Balancing studies, classes and student work often led me to neglect my personal health without realizing the impact this had on my productivity.
“Health is everything.” We hear this all the time, usually accompanied by vague advice like “eat a balanced diet” or “exercise to lose weight”, but we are rarely informed about the actual benefits we get from it. From a student perspective, I think the best argument for health is how it can improve productivity.
Like many Americans, my diet has always consisted of excess salt, saturated fat, additive sugars, and much worse. On top of that, I deal with the all-too-common burdens of test anxiety, stress from finding school-work-life balance, and difficulty concentrating on classes. Being attentive was a particularly big problem for me, as I often found myself missing crucial details only to be chastised when I asked for clarification.
A Microsoft Canada study found that our attention span has gone from 12 seconds in 2012 to 8.25 seconds today – that’s shorter than a goldfish. Modern stressors and technological innovation have been cited as likely culprits – but did you know that most Americans don’t drink enough water?
According to the National Institute of Health, more than 75% of adults suffer from chronic dehydration. Dehydration slows brain function and can cause students to miss details in class that might have been important.
It is also believed that most Americans do not consume enough omega 3 fatty acids. This nutrient found in fish is considered one of the most important nutrients for brain health and memory.
As one of many Americans lacking this nutrient, there has been a noticeable difference since I added omega-3 to my diet and started tracking my water intake. My memory has improved and I experience less brain fog overall.
Omega-3s also have anti-inflammatory properties, similar to nuts and whole grains, which are also often missing from the average American’s diet. So it’s no wonder that chronic inflammation is quite common in the United States.
Chronic inflammation contributes to depression and general anxiety and is further enhanced by easily accessible processed foods that contain additive sugars.
Sugar and processed foods can cause inflammation not only in the body but also in the brain, contributing to mood disorders as well as impaired cognitive function in the long term.
Refined sugar, found in candy and other sweets, also contributes to mood swings. Giving up high-sugar snacks is a good way to improve overall mood, but another great method to improve focus and reduce stress outside of dieting is exercise.
Exercise is known to increase blood flow, thereby increasing the flow of nutrients to the brain and leading to better cognition. This means your health goes both ways: a healthier body creates a healthier mind and habits.
The problem is multifaceted: poor health leads to poor mental health, which leads to poor overall performance both at school and in the workplace.
As I sought balance between school, work, and home life, I found that many of the problems I faced in school persisted. Since my overall health has improved, many of these issues related to concentration, memory, and the energy needed to get things done are a thing of the past.
Luckily, along my journey, I’ve learned a few tips that have helped me not only improve my overall physical and mental health, but have made me a much more proactive person.
First, count your calories. Start adding one healthy food at a time and you may eventually find a balance. Learn to snack less and try to satisfy your hunger. Read food labels to avoid high amounts of sugar, fat and sodium when shopping.
Finally, before investing in an expensive gym membership, just try going for a short walk. Look for some simple exercises that you can easily do from home to start your day.
With simple steps, I was able to lose 15 pounds and maintain my weight. Not only that, but my overall focus has also been improved and I have found a work-life balance that I never imagined I could achieve.
Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your goal shouldn’t be to lose weight for the sake of losing weight. Instead, the goal should be to break the vicious cycle of poor physical health and low productivity that afflicts many Americans, including students.
Now is an opportune time to adopt a healthier routine and prevent the challenges of an unhealthy lifestyle from extending beyond your student life.