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Your Exam Game Plan

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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].