In all things human, guest posts

Learning is one of the most important activities in life. We don’t just learn when we cram before the exams, but each day we should aim to gather new knowledge that will deepen our understanding of the world around us. Many students feel that they spend days and days just mindlessly fulfilling their to-do lists, without being enriched by those activities – even if they include studying. I find this quite understandable for today’s modern times, where our to-do lists often include more tasks than one can healthily handle – we exhaust our body and mind to the point where they cannot function beyond the mechanical. Have you recognized yourself in this description? You are not alone.

Below, I written a list of the three most important factors for effective learning. Still, I’d like to mention that this is a long journey. Healthy living is not like a shot of caffeine, it won’t make you more alert in matter of minutes. It will take weeks before you can feel a difference, probably longer before the improvement in your performance becomes noticeable. But it is honestly worth it – and much, much longer lasting than that cup of Red Bull. So, without further ado: the top three tips for effective learning!

Exercise

It can be running in the fresh air, it can be lifting in the gym, or a yoga class – whatever physical activity you enjoy the most. Exercise affects your body in more ways than you can imagine. It is far more reaching than just your body weight and strength. Physical activity is a very important factor in studying: it was shown to increase the number of neurons in the brain and make the connections between neurons much more complex. In an experiment by Justin S. Rhodes from the University of Illinois, the results strongly suggested the importance physical activity has in learning. The research found out that mice who had regular exercise performed significantly better on cognitive tasks such as completing the maze. Interestingly, it did not matter how enriched mice’s environment was. Mice who did not have any extra toys in their cages but had a running wheel allowing them regular exercise out performed mice living in an enriched environment. These findings perfectly illustrate how in today’s world, where we our lives are full of tasks and toys – the so-called enriched environment – our brains seem to function less and less due to increasing inactivity. It is good to keep this research in mind: no matter how many hours you spend studying/working a day, if you are constantly inactive, your brain will not intake the information up to its full potential. A little bit of physical activity on a daily basis could help you with memory retention and concentration, and allow you to obtain more information with less time invested.

Finally, exercise is a mood booster, meaning that it can help you approach your work as happier and more energetic self. This can be a life-saver when you really, really need to do that all-nighter.

Eat well

Eating heathy is another well-known tip, but unfortunately people rarely follow through with it. Many manage to pay attention for a week or two, but then life happens and they opt for ordering pizza instead of cooking a soup rich in vegetables. Of course, I won’t argue against the fact that ordering pizza is easier. But food is crucial for human being to function, never forget that. The primary reason for consuming it is to provide us with nutrients and energy, which highly processed junk food does very poorly. Studies have shown again and again that the latter, especially foods high in trans and saturated fats, negatively affects students’ performance and attendance. And while an egg for breakfast can certainly help a little bit with your exam, keeping a healthy nutrition only on special days really won’t revert all the negative impacts of your regular sugar-fuelled diet. It would actually work much better if after an exam you treat yourself to a cake, breaking your otherwise super healthy streak.  

Healthy eating does have to mean extreme eating: only raw foods, exclusively vegan or very low on carbs – nor my favourite: colour coded eating. Healthy can simply mean that you eat mostly vegetables and lean meat and fish, fruits and complex carbs, while leaving out added simple sugars and heavy red meat. With these, you can make many dishes that are simple to carry: salads, pasta with a healthy sauce, and meat with veggies and grains on the side fit easily into a Tupperware.  If you are very sure of your Tupperware, you can even carry some wholesome soup to uni. To help you save time, you can cook more food in one go and have it for a couple of days, halving the weekly time spent in the kitchen. This can be a life saver if your university life is as hectic as mine. Here are some healthy student-friendly recipes!

Some superfood for studying:
  • Blueberries – good for memory, learning capacity and motor skills
  • Eggs – good for memory and brain functioning
  • Pumpkin seeds – good for memory, thinking skills and mood
  • Sage – good for memory and concentration
  • Oily fish – important for proper brain functioning
  • Whole grains – good for concentration

Dedicate a couple of hours, but fully concentrated

If you take care of your diet and exercise regularly, your concentration should improve noticeably. With better concentration, we can learn more in a shorter period of time. However, even before the healthy habits kick in, try to reorganise your studying so that you do a bit each day, rather than cramming a week before the exam. Studies have shown that we retain information better if we divide studying over some time. For example, if you schedule a class with your online tutor, it would be best to do the lecture with them one day and then revise the next, instead of revising immediately afterwards. If you really have to spend the whole day studying, it is much better to do different subjects during that day rather than focusing on only one for hours on end. Still, you should honestly stay away from cramming because being all alone for a week without a break can make students tired and moody, which in turn impairs their academic performance, and if done too often can have serious consequences on their mental health. It might seem like a waste of time, but going out with friends for an hour can have an amazing impact on study session, and if you manage to incorporate that in your daily life, it can help your overall academic performance. We are social beings and we need interaction with friends and family to be healthy and do our best.

Hopefully, this list did not disappoint you, even though it gives advice you’ve probably been given many times over. The reason why these tips keep reoccurring is because they are truly useful and in your best interest. In order to strive, we have to take care of our physical and mental health. Don’t forget that.

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