During the exam season, it can be tempting to spend every free minute shut in your bedroom or the library cramming the year's notes into your brain and living off energy drinks and takeaways. This article will give you some tips on staying healthy whilst you revise for and sit your exams.
The temptation to order takeaway or live off ready-meals because there's “not enough time to cook” is widespread, but it's actually one of the worst things you can do when you want to be mentally alert to make the most of your revision and perform at your best in exams. Eating healthily doesn't have to take long, nor does it have to be extortionately expensive.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna contains lots of Omega-3, which is great for your brain function and memory, as well as for your long-term health. The really good thing about oily fish as a revision food is the fact that you can buy it ready-to-eat in various different forms, so there is very little preparation time needed.
Nuts and Seeds are great for snacking on throughout the day, and contain important vitamins and minerals. Pumpkin seeds are full of zinc, which is great for your memory, and most nuts and seeds are a good source of Vitamin E, which reduces a decline in brain power.
Fruit is great to eat during exams, and because most UK exams are in summer there are lots of fruits in season. Blueberries are great for improving your memory, and blackberries are a source of Vitamin C, which improves mental agility! Try eating a banana before an exam, or if you have a long revision session without any snacks, because the slow release of sugars helps you stay on form for longer. If you have winter exams, you should be able to get frozen berries from a supermarket. You can also get dried fruit all year round, which is still very good for you, and often more attractive to snack on!
Vegetables should make up most of your 5 (or 7, as scientists are now suggesting!) a day, so it's important not to neglect them. Leafy green veg is particularly good, as a source of Vitamin E which prevents a decline in brain function. Broccoli also contains Vitamin K, which boosts brain power. Iron-rich vegetables help to improve memory, alertness and attention span. Cooked vegetables will keep for a day or two in the fridge, so you can cook a double helping and have some left over for the next day, to save on cooking time. You can also get ready-prepared vegetables in larger supermarkets, which save you time peeling and cutting the veg.
Meat is a good source of protein and essential vitamins. Vitamin B12 is found in red meats like beef, lamb and pork, and is essential for your brain to function properly (dairy products and eggs are also a good source for vegetarians or those who don't like red meat). Beef is also a great source of iron and zinc. Chicken contains tyrosine which helps you to stay alert – and it's one of the cheapest meats, and one people are most confident with cooking!
Fast Food can be very appealing during the busy exam period, but not only is it expensive, it's also bad for your health – and bad for your revision. Ready-meals and takeaways are usually very high in things that are bad for you, like fat, salt and sugar, but low in essential nutrients! You will feel noticeably more alert and ready to revise if you are eating healthily. The odd takeaway as a treat is fine, but try not to eat them just because you don't think you have time to cook. By the time you've chosen what you want and placed an order, you could have fixed something up yourself! If time really is an issue, ask a housemate if they will cook for you, and return the favour at a later date.
Rewards and Treats are a common method of maintaining motivation beyond the first few days, and staying motivated is clearly very important. But it's also important to make sure the rewards you choose aren't undoing all the hard work you put in and making it more difficult for your brain to remember your revision in the exam. Try swapping milk chocolate for dark, and make sure your portion sizes don't get out of hand. You can also reward yourself with time off to watch your favourite TV show, or meet a friend – making time for yourself and having breaks from revision is important to stop you getting burnt out.
Energy Drinks can seem like a magical cure for tiredness and burning out on your revision, but they are full of sugar and caffeine. The best thing is to avoid them entirely, because once you have one or two, it's too easy to give in and end up needing them to get through the day, but if you really don't think you can survive exams without having them, limit yourself to one a day, and try to opt for sugar-free versions. Don't drink them less than 6 hours before you go to bed, because the caffeine may stop you going to sleep, and will worsen the quality of the sleep you do get.
Alcohol probably isn't going to be as attractive when you're revising for exams, but if you do have a few drinks now and then, try not to overdo it. If you're hungover, you'll probably lose another day of revision because you can't focus properly (once you've actually made it out of bed).
Water is essential to stay hydrated and alert. Aim for at least 2 litres of water a day – drinks like squash and green tea count too (but drinks containing caffeine don't and should actually be offset by another glass of water!). Be careful to avoid overhydration by spreading your drinks out through the day rather than drinking a litre at once.
Alternatives to caffeine are quite important to consider. Lots of students drink huge volumes of tea and coffee during the exam season, because the caffeine helps with concentration. But coffee has about three times as much caffeine per cup as tea, and consuming too much caffeine can cause negative mental and physical effects. Especially if you don't normally drink caffeine drinks, having several cups of tea or coffee can cause dehydration, so it's important to drink plenty of non-caffeine drinks if you are drinking tea and coffee. Try rotating cups of tea or coffee with glasses of plain water, squash, or other non-caffeine drinks. Green tea is said to be good for your brain, and it's naturally caffeine-free. There are a variety of other non-caffeine teas on the market – fruit teas, Rooibos and other South African bushes, and simple decaffeinated black tea.