30 October 2013

Boost your brain to ace those exams

Give your brain the edge when it comes to endurance, ensuring a sharp mind and excellent concentration for as long as needed.

We all feel generally frazzled at the end of year, but it's even worse for learners and students who now have to apply themselves to writing nerve wracking exams. But there are ways to give your brain the edge when it comes to endurance, ensuring a sharp mind and excellent concentration for as long as needed.

Peter Jordan, Principal Officer of Fedhealth, explains that nutritionists emphasise the importance of healthy eating habits at such a particularly stressful time. "They advise that the right food and drink can energise your system, improve your alertness and sustain you through the long exam hours. On the other hand making the wrong dietary choices could leave you feeling jittery, sluggish or burned-out."

For one, it's important to make sure to eat. Even if you're feeling nervous or nauseous, your brain needs the energy from food to work efficiently and stave off fatigue. However it is important to ensure it's a light meal so you don't feel too full. If you eat a big breakfast or lunch before an exam, you could feel drowsy and heavy, because your body's energy is being channelled to the digestive process rather than on giving your brain the energy it needs to function efficiently.

Take care to include brain-boosting food in your diet, such as protein-rich foods which can help you have greater mental alertness. For breakfast, eggs, nuts, cottage cheese and yogurt could form part of your meal. Fish, walnuts, blueberries, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, dried fruits, figs and prunes are also seen as brain foods. Otherwise consider having whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk, eggs and toast with jam, porridge, oatmeal or sugar-free muesli.  

On exam day, steer clear of foods made of white flour, such as muffins, cookies and cakes, as they need added time and energy to digest. For the same reason, avoid eating protein and starch together. In addition, don't eat foods that are high in refined sugar, such as chocolates, desserts and sweets that will give you uncontrollable sugar highs and lows. Be sure too to drink enough water before and during your exam as dehydration can make you lose concentration and feel faint. For teenagers it's also not a good idea to stock up on too much coffee, as the caffeine can increase your nervousness.

Take a multivitamin throughout for better memory and concentration. If you generally survive on junk food such as pizza and take-aways, a multivitamin can help supply you with some essential vitamins and minerals you may be lacking. Low iron levels especially can make it difficult to concentrate and learn, while vitamin B and zinc also strengthens memory and general brain functioning.
On the day, carry healthy snacks such as energy, protein or granola bars, trail mix, almonds, walnuts or fruit with you to keep up your energy.

Most important of all, is getting enough sleep. On the night before the exam, stop studying in the early evening. Then take it easy, have dinner, get your clothes ready for the next day, set a few alarms and get to bed early. To function at your best the next day, it's not only the energy that comes from healthy nutrition you need, but also the energy that comes from adequate, restful sleep.

"Take these tips to heart. It would be a shame to study intensively before your exam and then not have enough physical energy and mental prowess to do your best on exam day. Good luck to every one of you," concludes Jordan.

(Picture: teen girl having breakfast from Shutterstock)

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