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Exam season: eat, sleep, exercise the mind!

Exam season! It's time to eat, drink, and sleep well...Many of our pupils tell stories of students trying to do all-nighters as their panic finally kicks in and all the weeks of not doing anything towards their exams hit them hard. I've seen it in the class room and I've seen it in my practice with students who come in for tuition for the last furlong. The stress is palpable, the focus minimal.

We've probably all had to pull off an academic or professional assignment at the last minute, drinking coffee/tea until the wee hours to hand in our work. Unless we have an amazing insight from the muses while we write or carve or paint, usually the quality is obviously below par. And that's not surprising.

When we try to get so much done in a very short time, we will burn out.Stamina is built up over the long period, not just a few days or a month. It comes from the habit of repeating a task or working on a project over a long period, so that the final furlong seems just like another week in one's life.

Accordingly, we can take our cue from the running or long distant cycling community, whose stamina is built up over a long period of time. I would hate to run a ten miler or even a five miler tomorrow - although I'm fit and strong, I'm not adapted to running far (I have no inclination to either!); but if I had to run ten miles next month, I'd start tomorrow and push myself gradually but surely towards my goal.

When strength training, we take rests between sets to recuperate - the body needs to readjust its hormone levels and breaking for a minute or so increases overall endurance. For revising, I often advise working hard for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty and then sixty minutes: with ten and then later twenty minute timed breaks.

The mind needs to settle and readjust. In the break it's good to leave the desk, get out into the fresh air, hit the ground and do some proper press-ups, play an instrument...something different. That pause allows the brain to come back fresher and it's amazing how effective such interval training is - indeed, whether it is on the running machine or revision!Good quality food is vital - literally.

I love a highly relevant comment of Zig Ziglar's: "If you had a million dollar horse that was to run a race, would you keep it up all night and feed it junk food and beer? No? What about a hundred dollar dog? A ten dollar cat? Well, why do you do it to a billion dollar body...?" Good food means fresh - fresh meat, fish, eggs, fresh vegetables (adjust accordingly for vegetarian). As close to nature as possible. The competent nutritionists out there (uh, not the government funded ones, who seem to have an agenda...I'm not sure whether it's to keep us ill or to dumb us down/fatten us up) emphasise the importance of good quality fats. Our brains are made out of fats and when we're low on high quality fats such as the omega-3s from fresh fish or bone broths, we become mentally impaired (Weston Price; Dr Mercola; Mark Hyman are some great sources amongst others that I read regularly; naturalnews for vegetarians).

Sugar destroys our gut lining and our gut health is also intimately linked to our mental health - a theory that modern scientists are returning to; energy drinks don't help us concentrate as they spike our sugar levels and then quickly (depending on metabolism) drop us to low blood sugar levels and the usual symptoms of ADD and low motivation.

Sleep: without a good sleep in a room without electronic devices flashing on or off, or falling sleeping to the TV,  with as much light cut out as possible, we're also debilitating our mental and physical health.

Young people love to end a hard night's revision with some mindless escapism on the computer - we've probably all done it (or with TV): the problem is that the electronic stimulus keeps us awake, just above the hypnotised level (which is why it's difficult to hold a conversation with someone glued to a screen) and sets us up for a poor night's sleep. Reading to help sleep is useful, as long as it's not too exciting as one of my colleagues noted regarding a conference, a book, an exciting plot...and a loss of sleep. With these all in place, we're fit to give it the best we've got: well, so long as we find a great place to study without distractions!

Article by Dr Alexander Moseley
Added Sun, 8 May 2016 22:24

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