When it comes to performing at optimum mental capacity as a student, keeping good physical health and psychological wellbeing is top priority. Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health BSc (Hons) student Nigel Duffus provides his top tips to looking after yourself.
My top tips
From managing exam stress to preparing for a formal presentation, good health can be the difference between achieving and underachieving. We have seen a significant increase in psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression, especially among students. So it has never been more important for more people to be aware and, more importantly, for our community to take necessary practical steps in addressing the root cause of such chronic issues.
Take a look at my top tips on how to look after your health and wellbeing as a student.
One crucial area is sufficient sleep. Sleep improves concentration and productivity; it can lower the risk of depression and other mental health issues. The average adult needs seven to eight hours of this important medicine in order to perform at optimum physical and mental capacity.
For example, at one point during my Access to HE (higher education) journey, I had to give a 5-to-10-minute formal presentation based on a health related topic. After several days of familiarising myself with key notes and preparing my slides, I remember feeling anxious the night before.
At this point, I was faced with a pivotal decision: I could either stay up an extra couple of hours in an attempt to absorb even more information just for ‘good measure’, or put all my presentation notes to one side, ‘throw my worries into the bin’ and get a good night sleep.
With my perfectionist mentality rising to the fore, it was not an easy decision. Fortunately, I chose the latter. When I weighed up the pros and cons, I concluded it was not worth compromising my health and a good night’s sleep was necessary.
In order to put my mind at rest, I performed my usual winding down routine of prayer and meditating on positive, uplifting thoughts. My anxiety seemingly faded away, I then went to bed and, in what seemed like a split second, presentation day arrived!
Waking up from sleep, I felt great. I was invigorated, my mind was sharp, and I was ready to present. I carried out my presentation with minimal reference to notes and my tutor observing at the back awarded me with a distinction grade where I was only expecting a pass! I still believe to this very day that, if I had compromised my sleep the night before, procrastinated and left all my preparation to the last minute, I would have barley achieved a pass, let alone a distinction.
The Healthline website offers some proven tips on how to sleep better at night. There are also other credible sources with such information, such as the mental health charity Mind and the NHS.
Healthy eating and drinking
Sticking to a healthy diet is also an important factor in achieving optimal academic performance. The nutrients in fruit and vegetables play a vital role in supplying the body and brain with fuel to carry out various physical and mental functions.
Breakfast should be the most nutritious meal. It helps us to start the day with sufficient energy. When this meal contains the right foods (ie fruit, vegetables, grains, whole foods/non-processed) we are less likely to crave and binge on the high-calorie foods (the ones that have no nutritional value) later on in the day.
Think about this: fruit and vegetables should make up at least a third of what we eat each day. They are an important part of a healthy diet as they contain an abundance of essential vitamins and minerals that cannot be sourced elsewhere.
When it comes to lunch, dinner, and snacking in between, it is still important to choose non-processed food. I used to snack a lot on the wrong foods but, as I learned about the nutritional benefits of particular foods, I began making better snacking choices. For example, instead of reaching for chocolate, I’d eat a piece of fresh fruit. Instead of opening a can of cola, I would opt for bottled water.
Yes, at first, it doesn’t sound very appealing. However, over a matter of days, weeks, and months of putting these healthy eating and drinking principles into practice, I physically noticed the part that they were playing on my health.
Staying adequately hydrated is another key factor in a healthy diet. The British Nutrition Foundation has some useful information on the importance of healthy hydration.
When it comes to information on healthy eating and drinking, the foundation is one of my favourite credible online sources. There is a wealth of information that you can start implementing today and derive the benefits from tomorrow. Our health is worth it and so we should never take it for granted.
Regular physical excercise
Physical inactivity is a modern problem with the increase in technology and transport that has made our lives easier. Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the UK and one of the primary contributors to these diseases is a lack of physical exercise.
As a student who doesn’t currently own a car, I walk pretty much everywhere! This means that I can easily fit cardiovascular exercise into my daily schedule, with a 30-minute brisk walk to University in the morning, and another 30-minute brisk walk later.
Since making the decision to be more physically active, I have experienced a significant increase in my attention span, improving my academic work and overall mood throughout the day. I generally feel healthier, happier, more alert, and better able to accomplish everyday physical tasks.
Also, I know from my own research on this topic that people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and various types of cancer.
Again, there is a wealth of online information on the health benefits of regular physical exercise – as well as steps you can take to get more. Examples are the NHS Benefits of exercise page and the Mayo Clinic’s exercise advice.
In the words of Dr Nick Cavill: “If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented.”
University of Derby resources for healthy living
As a student studying a health-and-wellbeing-related course, I have made use of the University of Derby’s various facilities that have supported me in my fitness goals. This includes our Sports Centre, featuring a multi-purpose sports hall, a fully equipped gym with fitness studio, indoor rock climbing, squash courts, outdoor tennis courts, and pitch hire.
When you become a student at the University of Derby, you can get involved with Team Derby. They have a vision to enable students to enjoy various sporting activities, regardless of their current fitness level and goals. Our University also has links with Move More Derby, a campaign to help people be more active. Team Derby can offer free one-to-one support as part of Move More Derby to help you discover your healthy lifestyle options as a student.
Our Union of Students provides 40 different sports clubs, which include both individual and group sports. These are also available to all our students.
Looking after your health as a student
Looking after our health as students is not an easy endeavour, with all the busyness we find ourselves in from one day to the next. This is why each individual has to make a determined effort to apply healthy principles in their everyday life. When we take small steps in our pursuit of good physical and mental well-being, it feels much easier. When we understand that we don’t necessarily have to change all our habits in one fell swoop, our personal health goals will seem a lot more achievable in the long term.
Personally, I will never regret making a determined effort to look after my physical and mental health as a student. It has helped me to overcome various academic and practical challenges, and continues to pay wonderful dividends in my everyday life!