By Lucas Suryakusuma
Finals week is the worst time for our bodies.
I remember my last experiences with finals… I’m not normally an unhealthy person, but for about one week a semester I am. Like most people, I studied and crammed as much material as I could for each and every test I had to take. That required staying up late and studying, studying, studying. My go-to snack and comfort food was chocolate covered pretzels — my parents even bought me an extra-large bag from Costco. Along with late night snacks, my body also suffered from lack of exercise. The couple of hours a week I would usually spend running were spent studying instead.
At that time, I never really noticed a change until all my tests were finally over and I could relax and go home. I was too focused on school, tests and studying to realize how much damage that one week of unhealthy living was actually doing to my body and mind.
The first trip back to the gym and track was an eye-opener. First of all, it was hard to even find the strength and motivation to drag myself to the gym. Then, once on the track, I found it difficult to run 1 mile. This, coming from a person who can usually run 6 miles when energetic and at least 3 miles on lazy days. On top of all this, when I got back home from the gym, I weighed myself. I’m not going to say how much I gained—I didn’t gain a lot but I did gain enough to make me regret some of the choices I made during my week of cramming.
It took me about one or two weeks to feel normal again, energetic and fit. With the help of two UT professors, I was able to gather tips and advice towards the topic of staying healthy during finals week.
To gain a better understanding of the fitness aspect of health, I interviewed Dr. Philip Stanforth, a lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education and the Executive Director of the Department’s Fitness Institute of Texas. Here are the main points I gathered:
· First of all, exercise is important. Working out and staying active is a major contributor to being healthy and controlling your weight. As a sophomore, I’m currently in Organic Chemistry and my professor, Dr. Iverson, talks about fitness a lot of the time in class. He and I share a passion and that’s running. In class he mentioned how running 1 mile is equivalent to burning about 500 calories. A cool way to look at running or working out is you can do whatever you want with those extra calories burned. You won’t have to feel guilty about eating your favorite comfort foods or snacks while studying so long as you balance it with exercise.
· Feel Better, Feel Good. There is a positive relationship between physical activity and mood. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins and other neurotransmitters that induce feelings of relaxation. Not only can you feel it in your mood, but also in your body. After exercising, your muscles relax as well, easing any pent-up stress or tension.
· Interval Studying. Studying for long periods of time can be stressful and burdensome. Dr. Stanforth compared studying to interval training. After a strenuous workout, it’s better to allow your body some time to recuperate and recover. Cramming, reviewing, and reading for lengthy amounts of time can strain your brain just as your muscles get strained. Take breaks in between bouts of studying. Dr. Stanforth recommends doing something active during these breaks. A trip to the gym or track would be awesome but it isn’t needed. Anything as small as stretching, walking, meditating, even a couple of push-ups may do the trick. So long as you do something that stimulates your body, then you’ll be killing two birds with one stone—resting your brain and relaxing your body.
· Catch some ZZZ’s. Exercise can help you relax. If you exercise sometime in the day, you’ll most likely be more tired towards the end of the day, helping you fall asleep faster. This can come especially handy for people who tend to have trouble falling asleep, whether it’s from insomnia or a restless mind. However, Dr. Stanforth mentioned that exercise doesn’t always have the same effect on everyone. Some people may feel an extra boost of energy directly after exercise instead. Either way, perhaps, the tiredness will catch up with you come nightfall and you’ll be able to rest more peacefully when the time comes.
As important as exercise is, it isn’t the only component to health. Eating and nutrition are just as important. Staying healthy is optimally accomplished when these two disciplines are combined.I learned more about nutrition and its importance through Dr. Steinman, a Registered and Licensed Dietician and Distinguished Senior Lecturer in the School of Human Ecology. Here are the main points:
· Don’t skip. Eat regular meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So long as these main meals are covered, you’ll be good for the day. These meals could be large enough to sustain your body till the next or they could be smaller. If they’re smaller, be sure to eat snacks in between. Your body needs nutrients to function properly and optimally. You don’t want your body to start dragging you down, especially during Finals week. Eating regularly also helps prevent overeating during your next mealtime.
· Snacks are okay. Healthy snacks, like fruits and vegetables, are the most recommended but if that’s not what you crave while you study that’s fine too. The important factor is how much you eat. One of the worst things you can do is snack unmindfully. If you eat while you read or study, you won’t be able to keep track of how much you’ve eaten so you won’t know when to stop. Most times, people don’t know when to stop when they’re full anyway so knowing limits is difficult already. Dr. Steinman suggests separating yourself from whatever you’re doing before you eat so you’ll be more mindful towards what you’re doing and how much you’re eating. Take this time to relax as well. It doesn’t hurt to give your brain a break every once and a while.
· More doesn’t always mean better. Some drinks and foods advertise added “boosters” that can help to enhance a special function, such as focus or memory, but their claims may not always be true. Dr. Steinman mentioned that consuming more doesn’t really have any added benefit. Being deficient in vitamins or minerals will have a negative effect on certain aspects of performance depending on the deficiency. So her best recommendation is to fulfill your body’s needs and nothing more. The best way of doing so is by eating a variety of healthy foods.
Try and be mindful of these tips and advice in the weeks to come. If you’ve got the time, try to start implementing these habits early—now—so you’ll be used to doing them by the time finals come around. Best of luck to all of you!