With “a broad foundation of well-being,” says Eileen Tracy, “you’ll be in good condition for your exams.” In her book The Student’s Guide to Exam Success, she recommends building that foundation on the following Five Pillars of Health: Moderation, Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep, and Expression.
- Everything in moderation – including moderation. “The secret to good physical and mental health is to avoid excess,” Tracy notes. She explains, “Although you need to be persistent, I’d rather you didn’t become a health freak. In a student environment, you can’t be totally disciplined. Just pay attention to how you lead your life most of the time. A healthy lifestyle is one that doesn’t take the healthy lifestyle to extremes.”
- Eat well. Tracy says this means paying attention to both what you eat and how. She recommends a varied diet with vegetables and fresh fruits which are good for the brain. Add “avocados, soya beans, and fish…if you like them and want some extra brain power.” Also, “You are not just what you eat, you are also how you eat – so take time off for meals.”
- Exercise. “In my experience,” notes Tracy, “students know the value of exercise…Suffice it to say that exercise plays a vital part in counterbalancing the stress responses produced in our bodies by having to meet deadlines and exams.”
- Sleep. Calling sleep “a hugely underrated activity,” Tracy notes we’re getting less and less of it. “Although the hours of sleep before midnight are thought to be the most beneficial,” she says, “it’s common for students to burn the midnight oil, to watch TV or meet social or academic demands. An erratic lifestyle like this commonly produces sleep problems.” Her tips for re-regulating your body clock include “going to bed and getting up at regular times, even if you feel exhausted all day.”
- Express yourself. “The way you feel about your work and other issues in your life plays a huge part in how you deal with stress,” explains Tracy. “Practice taking a longer view, setting yourself realistic targets, and being forgiving of yourself if you fail to meet your deadlines. Remember to keep disconnecting your self esteem from your grades.”
Tracy emphasizes that “Your studies are important, but never at the cost of your physical and mental well-being… Besides, if you are well, you will perform better in exams. Exams offer you an opportunity to practise facing challenges by building up your strengths, so that when the deadline comes, you meet it alive and kicking.”
Find additional details on each of the Five Pillars of Health plus guidelines for maximizing them in the chapter Healthy body, healthy mind.