessions.
Choose exercise that you find most enjoyable; team sports if you like social exercise, a long walk on the beach at sunset, a run, walking the dog, a gym work-out, a pump class, zumba, running up the stairs – the possibilities are endless.
At university, there are some stressful periods during the semester when a lot of assessments all seem to take place within a short period of time.
If you have planned for this in advance and anticipated how you will manage your workload, you will be in a much better position to get the amount of sleep you require.
One of the most valuable strategies is to keep a calendar of the semester where you record all the assessment items for all your units. You will then have a good appreciation of when the busy periods are and how to manage your time.
By actively tackling assignments well in advance of their due date, you will ensure that you have given adequate attention to each assignment and also given yourself time to sleep. There are a number of reasons why it is important to make proper sleep a priority in your life.
Allows you to be more alert and enables you to be more productive during the day. It is also an important consideration when you need to be safe and aware (as in driving a vehicle or handling hazardous equipment).
Reduces stress. If you are sleep deprived, your stress levels will escalate as your body goes into a state of high alert, releasing cortisol which, if present in high levels, can contribute to impaired cognitive functioning, lowered immunity and blood sugar imbalances.
Improves your memory. Consolidation of memory happens at night when you are asleep. During sleep, connections are made between events, feelings and older memories. You are able to remember more easily if you have had a good night’s sleep. This is particularly the case if you are preparing for exams. Learning new skills will also be easier if you have had adequate sleep.
Reduces your risk of becoming depressed. The amount of sleep you get has a direct effect on your serotonin levels. Serotonin helps to relay messages from one area of the brain to another. Many researchers believe that in imbalance in serotonin levels can lead to depression; people with depression have been found to have lower levels of serotonin.
Improves your immune system. People who are sleep deprived can often become sick as the body has difficulty fighting off viruses and infections.
Enables you to make better decisions. Sleep seems to be an important factor in being able to solve problems. Very often people awake from a deep sleep with a better understanding of how to solve a problem or tackle a difficult situation.
Sleep patterns need to be cultivated. You can improve the quality of your sleep by:
- Setting a regular bedtime and sticking to it.
- Making your bedroom comfortable, dark and cool so that you are able to sleep without disturbances.
- Eating sensibly at night. Don’t eat big meals which will require more time to digest. Often a light snack before you go to bed may be helpful in promoting sleep. A banana and a cup of herbal tea, such a chamomile can calm the brain and allow you to sleep well.
- Practicing deep breathing and muscle relaxation before you go to sleep.
- Avoid overstimulating your mind with late night computer use or television.
It is clear that a good diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise can sustain you when you are studying and provide you with helpful strategies to manage stress and attain your goals. Paying attention to these aspects of your life will help you both in the short term and the long term.