At this time of year, many students and school pupils are burning the candle at both ends as they push through the end of year exams. Dr Jacques Snyman, acting CEO of Agility Global Health Solutions (Africa) argues that neglecting one’s health can be counterproductive and offers students tips to keep their minds sharp.
“At this busy and stressful time, many students tend to side-line sleep, healthy eating habits and exercise as they immerse themselves in studying. If one looks at how the brain works, however, these are all important aspects to ensure optimum memory and performance in exams,” Dr Snyman explains.
“Compromising on exercise and healthy meals in order to gain more time to study does not work. Processed foods are bad for energy and blood sugar levels, and can negatively affect concentration,” he says.
“During exams, I normally encourage students to do something to get rid of stress. Exercising is one of the quickest and most effective ways to de-stress. Also, people should choose fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds instead of processed foods, as the former are healthy energy-boosting snacks.”
Dr Snyman also says that the power of sleep to recharge the mind and assist with memory function should not be underestimated. “When students have been studying for hours, the brain needs time to process the information it has been absorbing. A power nap, of 40 minutes to an hour, can help the information to take root in your memory and leave you fresh for the next studying session.”
Top 10 tips for better exam results:
- Avoid taking stimulants or other medications to cope with exam pressures as this may have dangerous consequences.
- Do not skip meals during study and exam time – the brain needs energy to function optimally.
- Junk foods are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, which give short-lived energy boosts but lead to worsening fatigue (crash). Avoid these as they can harm your concentration.
- Eat foods with a low glycemic index such as whole wheat, or rye bread, brown rice, oats, beans, or chickpeas. These will give you more sustained energy.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, as these supply the body with essential micronutrients.
- Fizzy and over-loading on caffeinated drinks should be avoided. Water is best for hydrating the body and is essential for maintaining concentration.
- Eat breakfast and re-fuel on healthy snacks, such as nuts or dried fruit, every three to four hours.
- Avoid comfort eating during studying. Instead, take a walk or a nap, phone a friend, or listen to music to combat stress and anxiety.
- The brain needs six to eight hours of sleep for effective learning. Burning the midnight oil is counterproductive.
- Exercise gets the blood pumping and supplies the brain with additional oxygen, which is highly beneficial when learning. Time may be limited, but half an hour of exercise is all it takes to sharpen your mind.
“Exams are a stressful period for any student and generally there is no time to worry about eating correctly, drinking enough water or exercising,” Debbie Valentini, General Manager: Marketing and Communications, Loyalty and Rewards at Zurreal, Agility Africa’s wellbeing and rewards offering, says.
“Finding ways to encourage healthy life choices through rewarding positive behaviour is key to helping both young and old maintain a healthy lifestyle.” Valentini sites the Zurreal Platinum rewards programme, which rewards members with up to R13 400 in cash back rewards every year as an ideal example of how regular exercise, taking care of your health, and participating in outdoor sporting events can be encouraged and promoted amongst individuals and families.
“Zurreal Platinum also recognises the importance of education and firmly believes that hard work should be rewarded. Subsequently we also offer members up to R4 000 per year in education bursaries when they pass a course at any registered South African tertiary institution.”
These funds are transferred to members’ Zurreal Healthcards, a debit card that can only be used for medical expenses. This is ideal, as it is not linked to any medical scheme. At the end of the year, members can have the money paid out to them in cash, or have it rolled over to the next year.
“With Zurreal Platinum, we encourage staying healthy and going to the gym, even during the stressful exam periods, which not only means better exam performance, but better overall health as well,” Valentini concludes.