Updated: Dec 12, 2019
The dreaded ~exam season~ is among us, which often means long hours in the library, reviewing notes, and writing a ton. Especially during exams, it is so important to take care of your health!
3 Truths about staying healthy:
You need to be at your best if you want to do your best.
If you don't make time for your health, you will have to make time for sickness.
I can't count.
All jokes aside, it is so important to make time for your health, especially during busy and stressful seasons. I know I'll be spending a ton of time typing out papers and studying for exams, which means a lot of time sitting still at a desk. Not only is sitting for hours on end not great for our bodies, but it can also impair our productivity and focus.
To combat feeling sluggish or gross, here are my best tips to stay healthy & feeling good during exams:
1. Set Realistic Goals
You shouldn't be studying for 12 hours a day. That isn't realistic, healthy, or useful. Your brain can only absorb so much information at once. So, aim for quality over quantity. High-quality, focused study sessions in bursts is much more effective than sitting for hours on end and "reading over notes". Be honest, how much do you actually remember when you sit for that long?
2. Study in Blocks
If you're looking for an effective method, I would recommend checking out the Pomodoro method! Essentially, you work in 25 or 50 minute blocks with 5 or 10 minute breaks. The key for me is being very strict and only taking the allotted break time! (i.e. don't start scrolling on Instagram). This method is scientifically-backed to maximize productivity and I have had really good experiences with it in the past.
3. Take Active Breaks
A "break"shouldn't mean scrolling mindlessly on social media. When you take a break, get up, stretch, and take a lap around whatever building you're in.
If you need a rhyme: when your blood flows, your brain goes! When you get your blood moving, your brain becomes more alert and focused. When you sit back down, you'll feel refreshed and ready to work.
4. Drink LOTS of Water!
When we are dehydrated, we often crave sugar or salt. Before you reach for those snacks, have some water! When I'm studying, I like to keep a big water bottle or tumbler beside me. Anytime I get bored, I just take a big sip of water.
You might be thinking, doesn't that mean you need to pee, like, really often? Yes!
But, that's a good thing! Water flushes out all of the toxins, and honestly, when I need to use the bathroom, it forces me to get up, walk a little, and take a mental break.
5. Pack healthy snacks!
Instead of snacking on chips or candy, pack snacks that nutritious so you are fueling your brain. Sometimes when I get bored, I feel like snacking. So, I pack snacks that are crunchy but low in calories, so I feel satisfied and I don't fill up on junk. Some of my favourites are: carrot sticks/rounds, nuts, apples & PB, clementines, cucumbers, popcorn, crackers & hummus. And of course, I pack a few treats too (I'm looking at you, chocolate-covered coffee beans).
6. Fuel Your Body
As tempting as it can be to buy food or UberEats all the time, loading up on excess salt and sugar will not help your brain or body function effectively. Make sure you're eating balanced meals with lots of veggies, complex carbs, and protein. I know it's not as fun, but it will keep you feeling full and focused. Plus, it will help you avoid energy spikes and crashes from highly processed food.
Tip: Go grocery shopping & make it easy for yourself. Pick up foods that are nearly ready to cook, don't require much prep time, and travel well. Some great examples include: pre-cut/pre-washed greens (i.e. kale, spinach), chicken breasts (easy to fry/bake quickly), eggs, bananas, oats for oatmeal, crackers, and hummus.
7. Get those zzzzz's!
Sleep is so important! You cannot study at your best or absorb information effectively if your brain is foggy. One of the best ways to do this is to create a routine so your circadian rhythm starts working how it should. During exams, I try to get up at the same time every day, eat regular meals, go to the gym, and go to bed at similar times. I know it's kinda grandma-ish, but it means I don't have to actively make decisions about when to get up or sleep, which makes it so much easier to actually do.
I'm definitely not perfect at this, but it's a work in progress and I'm much better than I used to be. One of the hardest parts for me is "unplugging" and putting away my phone before bed. Lately, I've been having a cup of tea to unwind and I find this helps a lot (peppermint is my favourite)!
8. Sweat it Out!
Seriously, get your exercise! It doesn't have to be long or super intense, but try to move your body every day. Lift weights, play a pick-up sport, try a fitness class (I'm teaching the whole season), go for a run, get outside, or heck, have a dance party! It can be anything, as long as it gets you sweating!
Fun Fact: exercise gives you more energy, helps you focus better, and makes you 33% more productive. Who wouldn't want all those benefits when studying?!?
9. Get Social
Studying alone or being by yourself for so many hours can be draining. I don't need to tell you all of the neuro-science behind socializing for you to know it will make you happier. So, make time to grab coffee or dinner with friends.
Better yet, kill two birds with one stone and exercise with friends! Plan to go to a class together or play a game of squash or pick-up basketball. You'll have time to catch up and you'll all leave feeling energized!
10. Do something FUN Every Day
Exam time may be stressful, but it doesn't have to be. It will only get as stressful as you let it. Give yourself dedicated time for fun! Do a face mask, bake some holiday treats, go out, or (my personal favourite) watch a Hallmark Christmas movie. It makes it easier to focus and work hard when you need to. Plus, you deserve it... Work hard, play hard friends.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope these tips help you stay healthy and active this exam season. If you like my articles and want updates every time I post a new one, please subscribe to email updates below!
Lastly, remember: You can't take care of business unless you take care of yourself first.
I know exam season can be so stressful, so take some breaks, stay calm & remember, you got this!
Until next time...
PS. If you need a little extra motivation, check out my decals at flaunta! They are the perfect size for your laptop or water bottle, and will give you that little extra motivation every time you look at them!