When we’re not feeling great, either physically or mentally, studying can fall by the way-side - but how much does our health actually impact our ability to learn?
We looked into it and it’s really interesting to see just how much it can affect us. Read on for more insight.
The science - exercise can help learning
An eminent Havard professor researched the connection between exercise and the brain, and discovered strong evidence that aerobic exercise physically remodels the brain for peak performance on all fronts. Dr John J Ratey found that exercise improves learning on three levels:
"First, it optimises your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus."
In short, not only does exercise help the brain get ready to learn but it actually makes retaining information easier. So that’s the science - but what can it mean for you? And what can you do to boost your learning through health and well-being?
Eat well to boost your brain
Many of us skip breakfast, or eat a super heavy lunch - both of which can cause a slump in concentration. It’s important to be properly nourished throughout the day, especially when trying to study. We’re more alert, can concentrate better, remember more, and have increased cognitive processing ability when we’re properly fed.
Snack and junk food aren’t the best - they’re high in calories and high in sugar and fat - we all know this, that’s why they’re so yummy. But they’re not good for you if you’re trying to study and take in new information.
Top brain food
Berries - rich in lots of compounds that may improve learning and academic performance*. Grab a handful or add to a smoothie to get a boost.
Citrus fruits - great for brain health, similar to berries. Again they have a range of compounds that may have the ability to promote learning and memory, as well as protect nerve cells from injury, therefore warding off mental decline*.
Dark chocolate - yes, believe it or not, chocolate can reduce mental fatigue, boost memory, and improve reaction time - in moderation of course!
Nuts - packed full of essential nutrients and vitamins to boost brain health. They’re a great study snack as they can keep you fuelled through marathon study sessions. They may also have an impact on reaction time and improve brain function. Remember though that nuts can be high in calories so consume in moderation.
Eggs - often referred to as nature’s multivitamin as they contain so many nutrients that can help our brain function. For example, selenium - this is involved in coordination, memory, cognition, and motor performance. Eggs also contain choline that’s needed for brain development, and acetylcholine, which is necessary for memory storage. Clever eggs.
Fish - full of omega-3s, essential fats that are important for brain health. Many studies have shown the link between fish and improved mental performance.
There are loads of other foods that can help, including avocados, beetroot, as well as red, green, and orange vegetables. Try them out and see what works for you.
Exercise = brain power
Physical exercise releases proteins in the brain that can help improve your memory and increase your cognitive performance. This is because the hippocampus, the area of our brain that is involved with retaining information, is incredibly responsive to these proteins. So whether you’re revising for an exam or listening to a tutor during a lesson, you’ll be able to take in and retain what you learn much more easily if you have been doing some regular exercise.
It can also improve your mood as exercise raises your endorphin levels - it might be uncomfortable whilst you’re doing it, but afterwards you’ll feel amazing. Ever climbed to the top of a hill, vowing you’ll never do this again, but at the top feel elated? That’s a great mood boost, and can really help your mental health, as well as your physical health.
Not only that, exercising can boost your energy levels. It might sound crazy if you're exhausted after a workout, but it’s true. Experts have found that there is a connection between being physically healthy and delivering a strong academic performance. This is because low-intensity exercise can give our energy levels a much-needed boost, which is perfect for when you’re studying long hours. Studies also prove that exercise boosts creativity and mental energy. So if you’re in need of a boost, it could be just a walk or jog away.
Exercises for studying
You don’t have to run a marathon, just 20 minutes can really boost your concentration. So how about one of these?
- Gentle jog around a local park - get your nature fix at the same time
- Walk around the block - get the heart rate up a little
- Yoga - stretch your body and your mind
- Short weight training session - get the muscles working as well as your mind
- Tai Chi - meditation in motion
- Cycling - nip out and back in 20 mins to get the heart going
And there are so many others you can do - if you have any exercise machines at home such as a rowing machine or stationary bike, jump on them for 20 minutes before studying, or during a study break, and you’ll immediately feel the benefits.
Get walking with our apprentice step challenge
To help keep you all active, keep your body and brain motivated, and help your overall well-being, we have organised a charity step challenge for our apprentices.
From 20 September to 4 October, we are challenging all apprentices and their employers to reach 105,000 steps within the two week period (around 7,500 steps a day).
All money raised will go towards Mind, the mental health charity, and there will also be a prize awarded to the winner of the challenge.
If you're a Kaplan apprentice or employer, register your interest via our online form before 15 September and we’ll be in touch with the next steps.
Want more information about learner well-being?
Have a look at our well-being page and our blogs - and if you need help or support, get in touch with the team who’ll be able to help you further.
*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6893475/ - Flavonoid-Rich Mixed Berries Maintain and Improve Cognitive Function Over a 6 h Period in Young Healthy Adults
**https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6274333/ - Neurodegenerative Diseases: Might Citrus Flavonoids Play a Protective Role?