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Healthy Habits are Good for Your Brain

Grades are important to college students. Every year, millions of them devote every last ounce of time and energy toward passing classes and boosting GPAs. They skip meals and spend their nights in the library, hunkered over books and laptops, seeking the edge they need to improve their grades.

These conditions, in which students neglect nutrition and exercise, aren’t healthy. And if you’re a college student, there’s a good chance you’re affected.

  • According to the National College Health Assessment conducted by the American College Health Association, during the last two weeks, more than 50% of college students felt exhausted for reasons other than physical activity.
  • Nearly a quarter of all students fail to participate in any sort of moderate cardio workout.
  • 52% failed to meet the American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines for cardiovascular exercise.

It’s become the college cliché – late-night study sessions, tabletops covered in highlighters and pens and sticky notes. But this exact scenario, ironically, might be contributing to lower grades for the students who subject themselves to it.

Exercising to Improve Thinking and Memory

The prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex control the brain’s ability to think and remember. Some studies have suggested that these regions are actually bigger in those who frequently exercise than in those who don’t.

Cortexes aside, it is confirmed that exercise can improve mood, increase the quality of sleep, and better prepare and individual to handle stressful situations in day-to-day life – all beneficial attributes to the college student looking for a boost in performance.

Eating Healthy to Improve Concentration

Concentration is the process of passing uninhibited messages between brain cells, but those cells don’t function well unless they’re properly oxygenated. That happens through blood sugar.

Blood sugar can be regulated through steady and consistent caloric intake throughout the day. And once the cells are oxygenated, they’re free to pass their messages back and forth. But those messages travel along nerve fibers, which are strengthened by the consumption of myelin, a substance that helps transmit signals between the brain and parts of the body.

Which foods contribute myelin to the human system? There are a few options, but it’s important to feed your brain properly. Some foods can actively sabotage your brain function, but you can’t go wrong with this list:

  • Fruits  Apples and colorful berries have antioxidants and other properties that can tremendously boost memory and improve blood flow.
  • Vegetables  Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, spinach and onions can have positive long-term effects on memory retention and focus.
  • Grains  Whole grains can give quick energy boosts for major exams and study sessions, but don’t mistake them for refined carbs, which cause sleepiness and lethargy.
  • Proteins  Fish, nuts, chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils provide the fat your brain needs to increase alertness, strengthen recall and boost energy.
  • Other  Dark chocolate (not milk chocolate; the darker the chocolate, the better) increases blood flow to the brain, which improves overall clarity and presence.

Adopting Healthy Habits

Progress is built on small changes. Something as simple as incorporating healthier foods into one meal a day, walking between classes instead of driving and going to bed at a consistent time every night (in your bedroom, not at a table in the library) can dramatically improve performance in the classroom.

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