Is an Unhealthy Lifestyle Hindering Your Ability to Learn?

Is an Unhealthy Lifestyle Hindering Your Ability to Learn?

Vladislav Noseek /

Note: This post was submitted to Student Caffé by Helen Sanders, Chief Editor at Health Ambition. We would like to thank her for her submission and credit her as the author of this blog post.

Sorry to be the one to say this, but what your parents say is true! Getting a good education is one of the best ways to get a good start in life. Don’t you just hate it when they’re right?

Most students are interested in achieving the best grades possible. What factors play a part in helping you learn the information necessary to get those high grades? What if someone told you that the things you do on a daily basis can help or hinder your educational experience? In particular, let’s take a look at diet and lifestyle and the impact they have on your ability to learn and retain information.

1. Breakfast

We’ve all had those mornings where for whatever reason we skip breakfast and walk straight out the door. However, research shows that structured eating patterns significantly improve academic performance. Scientists have found a definite link between eating breakfast regularly, better overall health, and learning ability.

Before you head to class each morning, eat something. A healthy breakfast consisting of foods like fruit, yogurt, nuts, seeds, and a little dark chocolate (like the small chunks you might find in granola) is good for boosting brain power. Plus, you won’t have to deal with your stomach growling embarrassingly loudly and interrupting your professor’s lecture.

2. Sleep

Of course, going to all-night parties or staying up chatting with friends half the night is great fun. That is, until you have to attend class the next morning. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis has been shown to decrease nervous system and brain function and increase the risk of developing anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, all of which can have a significant effect on your ability to learn. Instead of staying up late on weekends, try to go to sleep and wake up at similar times each day of the week, weekends included. This consistency in your sleep schedule will help you get enough sleep and feel refreshed and ready to tackle classes and assignments each morning. You’ll find that you’re more productive too.

3. Junk Food

Most of us know that junk food is bad, even though the taste might be incredibly appealing. Unfortunately, that’s part of the design of processed food. Junk foods, like salted snack foods (chips, cheese puffs), sweet desserts (Oreos, Twinkies), carbonated beverages (Coke, Pepsi), and fried fast foods (onion rings, French fries) are high in refined carbs. These are quick to digest and cause blood sugar to spike. They’re also full of saturated fat and stripped of any natural fiber, so it’s no wonder that processed foods—that’s anything that goes through a major manufacturing process before it ends up in front of you—carry serious health risks. Among them? Diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and cancers.

Not only that, but the chaos that junk food causes inside your body means your brain is so busy dealing with the fallout that your ability to learn, retain, and recall information is impaired. You may also feel sluggish and lethargic, and there’s an increased risk of weight gain.

Instead of turning to the vending machine, munch on nuts, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and veggies. These options will keep you full for longer and don’t come with the same health hazards as junk food.

4. Water

Pretty much everyone knows that water is good for them—but why? What’s so great about water?

Water helps your body maintain a consistent temperature, without which nothing functions smoothly (like when you have a fever). It also keeps your electrolyte levels balanced, which helps both your brain and nervous system to function properly. Water aids your kidneys and liver in flushing out toxins and waste products that would otherwise make you feel sluggish and lacking in energy. It enhances the uptake of other nutrients that help you perform well. Water really is necessary to keep your body functioning at peak performance.

If you struggle to stay hydrated, carry a water bottle every time you leave your dorm and plan on refilling it a couple times a day. If you’re feeling sleepy in class, sip on water. If you’re bored, sip on water. Each time you sit down for a meal or snack, drink a glass of water. You’ll find that when you’re well hydrated, your body and mind will thank you.

5. Caffeine

2017 survey by the National Coffee Association found that 50% of individuals aged 18 to 24 had a coffee drink within the past day, and 63% of individuals 25 to 39 reported the same. Clearly, many of us rely on caffeine to start our day and help us to stay alert and focused. Research does support this theory; studies have shown that caffeine can enhance memory and brain function. In one such study, a group of subjects who consumed 100 mg of caffeine performed significantly better on a cognitive function test than those who didn’t have any caffeine.

Research has also shown, however, that too much caffeine can negatively affect our cognitive performance. Some sources suggest that more than 400 mg per day—about four average-sized cups of coffee—can have an adverse effect on cognitive function.

Looking for foods to boost learning?

Maybe you’ve got the sleep and hydration portions covered, but are struggling to choose foods that will treat both your body and your mind well. Good news! There are plenty of options. Foods that contain healthy fats (mono- and polyunsaturated fats), vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are the kinds of foods you need to help boost brain power. Avocado, coconut and coconut oil, beets, blueberries, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate, eggs, salmon, walnuts, almonds, and extra-virgin olive oil are all helpful in improving brain cognition, memory and focus. These are the foods that you want to fill your plate with.

Diet and lifestyle play a huge part in your ability to learn. To get the most from your educational journey, it is worth considering the choices you make on a daily basis. Switching from bad habits to good ones can definitely influence your ability to learn, and ultimately, your grades.

Who would have thought not eating breakfast, getting enough sleep, or drinking enough water; eating junk food; and drinking too much coffee could be the reasons you might not get into Yale or miss out on a job with Google? Your future is in your hands.

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