As the school year kicks into high gear, you may find yourself feeling like you’re not living up to your maximum potential. It’s not uncommon for our generation to feel plagued by memory problems, concentration issues and dwindling productivity. The good news is there is an established link between our health and our mental capacity. With a few tweaks to your diet, you can be back to your intelligent self in no time.
Here, CL interviews nutrition expert Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H. & T.M., to help us understand the link between our bodies and our brains so we can all stay sharp.
College Lifestyles: Many college students complain of memory problems and difficulty concentrating. What variables could be behind this rising phenomenon?
Dr. Rick Tague: Our memory is truly one of our greatest assets. It’s crucial for every aspect of life: school, career, relationships, etc. Research has recently shown that lifestyle changes are perhaps the primary reason for more complaints of memory loss. There are five that stand out as likely primary factors:
1. Poor nutrition- More Americans are malnourished on important brain nutrients (such as magnesium, B-vitamins, folate, zinc, vitamin D, and omega-3 oils) than ever. This impacts brain health in multiple ways, but memory impairment is a known consequence.
2. Sleep disturbance- Less sleep results in impaired memory and decision making as well as weight gain, fatigue, and depression. College students should ideally get 9-11 hours of sleep per night.
3. Rhythm disturbance. For our brain function to be at its best we need to keep our brain on a regular 24-hour schedule, so it is important to go to bed about the same time and wake at about the same time (called our circadian rhythm).
4. Weight gain- Unfortunately, the number of students who are overweight has increased. In the journal Neurology in 2011, research showed that those with metabolic syndrome (abdominal weight gain and consequences like higher blood pressure and triglycerides) had a 20% increased risk of memory loss.
5. Poor fitness-A healthy body is essential to maintain a healthy brain. Exercise stimulates blood flow through the brain and helps us to think clearly, make decisions better, have improved memories, and better moods.
CL: How can our health impact our mind and our productivity?
RT: I believe that we need to think of optimal health on two fronts. How is my body and how is my brain? They impact one another and one can’t be truly healthy if the other is suffering. Both require fitness, rest and proper nutrition.
CL: With classes starting up again, what foods should we be eating to jumpstart our brains and make focusing less of a challenge?
RT: The following recommendations will get your brain focused:
1. Limit sugar intake, especially from sugar-containing sodas. An animal study published in May in the Journal of Physiology showed that sugar consumption, especially high fructose corn syrup from sodas, impairs the memory. Stick with tea, coffee and water.
2. Don’t overeat. The Mayo Clinic looked at memory impairment in older individuals and found that those overeating had twice the risk of mental impairment, including memory loss.
3. Drink green tea. Green tea consumption is associated with a lower risk of memory impairment. It’s a far better choice than sugary soda.
4. Try to include more nuts and fish in your diet, and a minimum of two fruit and 5 vegetable servings.
CL: Many classy co-eds are juggling busy schedules and tight budgets. How can we ensure maintaining our health doesn’t fall on the backburner?
RT: Proper nutrition is essential for optimal brain function and memory. Map out a daily plan that includes the following nutrients:
1. Vitamin D deficiency can cause a greater risk of viral infections, depression, weight gain and decreased mental function. Aim for 2,000 IU per day.
2. Magnesium is necessary for memory and decision-making.
3. Zinc is also an important mineral for memory. In fact, zinc is crucial for growing new brain cells.
Taking nutritional supplements will ensure that you are consuming the “essentials” for optimal health.
CL: In addition to ensuring proper nutrition, how else can we boost our brainpower?
RT: Here are some simple tricks for exams or study sessions:
1. Chew gum immediately before and during exams or intense study sessions. It stimulates the brain and has been shown to enhance memory.
2. Drink caffeine along with eating some chocolate. A cup of coffee and a small square of dark chocolate will do. The caffeine enhances brain function, including memory. Chocolate is also an effective brain stimulant. The small amount of sugar in the small square of dark chocolate will provide some glucose energy for your brain to do its work.
3. Exercise. Even some jumping jacks, running in place or running up and down some stairs can stimulate your brain to function more efficiently.
4. Be sure to get an adequate amount of sleep.
5. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Dr. Tague offers a discounted Student Essentials Package for enrolled students containing the aforementioned essential nutrients. For more tips, tools and advice from Dr. Tague visit his website, follow him on Twitter and connect on Facebook.