As the school year hits the home stretch, high schoolers and college students focus on preparing for a final classroom push and end-of-semester exams. This is the time of year many students, ambitious ones at least, seek an extra edge to max out their mental acuity. That means being on the lookout for (healthy) ways to improve their memory and boost brain power while racing toward the finish line. There are many foods and safe, over-the-counter nutritional supplements that can bolster cognition when it comes to understanding, retaining and then explaining the reams of information being crammed into their heads by books, PowerPoints and professors. All of this is material they will be tested on or be asked to write about in the coming weeks. It's time to have your brain hitting on all cylinders. Just like some foods and supplements can help supply you with extra energy for workouts or strengthen your immune system during cold and flu season, the right consumables can help make you think more clearly and maybe help you ace that test, essay or thesis.
Sleep and Exercise Enhance CognitionFirst, however, help yourself by getting plenty of sleep as well as exercise, managing your time to fit those things around class time, study time and homework. Exercise (jogging, swimming, tennis, etc.), per renowned health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola, spurs your brain to work at its highest capacity. It does this by causing nerve cells to multiply and to release proteins as part of a process that directly benefits cognitive functions. As for sleep, maybe eight hours is too steep a challenge at this stressful time of year when so many things are being squeezed into your schedule, but the journal Learning and Memory, per health.com, says to at least try for six hours. Researchers say sleep can help your brain consolidate and organize information so that it will come back to you more efficiently when testing or writing.
Foods for ThoughtEvery student's favorite subject, in or out of the classroom, is eating. The food that we put into our bodies can directly affect what's going on inside our heads, whether it involves mood, memory, mental acuity or even energy level. Brain fog isn't fun, and we are all susceptible to it, regardless of age. Here are eight foods, in no particular order, known to help you as you navigate your way toward exam week:
- Dark chocolate. This isn't No. 1 on too many health experts' lists, but we wanted to get your attention and jump start your taste buds. The flavanols in dark chocolate improve blood vessel function, which enhances blood flow to the brain and, guess what, cognitive function and memory get a boost. Yum!
- Spinach. OK, not your first choice. But it's a worthy second or third option, thanks to the nitrates that also stimulate blood flow to the brain. Popeye, it turns out, was no dummy.
- Walnuts. Per wellness expert Jennifer Cohen, writing at forbes.com, these are most effective when soaked in water overnight for about eight hours. The Vitamin E inside protects the brain from free radicals.
- Olive oil. Don't drink it, but mix it with some greens and make a salad out of it. It is full of polyphenols, which are robust antioxidants for protecting the brain, per mindbodygreen.com.
- Turmeric. For thousands of years it has been used for myriad health purposes; it's especially good at reducing inflammation, and that's important for brain health.
- Beets. Much of the world has forgotten about beets, but that's too bad. They are packed with nitrates that bacteria convert to nitrites, which boost blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
- Pumpkin seeds. Here's that snack you've been looking for. The abundance of zinc supports memory and overall cognitive function.
Think Fast! Catch Some SupplementsA number of supplements on the market contain the healthy goods when it comes to stimulating brain power. Read the labels carefully, though; many of your better, research-tested supplements will contain one or more of the following substances:
- Omega-3 fats. Per articles.mercola.com, about 60 percent of our brain is composed of fats, a fourth of which is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fat. DHA happens to be a key ingredient of breast milk, which research has shown to be a reason breastfed babies tend to grow up scoring higher on IQ tests. Pumping omega-3's into your body, and therefore brain, probably won't make you an overnight genius, but science has shown that a shortage of DHA can hurt cognition.
- Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALC). Per webmd.com, studies have shown that people with Alzheimer's who took ALC had slower loss of mental ability than those who didn't take it.
- Gingko biloba. Helps with a lot of things, most notably memory improvement.