Category Archives: Health & Well-being

How’s Your Brain Doing?

With the Summative Assessment period upon us you may be interested to know that your brain needs some TLC in order to help get you through the next few weeks.

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This may come as a shock to many but your brain plays a very important role in how productive and successful you are when studying and working on assignments. The internal environment of your brain plays a vital role in learning; meaning that you can study all day and all night but if you don’t look after your brain, it will all be for nothing.

A healthy brain can lead to improved:

  • concentration
  • memory and retention
  • mental performance

 

What your brain needs to survive and thrive are often the exact same things you tend to neglect when preparing for exams or working flat out on a deadline.

1. FOOD

The brain is made up of:

  • fat
  • water
  • neurons – they process and transmit information

To fuel the learning functions of your neurons, you need to feed your brain:

  • good fats
  • protein
  • complex carbohydrates
  • micro-nutrients
  • water

By nourishing your brain with the correct food and adequate water, you are providing your neurons with a healthy environment in which to function. However, by feeding your brain the incorrect foods and dehydrating it you are in fact starving your neurons of the energy they need to function, grow and regenerate. The next time you feel foggy, tired or unable to concentrate take a moment to think about what you have (or haven’t) eaten in the past few hours…

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Good Fats:

Your brain is largely made up of fatty membranes, making up approximately 60% of solid brain matter. As such, fats provide your brain with energy, but we’re talking good fats here namely, Omega 3 and 6 oils which can be derived from:

  • Fatty fish, such as: sardines, tuna, pilchards and salmon
  • Nuts, such as: walnuts, brazil nuts, macadamia
  • Seeds, such as: sunflower seeds, flax seeds
  • Dark leafy greens, such as: spinach, kale, broccoli

Bad fats are literally like sludge in the brain’s circulatory system; they effect the flow of oxygen to the brain, as well as the flow of toxins and waste out of the brain.

Bad fats include:

  • Processed foods, such as: cakes, biscuits, crisps, processed meats (e.g. polony) and processed cheese (e.g. cheese slices)
  • Deep fried foods, such as: chicken (e.g. KFC), chips etc.

Protein:

Protein provides your brain with amino acids, the building block for neurons. Good proteins include:

  • Lean meat – baked not fried (e.g. pork and ostrich)
  • Fish – baked not fried (e.g. salmon, tuna, pilchards)
  • Yoghurt – plain, unsweetened and not flavoured
  • Nuts – raw not roasted or flavoured
  • Eggs – poached or boiled not fried

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Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates (including sugar) are an energy source for your brain. However, excessive consumption of sugar results in bursts of energy, followed by slumps including fidgeting, headaches, lack of concentration and drowsiness. The key is to provide your brain with the right type of carbohydrates i.e. good / complex carbohydrates, such as:

  • Brown rice
  • Wholewheat bread
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Oats

You should avoid consuming bad / simple carbohydrates, such as:

  • Refined sugar (white sugar)
  • White bread
  • White pasta
  • White rice

Micro-nutrients:

Micro-nutrients are required in small amounts but are essential to a healthy brain; they include:

  • Vitamin B – for focus and concentration
  • Zinc – for the formation of memories
  • Calcium – to help cleanse the brain of toxins and waste

Micro-nutrients can be found in:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Plain milk
  • Plain yoghurt

You should avoid consuming anything that includes artificial flavourants or colouring.

Water:

Dehydration results in:

  • Reduced cognitive abilities
  • Poor concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • and may even damage your brain

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2. SLEEP

We spend a 1/3 of our lives sleeping, it is crucial to our health and mental well being. During sleep your brain is nearly as active as it is when you are awake – from the day you are born to the day you die, your brain is active and working. So what is it so busy doing?

During sleep the brain processes complex stimuli and information is has received during the waking hours; it uses this information to make decisions when you are awake.

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While you are sleeping your brain forms and saves new memories and incorporates them with old memories, this is why sleep is so important for learning. By sleeping before you study, you are helping the brain prepare for the intake of new information. By sleeping after you have studied, you are helping the brain save the new information. If you deprive your brain of sleep, your ability to learn new information drops by 40%.

Sleep is also known to boost creativity – the mind in its unconscious, “resting” state makes new connections that it may not be able to make during its waking state.

Sleep gives the brain a chance to do housekeeping – while you are asleep the brain flushes out toxins that build up when you are awake. It also allows the brain to convert short-term memories into long term memories .

Until you reach your early to mid-20s you need approximately 9 hours of sleep per night in order to function optimally the next day. A tired person’s brain works harder and accomplishes less thus adding to the argument that “pulling an all-nighter” is in fact a waste of time and sleep.

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3. EXERCISE

Physical activity boosts blood and oxygen flow through the brain resulting in your neurons being stimulated and thus able to connect with one another better. Exercise is like fertilizer for the brain, in that improved blood and oxygen flow results in improved:

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Accuracy
  • Information processing
  • LEARNINGdownload

In addition to this, exercise improves your mood and quality of sleep; it also reduces stress and anxiety – all problems that cause or contribute to learning and concentration problems.

Aim for approximately one hour of moderate intensity exercise twice per week, for example: brisk walking or swimming

 

So, what’s the moral of the story?

Eat right. Get enough sleep. Get some exercise.

Look after your brain.

homer


References:

Mastin, L. (2013). Why do we sleep? Memory Processing and Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.howsleepworks.com/why_memory.html . [Accessed: 22 September 2015].

Norman, P. (2014). Feeding the Brain for Academic Success: How Nutrition and Hydration Boost Learning. Retrieved from: http://teacherweb.com/NY/NorthRose-WolcottMiddleSchool/HealthEducation/Academics-and-Nutrition-Article-Assignment.doc . [Accessed: 22 September 2015].

How to Be More Active

We all know that physical activity is good for us. Regular physical activity may help prevent or delay a variety of health problems from developing. Being active helps you look and feel better, now and in the future. 

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Why do you need regular physical activity?

There are a variety of physical and mental health benefits that stem from regular physical activity:

  • Improves concentration, creativity & performance.
  • Reduces stress, anxiety & frustration levels.
  • Strengthens bones & improves muscle strength & endurance
  • Reduces the risk of developing heart disease.
  • Improves blood circulation throughout the body.
  • Is a natural way of lowering blood pressure & preventing high blood pressure from developing.
  • Helps control appetite.
  • Improves digestion.
  • Helps maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Improves self-image and sense of well-being.
  • Improves mood.
  • Improves your immune system.
  • Helps you sleep better.

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

For healthy adults at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise is recommended, per day. Examples of aerobic exercise include: fast walking, jogging, cycling, dancing, sports (soccer, hockey, netball etc.), swimming – any activity that gets your heart rate up and causes you to breathe harder, but without making it impossible to speak several words in a row.

Strengthening activities are also recommended, at least twice a week – this includes activities that require you to push or pull against something (e.g. lifting weights, doing push ups and sit ups).

If you suffer from health issues, such as heart disease, high or low blood pressure, diabetes etc. it is best to consult with your doctor about the amount and types physical activity that are right for you and your condition.

How Can You Start Increasing Your Activity?

Perhaps the best place to start is by picking an activity you enjoy. It’s difficult to stay motivated if you are doing an activity you don’t like. Make a list of activities you enjoy or would like to try and alternate between them, thus staving off boredom and keeping motivated.

Next, remember to start off slowly and gradually build up time. If you are currently inactive, the thought of doing 30 minutes of exercises can be daunting. Start off with 10 minutes of sustained activity, five days a week. After a few weeks, add 5 – 10 minutes until you are able to comfortably sustain 30 minutes of activity.

Finally, set yourself some goals. Start with short-term goals, such as: walking 30 minutes a day, three times a week. With time and increased endurance you can set new goals, such as taking part in 5 km or 10 km walks and fun runs.

Overcoming Obstacles

Below are some tips for overcoming obstacles and blocks to your new exercise programme:

  • If you find it difficult to do 30 minutes of sustained exercise in one go, break it up into 10 minute bursts spread through the day.
  • Add a 10 or 15 minute walk to your daily routine – take a walk around the block during your lunch break, take a walk with your family after dinner.
  • Get a friend or family member to join you. Getting someone to exercise with you makes it more fun, you get to spend quality time together and you can motivate each other to stay on track.
  • You don’t need to join an expensive gym to get active. Use YouTube exercise videos or choose an activity you don’t need special or expensive gear for – walking, you need a good pair of shoes; dancing, you need some music.


References:

Tips to Help You Get Active. (2009). Retrieved from:  https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/weight-control/tips-help-get-active/Documents/tipsactive.pdf. [Accessed on: 28 February 2017].

Why Move More? (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.eatsmartmovemorenc.com/MotivationalPosters/Texts/MM_Poster6.pdf. [Accessed on: 01 March 2017].