Physical exercise benefits areas of your brain involved in memory and learning through both direct and indirect means. It comes from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors – chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Many studies also suggest that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.
“… engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.” (Dr McGinnis, Harvard Medical School)
Good sleep is good for your brain. Neurons don’t divide like other cells – they last a lifetime and repair themselves during sleep. Most of our knowledge is processed, consolidated and stored into long term memory during sleep.
Simply talking with someone daily will improve your brain’s functioning while more meaningful interactions where you challenge and discuss ideas helps your brain stay sharp, make judgments, and anticipate and solve problems.
The hippocampus, central to learning and memory, is highly sensitive to stress hormones. The brain’s sensitivity also means it responds well to stress strategies – relaxation, exercise, good social relationships and adequate sleep.
Recreational drugs can have a hugely disruptive impact on your brain depending on the substance, its purity, the amount and frequency of use. Serious, permanent damage to your brain can result.
Healthy diet plays a big part in brain health.
- Glucose is brain fuel, so we need to keep things balanced by having good sources of carbohydrate while avoiding sugar highs. Choose low GI whole foods and don’t skip breakfast as it reduces your concentration, reaction times, mood and memory.
- Protein is essential as a source of amino acids, the building blocks for neurotransmitters which control memory, learning, attention, cognition and mood. Choose moderate amounts of lean meat, fish and poultry, eggs, legumes, tofu and dairy.
- Fruit and vegetables contain anti-oxidants which help neutralise free radicals that can damage neurons. Other important brain nutrients found in fruit and vegetables include Vitamins A, C and E, Folate, Iron and Zinc.
Not So Good:
- High intakes of processed sugar and fats provide excessive kilojoules for very little nutrition. Metabolically they can cause massive highs and lows in blood sugar which will negatively affect concentration and mood
- Alcohol is a drug and while small amounts can help us relax, excessive use increases stress levels, disrupts sleep, and impacts on attention, memory and recall abilities
- Caffeine in small amounts can help us increase attention and focus but high levels will have negative effects by increasing your experience of stress, disrupting sleep patterns, and increasing irritability. Enjoy a morning coffee with a good breakfast or as a study break, but avoid highly caffeinated soft drinks that will bombard your brain with sugar as well as caffeine.
Simple lifestyle choices will enhance your brain’s health and your academic performance.