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Six health and wellness tips to help you survive finals

Happy 10th week, everyone! It’s almost finals week, and many students are hard at work and focused on making the grade. It’s also around this time that health and wellness tend to fall lower on the priority list. This post is a reminder that certain food and exercise habits can help improve your concentration while studying. Now, before you hug your bag of potato chips tighter and shout, “FOOD IS MY ONLY SOURCE OF PLEASURE RIGHT NOW” at the computer screen, give us a minute to explain…

We all know that eating food is a great way to procrastinate take a break from studying. Eating well can also help improve mental performance during study sessions. Ah, now you’re listening, eh? Mojo talked to graduate student Daniel Whittaker, who knows quite a bit about healthy eating. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in molecular, cellular and integrative physiology, and has experience as a personal trainer and wellness consultant.

Here are some tips he shared with us. Some of them may seem counterintuitive to a college student. “Wellness” during finals usually means enduring all-nighters, slurping ramen until you’re sick and guzzling oceans of caffeine and soda. But make sure to read his explanations. You may have heard these tips before, but Whittaker explains why they work. Happy studying!

1. Opt for short duration, high-intensity exercise.

Whittaker: “The body makes proteins when we exercise and they travel from the blood to the brain to help optimize memory function. It is important to have some element of high intensity exercise, such as sprints or some circuit training, to get the most beneficial response. Luckily, these are short duration types of exercise, so there’s more time to study!”

2. Eat small, balanced meals instead of snacking.

Whittaker: “Consuming at least 20 grams of lean protein helps to maintain focus and feelings of wakefulness. Vegetables help to keep our blood at a pH that helps us to maintain clear and optimal thinking for longer. A small amount of carbohydrate is necessary to keep blood sugar levels steady, and so that the brain has a ready supply of its favorite energy source. Additionally, research has shown that omega-3 fats (found in in high amounts in fish, walnuts, hemp seed and flax) can support and improve mental function.”

Following these points about food, here are some ideas for small meals:

  • Sushi
  • Flax crackers with cheese/meat and vegetables
  • Mixed vegetable salad with fish (olive oil and vinegar or lemon as dressing)
  • Tofu with vegetables
  • Lentils or beans and rice

3. If you must snack (you know you will), try these foods:

  • Carrot sticks
  • Celery sticks
  • Green beans
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Slices of red, yellow or orange pepper
  • Broccoli florets
  • Zucchini slices
  • Whole, raw, unsalted almonds or other similar nuts

4. Drink water

Whittaker: “When you study, the brain is working hard and produces waste products. These can be removed easily enough if water is sipped regularly when studying. If this results in regular bathroom breaks, that is a good thing. It keeps the blood clean!”

5. Get enough sleep

Whittaker: “Not sleeping enough increases the body’s production of stress chemicals, which can have a negative impact on mental function. Taking a short (20-minute) nap between long sessions of study can also help to reduce circulating stress chemicals and refresh the brain.”

6. Avoid caffeine and soda

Sounds crazy, right? The first thing you reach for when you’re about to start a paper the night before it’s due is a cup of joe. But read Whittaker’s explanation below (note: he doesn’t totally discount caffeine as a study aid), and you may change your habits.

Whittaker: “Caffeine is a stimulant – it causes excitement in the brain for a short period of time, then, later, when the blood is full of adrenalin and the body is under stress, mental performance suffers. When it comes time for the actual exam, the body is experiencing adrenal failure and tends to be a bit out of sorts. A better way to use caffeine is to have a tiny amount (1-2 ounces) every 3 hours or so. Research shows this promotes a feeling of wakefulness and focus without the stress effects, while large doses (8 or 16 ounces) were shown to have high stress effects with little real mental benefit.”

So, there you have it, folks. Best of luck on finals!


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