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Hacking Your Brain for Student Wellness & Well-being - Part 1: Physical Health

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Are you a student? Do you feel:

  • Overwhelmed with your workload?

  • Stressed about exams or assignments?

  • Concerned about your education and future?

  • Challenged by the new school format?

You’re not alone! Being a student has never been easy, never mind during these unprecedented times when we’ve been forced to adapt and make big changes within a short amount of time. But just like we’re all adapting to the new school format, it’s equally important to find ways to adapt our personal lives this year.

In this three-part segment, we’re going to walk you through some brain and productivity hacks to get your mind and body in shape. The goal is to educate (and remind) you of some of the fundamental things we all need to do to maintain overall well-being, which will help you prosper in all aspects of your life, including school. Today, we’ll go over some of the fundamental physical aspects of wellness and well-being.

#1 - Move your body

Humans were made to move! Physical activity, especially regular exercise, naturally gets our brains excited – the brain literally lights up with electricity! This is because your brain depends heavily on oxygen to create energy and moving your body – through stretching, dancing, jogging, weightlifting, you name it – increases blood flow to your brain, bringing a fresh supply of oxygen.

When the opposite happens and you’re experiencing reduced blood flow and oxygen to your brain, then your brain activates “rest mode”. As a result, you may feel sleepy, unmotivated, and your mind may be foggy. This is common after eating a big meal (rest and digest anyone?) or after long periods of immobility (like a loooooong class or lecture).

We emphasize movement because in today’s age of online learning, we can get very comfortable in our beds, sofas, and chairs for long periods. Consequently, we may find our brain is in “rest mode” more often than it’s used to and should be…

Our recommendations, especially if you’re sitting for long periods of time:

  • Move every hour. At the very least, do a few quick stretches. Set a timer on your phone if it helps you to remember.

  • Dedicate 10-30 minutes each day to “exercise”. I say “exercise” to give you the flexibility of choosing whatever you enjoy doing. Whether that’s going for a walk, dancing, or playing sports…whatever! As long as you’re moving, you’re on the right track.

  • The earlier you start, the better. If you exercise in the morning, then you’re basically priming your brain to be at it’s best before you tackle your day. Personally, I cycle for 10 minutes right after I get out of bed.

#2 - Get proper rest

The key here is to get quality sleep and to have a consistent sleep schedule. You spend one third of your life sleeping so that the remaining two thirds can be spent exercising the most powerful machine known to humankind (that’s your brain, in case you were wondering). In other words, sleep is very important. When you sleep, your brain takes the opportunity to rejuvenate itself by clearing waste products built up during the day which, in the long-term, can cause dementia and other degenerative conditions if left alone.

What “quality” sleeps means in terms of hours per night will vary from person to person, so that’s something to personally track and be mindful of. For example, if you slept for 7 hours each night for an entire week, how would you feel during the daytime? How about if you slept 8 hours each night for the week after, how would you feel then? There are also cool apps that you can download on your phone or smartwatch to track the quality of your sleep. Figure out what works best for you and try to be consistent with it.

Our recommendations for better sleep:

  • Go to sleep at the same time every night.

  • Be mindful of the quality of sleep you get and how you feel the next day.

  • MINIMIZE screen-time in bed. Research has shown screen-time before bed correlates strongly with insomnia in young adults and teenagers and offsets the circadian rhythm [1].

  • Count sheep! Or breathe, or play calming music in the background. This type of mindful activity helps to settle your mind by focusing on one thing.

#3 - You are what you eat

Literally. The atoms in the food you ingest switch places with the atoms that were once in your body. Basically, when you eat, you’re recycling your brain and body. Knowing this, try to be a bit more mindful about your food choices. I’m not saying avoid all junk, processed, and sugary foods. But what I am saying is to apply consistency in your diet by making healthy choices the norm.

Depending on what your goals are (to lose weight, to improve focus and memory, to gain muscle), you should aim to eat different foods. How do you know what diet is best for you? Do some research and test it out for a few weeks!

Below are a couple of “brain foods” that are known to boost brain performance:

  • Blueberries (or brainberries!):

These have high levels of anti-oxidants to protect the brain from wear and tear.

  • Walnuts:

These are rich in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that can boost memory, concentration, and alertness.

  • Salmon or fatty fish:

These foods are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for normal brain function.

  • Broccoli:

This veggie is high in choline, which is also essential for brain function, and can help boost memory and focus.

  • Avocado:

The king of monounsaturated fats! It also provides folate and vitamin K, which can help concentration and memory.

  • Dark chocolate (70% at least):

Everything in moderation, right? This treat is high in flavonals and helps to increase blood flow to your brain.

  • Turmeric:

This spice contains potent anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective properties that help to keep the brain in shape.

  • Pumpkin seeds:

For such a small food, these are a great source of omega 3 and 6. They also provide zinc, which promotes higher cognitive functioning of the brain, including rational thinking and decision-making.

Don't Forget!

It’s the consistent actions you take that determine your overall wellness and well-being. Your current state NOW has already been determined days, weeks, months BEFORE, depending on what you’ve been doing consistently. So take a minute to reflect on – better yet write down –your current (1) exercise, (2) sleep, and (3) diet habits. Then, write down what you’d like your new habits to look like. This is the first step to reaching your desired state of wellness and well-being.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series!

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