Healthy Choices at Sporting Events – What You Need To Know

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The crowd roars, vendors pass out snacks, and thousands of eyes watch on while players battle it out for the championship title. Sports games are popular social gatherings around the world, and you may find yourself at one soon this holiday season. While you may feel at the mercy of the stadium and the game, there are actually a few things you can do to keep you and your family healthy at the next football, basketball, or other sporting game. I actually made this last earlier today at a Dallas Cowboys game – I hope you enjoy it and learn a thing or two!

1. Wash your hands before eating
Reaching for the antibacterial soap before chowing down can protect you from getting sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a community study, handwashing education cut down on diahhreal sicknesses by 31%. In fact, the most common source of these germs is feces. This may sounds gross – but bacteria from feces finds it way onto your hands and eventually into your body in sneaky ways. Remember to wash your hands to stay healthy this holiday season.

2. Pack earplugs
One in five adults in the U.S suffers from some degree of hearing loss. Many of those 48 million got this premature damage from prolonged exposure to loud noise. Pack earplugs for your next sports outing – as sounds at 94 decibels could cause hearing damage in about an hour (www.dangerousdecibels.org). While I was at the football game today, I used a decibel meter app to measure the stadium sound, which clocked in at a constant 94 decibels during the game. Thank goodness I had a pair of earplugs to protect my hearing!

3. Water, water, water
Sporting games are well-known for unhealthy food. But you know better, so you can make a smart choice next time you head to the stadium. A simple switch you can make is to drink water instead a soda or other sweet drink. One 21-ounce fountain drink contains 44 grams of sugar. According to the CDC, consumption of added sugars in foods has been associated with lower consumption of essential micronutrients and increased body weight. In other words, guzzling a sugary beverage will contribute to weight gain and replace other nutritious food choices. So reach for water for a better game and better health.

4. Cheer on!
Smile big, support your team, and cheer loudly! A study by psychologist James Folwer with 5,000 participants found that people who reported feeling like they were part of something greater than themselves felt happier overall. Another positive reason to get behind your home team!

You Can Ignite your Fire and Improve Flexibility with PiYo!

This morning, I decided to start off my Friday by going to try out a new workout class I’ve been hearing about for months: PiYo. I’ve been hearing this word, but I didn’t know what it meant until I decided to look into it when I heard that a new PiYo class was being taught four days per week in my hometown.

PiYo gets its name from a combination of Pilates and Yoga, but it is more than just a combination of Pilates and Yoga poses. I’d attended a “Yogalates” class before, which was paced somewhere between your typical yoga and Pilates classes and incorporated moves from both, with the traditional “hold and breathe” type of practice. PiYo is ENTIRELY different! The class does mainly use movements and poses from both yoga and Pilates, but it does so at a pace that is basically double that of even most power yoga classes! The class I attended took place in a room that was completely floored with one huge thick mat, so it turned out that my yoga mat was unnecessary and just hung out propped against the wall the whole time.

For a PiYo class, you’ll want to wear relatively fitted clothes that won’t be flapping around everywhere or falling over your head when you bend over (such as leggings and a fitted shirt), just like you would for a yoga class. There were also several men in the class I attended, and for the guys I’d suggest wearing spandex under your basketball shorts if that’s available to you so you won’t be so concerned with pulling your shorts down every few minutes.

The music was upbeat, loud workout music that you would expect in a cardio or Zumba class instead of the silence or calming music you’d typically expect from a yoga class. We started with a flow of repeated simple sun salutations at rapid pace, and I appreciated the familiarity of the movements, even if they were done much faster that I was used to. The traditional flow through chaturanga was used throughout the class, but this class does not pretend to focus on the yoga mind-body connection or on relaxation—this class is for burning calories and working up a sweat. We flowed from chaturanga to low lunges, side angles, chair poses, and half moon over and over in different orders until I was quite sweaty and pink in the face. Some of the transitions were modified because of the pace, such as the transition from down dog to standing. Rather than a slow walk up to the hands or a nimble hop of the feet to the hands, each transition was a simple right-left step up and straight into the next movement. The repetition of the movements done in sets created a burn in my muscles that made me feel like I was getting a great and difficult workout!

At the beginning of a song in about the middle of the class, the instructor announced that it was time for the intense power flow, and I discovered that by that she meant that this one five minute song was reserved as the most intense and cardio-oriented portion of the class. This class included tons of fast chair poses (basically lunges with your legs and knees squeezed together), normal lunges, side lunges, sumo lunges (with your legs wide and your bum low to the floor), and running in place in between all of the lunges. It didn’t really feel like a “flow” to me but my legs were burning and my heart rate was high so I felt like I was working hard!

After this high-energy spurt, we did two slower songs afterward and spent the first entire song on the left leg and the next entire song on the right leg, flowing through slow low lunges and warrior poses into planks and side planks, and back to the lunges. I enjoyed this time is a cool down period from the fast song and still felt like I was working my leg muscles and doing something useful while my heart slowed down.

We did another faster-paced song that included several floor poses and then flowed into an awesome stretching cool-down song where we spent some time in pigeon pose, which is my favorite hip opening stretch. We even finished with a brief savasana (corpse pose), during which the instructor offered a prayer, which I thought was really interesting but I enjoyed it. I guess when you live in a small southern town with private classes, the instructors can do whatever they want at the end of your class!

I left sweaty and quite tired but really excited about this new workout format I had just learned! If you’re intently dedicated to yoga and that brings you the peace that you need, I would guess that you might not like PiYo if I’m being honest. However, I’m a person who just loves to change up my workouts all the time and I like a little bit of everything, so I thought it was fantastic.

I learned that the PiYo craze started with a set of DVD’s for an 8 week PiYo program by Chalene Johnson, so if you’re interested in doing PiYo at home, this could be an option for you! I love having the option to do workout DVD’s in my living room, but while it’s holiday break and I have the time, I really like the atmosphere of the classes and everyone having a good time going through the workout together.

I’m excited to go to more PiYo classes in coming weeks and I hope you’ll find ways to be active and appreciate your body with exercise even over this relaxing and dessert-filled holiday season. Working out never has to be boring or expensive; PiYo uses absolutely no other equipment than a mat to cushion your hands, feet, and knees. Change up your routine and always be willing to try new things; you never know when you’ll walk into a new class and fall in love with it!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas everyone! Less than a week to go; how does it come so quickly?

Sodas, Cookies, & Fruits – How A Common Sugar May Make You Hungrier

Fructose – why it’s worse than other sugars for the body

Reaching for a sugary snack could have hidden consequences beyond the empty calories. New research from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles found that fructose (found in many common snack foods) could fail to suppress appetite as well as other sugars like glucose and sucrose. So after chowing down on foods high in fructose, you’re more likely to crave more.

Here’s how it works: when you eat a food that contains sugar, your body releases a special hormone called insulin that does many things – including inducing that “full” feeling. Fructose consumption, however, caused less insulin to be released in research participants that glucose consumption.

Food scientists have known for a while that the body processes fructose different that other sugars. But this is the first study that has specifically linked fructose to increased feelings of hunger. And when you’re hungrier, you may eat more of the types of foods that aren’t exactly healthy.

 Common Foods high in added fructose

**Fruit is high in fructose – but can be OK when consumed in moderation, according to the study authors. Fruits are high in healthy fiber.

  1. Sodas – You guessed it, “sugar-sweetened beverages” are often high in high-fructose corn syrup
  2. Juices – This includes Capri Sun, artificial lemonade, and adulterated juices
  3. Some breakfast cereals – A particularly bad culprit is Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes
  4. Some ice creams – including the Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” flavor

A longer list of foods that are high in fructose

If You’d Like to Keep Your Teeth, Release the Mountain Dew!

Merry Last Day of Finals and all other holidays and happy occasions we celebrate this season, Tar Heels! As this semester has come to a close, we at the Tar Heel Tone Up would like to remind you that we will be reducing our posting during the break to twice per week, with new articles every Monday and Friday. Please continue to check in for health and fitness tips and updates, even amidst your inter-semester bout of relaxation!

On Tuesday I wrote about what happened when George Prior decided to drink ten Cokes a day for 30 days straight. The results were a 23 pound weight gain, a huge spike in blood pressure, and a 7% increase in overall BMI. In keeping with the theme of the health risks of excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, there is another sneaky health risk of drinking too much soda: tooth decay.

This generation is one where instead of drinking milk every night at the dinner table, kids drink soda and instead of water, people drink juice. We often think of 100% juice as a perfectly good beverage choice to drink every day, but these juices also naturally contain as much sugar as an equivalent amount of soda in many cases, which is equal fuel to soda as far as tooth decay and caloric intake are concerned!

The Wisconsin Dental Association has created a campaign slogan that says “Sip All Day, Get Decay,” for their program in which they seek to educate people through commercials and advertisements about the danger they are causing to their teeth with soda. Several of their short commercials end with the line “Hey, it’s your choice: fewer soft drinks, or fewer teeth!” Now that’ll catch people’s attention! (1)

We all have naturally occurring and good bacteria in our mouths, but this bacteria combines with the sugar that we eat to form an acid that can attack tooth enamel and wear it away over time, causing decay. Additionally, soda, juice, and even diet, sugar-free sodas are full of their own acid to fuel the fire. Simply choosing to cut back on drinking soda is not enough to fix the problem today, however. There is such a variety of popular sugar-sweetened drinks that have become an everyday part of many people’s lives! To prevent tooth decay due to sugar and acid in our diets, this means restricting intake of everything from sweet tea, to that sweetened coffee you drank five times a day during finals week, to the Gatorade and Red Bull in your fridge, and even that 100% orange juice you had with breakfast.

The Wisconsin Dental Association actually suggests that 100% juice consumption should ideally be reduced to about 4-6 oz. per day. Think about it: apples are sweet and contain a lot of naturally occurring sugar, but one apple also contains fiber in the skin and can be a great, healthy snack. But what about when you strip away all of the fiber and filter the juice of five apples into one bottle? You’ve just consumed the sugar equivalent of five apples (which can be more than the sugar equivalent in one bottle of soda), while simultaneously stripping away the most nutritional and filling parts of the apple. Instead of fruit juice or soda, choosing to hydrate with water is the best way to ensure that you’re avoiding the fatigue that comes with dehydration and also removing sugar and acid from your mouth as you drink, instead of adding to the problem.

Other tips to strengthen your teeth and avoid decay include:

-Swishing your mouth out with water after drinking a sweetened drink. This dilutes the acid and sugar and slows the progress of decay!

-If you’re a gum chewer, make sure you chew sugarless gum! I heard a pediatric dentist here in Chapel Hill talking recently about her young patients who came in with huge, black cavities in their back molars from chewing Hubba Bubba all day long.

-Brush and floss daily! Brushing daily is common sense, but do you floss? Once you start and see how much cleaner your teeth can be and feel, you’ll never be able to go back without feeling gross.

-See your dentist regularly for cleanings and check-ups to catch any cavities while they’re still small (and also cheaper and easier to correct) and to get a deep clean that most people don’t quite achieve on their own.

-Use a toothpaste or mouthwash containing fluoride to strengthen your enamel!

-Read not just beverage, but food nutrition labels for sugar content as well!

In the 1950s, the average serving size of Coke was 6.5 oz., compared to the average 20 oz. serving we find in vending machines today! Additionally, only 14% of all soda consumption is estimated to be sugar free, and soda consumption in the US has increased among all demographic population groups, especially in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics and Public Health authorities across the country are seeing and acting against the severity of this increasing problem, as soda consumption leads to more instances of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis, as well. (2)

It’s time that we all understand the importance of the seemingly simple choice of what to drink on a daily basis. As we wrap up this year and prepare for a new semester (thank goodness), prepare yourself to make the choice to save your money and your teeth by avoiding the soda, drinking more water, and taking care of that million dollar smile!

What Would Happen If You Drank 10 Cans of Coke EVERY DAY?

Hello there fellow Tar Heels!

I have now reached the point where I am unable to think of anything positive to write about anything to do with finals other than the fact that they’re nearly over. So rather than any interesting finals-themed blog, I’ve decided to write about Coke instead. I won’t sap up too much of your study time, but if you’re here to take a quick break, read on and pick you side on the question of which is worse for our health: finals week, or Coke?

You may have heard of the documentary published in 2004 entitled “Super Size Me,” in which a man named Morgan Spurlock took it upon himself to show the world the real effects that excessive fast food consumption can have on our health. For an entire month, he ate nothing but food from McDonald’s, and the results were horrifying! (If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely watch it on Netflix! Perhaps if I watch it again anytime soon I’ll write a review of it for anyone interested but not willing to watch it themselves; it is kind of long.)

More recently, another man, George Prior, decided to complete another health experiment in which he drank 10 cans of Coke per day for 30 days straight! He did this fully expecting it to have vastly detrimental health effects, but wanted to raise awareness of the effects that the sugar-sweetened beverages many people drink every day can cause.

I like what he says on his website about why he decided to go to the extreme of ten Cokes a day. He said:

“’But’, you’re probably thinking, ‘Everyone knows it wouldn’t be healthy to drink ten cokes a day, and, besides, I only drink four cokes a day.’ That’s true, perhaps you’re only drinking four Cokes, but if you add in the two glasses of orange juice, the two sweetened coffee drinks from Starbucks, the 16 ounce Odwalla drink, the two ‘healthy’ brand ice teas, and the $9 fruit smoothie you waited ten minutes in line for, you’ve made my ten Cokes look like child’s play. Maybe it’s not all coke, but they’re all sugar drinks, and a big percentage of Americans drink at least the sugar equivalent of my ten Cokes.”

Before he started his ten Cokes a day routine, Prior reports that he tries to maintain a low-carb, high-protein diet from day to day, but that he isn’t strict in the way that some “Paleo” diet followers are. From his own dietary description, I interpreted his “low-carb” claim as meaning low starch, because he said “I’m not perfect, however—I eat ice cream before bed a couple times a week, I drink beer, and when I socialize I eat pretty much what everybody else is enjoying.” Ice cream and beer actually contain plenty of carbs, but many people don’t think of sugar as being a carbohydrate, even though it definitely is. He also said that he exercises about once a week at the gym.

Overall, though, he sounds like a reasonably health-conscious guy with similar habits to most Americans who are generally healthy but know they could be doing better. Anyway, let’s crunch some numbers before and after the Coke.

Here are Prior’s reported health statistics before he started drinking ten Cokes a day, according to a physical he had before starting his experiment:

Weight:                                   168

Blood Pressure:                       135/80

Fasting Glucose Level:            96 mg/dL

He followed his normal diet and exercise routine throughout the duration of the experiment… other than the 120 oz. of Coke, that is. Each day, he recorded his weight, body fat percentage, blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose levels from home each morning (with a diabetic glucose monitor for fasting glucose level). Here is his shocking “Table of Physiological Change,” as found on his website.

Day  Weight Fasting Blood Sugar Body Fat Blood pressure
1 10/24 168 93 9.4 129/77
2 170
3 172 104
4 172.5 102
5 171.5 93
6 173 86
7 10/30 173.5 87
8 174 85
9 11/1 176
10 175 92
11 175.5 97
12 176 12
13 177 87 150/85
14 179.5
15 179.5
16 181 91
17 181.5 85
18 182 87 14
19 11/11 182
20 182.5
21 184 92
22 185.5
23 185 88 134/83
24 184.5
25 11/17 187.5 14.9 138/83
26 186.5
27 186.5 148/86
28 189 86
29 190.5
30 191 86 15.3 143/96

At the end of only thirty days, George Prior saw a total weight gain of 23 pounds and a body fat percentage increase from 9% to 16%! His blood pressure also went up to an unhealthy level. Pretty crazy what Coke can do, huh?

He certainly achieved his goal of showing what can happen just by adding lots and lots of sugar to your diet! Not to mention the fact that unless he brushed all the time, his tooth enamel definitely suffered from this, too. I know I’m going to have this in the back of my mind next time I look at Coke, but I guess that was the point.

The overall message: cut back on sugar, especially if you’ve gotten in the habit of going to extremes, like several sweetened cups of coffee every day or even getting into the habit of NEEDING a bottle of soda every day. All of that sugar is filling your body up with extra calories you could be spending on nutritious foods with protein and vitamins.

The warning at the bottom of his website says it all: “Please do not attempt this at home!!! See your doctor if you’re considering this. Probably a mental health professional.”

Fair enough! For more information about George Prior and his “Ten Cokes A Day” project, as well as his journey to lose the weight afterward, check out his website at http://www.10cokesaday.com/.

Please note: this guy is not a registered dietician, so remember that whatever you read is coming from a website that a person made, and not a health professional before you use any advice to make dietary choices or changes!

Can Dogs Help You Get Through Your Exams?

Now that today is the first official day of finals, the stress of finals week is really starting to set in. Everyone handles stress differently, but some methods have been researched and proved more effective than others! Every semester, UNC hosts an event on the first reading day of exam week known to students as “Exam Paws.” If fact, the event went on yesterday in the Great Hall of the Student Union from 11am- 4pm, where certified therapy dogs came to hang out with stressed students and get lots of attention and petting. This event certainly isn’t just for the enjoyment of the dogs though! The tradition started as a way to help students to de-stress and take a break from studying, worrying about grades, and running out of time.

However, you may be wondering: if I’m worried about running out of time, is it really worth it to spend some time going to pet dogs in the middle of afternoon? According to the research, it looks like it might be worth it after all to close the computer and go visit a cute pup!

The American Heart Association features an article on their website about research showing that “Pet Ownership… Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress.” In the study, 48 participants with high blood pressure were separated into two randomized groups, one of which received only a blood pressure lowering medication called lisinopril (20mg/day) and the other which received treatment with the same dosage of lisinopril but also were assigned the role of home pet ownership! Their blood pressure, heart rate, and plasma renin were measured each day of the study, and in both groups, the medication lowered blood pressure. However, the participants were also subjected to mental stressors, and in these situations, the heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and even plasma renin levels were significantly lower for the group that was assigned to pet ownership. The conclusion of this study was that pet ownership is an effective way to reduce physiological responses to mental stress, which I’m willing to bet we all experience during exam week! Sounds pretty good, right? (1)

Additionally, in the American Journal of Cardiology featured an article in 1995 discussing research done on the relationship between pet ownership and “one-year survival after acute myocardial infarction.” This basically means that the researchers were looking to see if a higher percentage of people who had pets survived for at least a year after having a heart attack when compared to people who did not have pets. In the group of people that they followed, out of the dog-owning group of 87 people, 1 died within one year of having a heart attack. Out of a group of 282 people who did not own dogs (approximately 3 times more people than the dog-owning group), 19 people died within one year. If this group had the same prevalence of death as the dog owning group, only 3-4 people would have been expected to die within the year. This is a significant difference between the death rate of heart attack patients who own dogs and those who do not! The article abstract states that “These data confirm and extend previous findings relating pet ownership and social support to survival among patients with coronary artery disease.” (2)

Many people may have already heard about the hormone known as cortisol, which is a hormone found in higher levels when we’re experiencing higher-than-normal amounts of stress. Cortisol can work to increase blood pressure and cholesterol and hurt your immune system function as well, but people who spent time with dogs showed decreased levels of cortisol compared to their own levels before spending time with dogs. Along with reduced cortisol levels came lower blood pressure and lower “reactivity to stress.” (3)

The de-stressing advantages of spending time with pets are greatest for people who actually own and live with dogs, but their validity still stands for people who only spend time with dogs every now and then. For people who own dogs, the routine, responsibility, and constant companionship that comes along with caring for them every day can reduce risk or symptoms of depression and can also encourage dog-owners to get out and get active more as they take their dogs for walks when they may have otherwise chosen to say inside. (4)

For people who do not own dogs, getting to spend even a few minutes with a dog can still offer the greatest benefits of the adorable species: dogs seem to emanate a sense of unconditional and uncomplicated love that doesn’t care how you look or how stressed or tired you are. They love you no matter what and they’re just happy that you’re there to pet them and love them back. They offer social interaction without judgment or pressure to be or act a certain way, and just seeing the peaceful bliss that a gentle touch can bring to a puppy always makes me smile.

If you have the chance, try studying near the quad, where people who come to walk their dogs are often friendly enough to let me pet their little buddies as they pass. Or even better, visit a friend who has a dog for a winning combo of human and puppy social support.

In the meantime, take two minutes to watch one of the happiest chubby pugs I’ve ever seen get a bath from his dad. It made my day better, and you’ll be on your way to making it through exam week without sending your blood pressure through the roof!

Staying Fit During Finals – A Quick Read

Chances are, you’re reading this article when you should be studying for finals. Or finishing that final project. Or doing your laundry.

However your procrastination brought you to this article, we have an important message for you: stay active while studying for finals! Not at the exact same time, but by balancing fitness and study. You get the idea. We won’t keep you long.

Here are some of our most popular articles this semester. Brush up on your health knowledge to stay well under stress!

 Can Fitness Improve Your Memory?

 3 Foods to Avoid 

The Health Benefits of Taking a Walk 

 Quick and Healthy Breakfast Ideas 

Pencil in time for fitness too. UNC Campus Rec’s Calendar.

Wellness Wednesday: 4 Tips for Self-Compassion

by Sarah Donnell

Whether it’s exams, holidays, family, travel, finances, or just the persistent passage of time (aaah!) that takes our attention, this winter season can easily turn into a whirlwind of tending deadlines and the expectations or needs of others.  Of course, so much of that activity is necessary and pleasant (Completing projects!  Seeing loved ones! New Year’s resolutions!), but as the leaves fall off of the trees and the nights get long and quiet, I also like to follow nature’s lead and take some time to turn inward and rest.

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I’m not proud to say that most of the time I actually find it easier to be kind to others than to myself, and this can be particularly true around holiday times. When we are able to extend the same compassion to ourselves that we extend to others, though, everyone benefits.

Here are some ideas for cultivating self-compassion in this–or any–season:

1. Practice non-judegment.

Many of us are taught (explicitly and implicitly) that certain things are “good” to feel and be, while other things are “bad” to feel and be. Though we don’t need to indulge in or perpetuate harmful behaviors, judging ourselves harshly for how we feel or where we are (or aren’t) in life only digs us deeper into suffering.  Mindful non-judgment can interrupt that.  Practicing this can be as simple as noticing a feeling or a thought that’s happening (like “Whoa, I’m really jealous that my brother got that giant TV.”) without plastering positive or negative associations all over the thought/feeling and, consequently, yourself.

2. Reconnect with your body

Academic rigor, screens in our faces, hectic western culture—there are many reasons a lot of us get trapped in our heads.  Bringing awareness back to the physical experience of a moment can be a game changer.  This might happen in the form of an activity like taking a break to go for a walk, or it might just mean objectively noticing what’s happening in your body in response to a thought or feeling (like “Hm, when I hear Aunt Pat smack her dentures, my teeth clench and my throat gets tight”).

3. Treat yourself like you would a friend.

Would you tell a friend who did poorly on a test that they are worthless and can’t do anything right? Or “Welp, another bad date, huh?  You’ll probably be alone FOREVER.”  I doubt it.  What makes it okay for you to be a bad friend to yourself?  Experiment with changing the tone of your inner conversation to something more kind.

4. Allow for pauses.

I’m giving you permission to do nothing.  Try it.  This might mean not going out with old friends for the 5th night in a row when you’re tired and just want to snuggle up in your new fleece footie pajamas, or it might mean closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths in silence when you realize you were about to open up your Facebook newsfeed for the 16th time today. Try it.  If it feels difficult, ask yourself why.

These are just a few ideas/reminders.  For more detailed tips about mindfulness and starting a meditation practice, check out this post from earlier in the year.

Also, if you have tips for self-kindness that work for you, please share in the comments!

Wellness Wednesday blog posts are written by Student Wellness or Campus Health Services staff members. Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on healthyheels.wordpress.com

Prepare for Exams with Sleep

As we dive back into the last week of classes and then leap straight into exam week two days later, things are inevitably going to start feeling overwhelming. Cramming for exams and finishing final assignments quickly start to take priority over important things like good nutrition, exercise, and definitely sleep. Think of the classic image of the haggard college student at the end of finals week: crazy hair, puffy eyes nearly crazed from exhaustion, and jittery hands and an empty wallet from all of the money you just spent on coffee in the past seven days. This doesn’t have to be you.

We all know that somehow, when finals week arrives and you have long days to sit and cram, cram, cram, suddenly, inevitably, LITERALLY EVERYTHING looks like more fun than studying. That three hour block you were determined to devote to chemistry suddenly turns into vacuuming your room, doing laundry, checking your bank account online, and staring at Facebook with your mouth hanging open, so when you finally find your focus you stay up until the wee hours of the night, relying on caffeine and fear of failing to fuel your nocturnal academic rampages. As much as things can seem out of your control, all of these things are your choices, and today I encourage you to decide that this semester, you will choose to get enough sleep during finals week.

Research has shown many, many times that adequate sleep is essential for academic success from elementary school to grad school. The average adult still needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep, but I’d be that the average college student gets far less than that. Busy lives, and especially cell phones, are keeping us up later and later, swearing that we’ll “catch up” on sleep over the weekend and everything will be just fine. This is not a good or equal option! A person who sleeps four hours one night and twelve hours the next will still feel less rested, more irritable, and less focused than a person who sleeps for eight hours, two nights in a row.

A study completed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that higher test scores were related to better sleep quality, particularly when it comes to math! Higher scores on English exams were also associated with less nighttime awakenings among participants, showing that it is quality and not just quantity that matters. (1)

How can you improve your sleeping habits in order to improve your academic success?

• Even during exam week, try to plan a sleep schedule for yourself so that you’re going to bed and waking up around the same time each day, such as midnight-7 or 8am, for example.

• Don’t you dare study on your bed. This teaches your brain that your bed is a stressful place where you should be doing work, which is exactly the opposite of what you want.

• Reserve at least 20 minutes before you go to bed to do something relaxing, such as reading a non-academic book or just taking a shower to calm your brain down before you try to sleep.

• Don’t lay in bed staring at your phone in the dark right before you fall asleep. The light keeps your brain in “awake mode” and you’re once again wasting valuable sleep time on social media.

So you think you need a nap?

Naps can actually be great if you’re feeling run down in the middle of the day and you still need to get a lot done. However, the timing of your naps is important!

• A 10-20 minute power nap can help you jump right back into your work when you wake up without feeling too groggy.

• One hour naps can help refresh your mind in a way that makes it easier to work in a way that requires you to use “cognitive memory processing,” helping you to actually retain the information for that next exam.

• If you have the time, a 90-minute nap will allow you to complete a full sleep cycle and can help your memory as well as your creativity and energy to get that paper written once and for all. (2)

As I was reading through articles about the proven importance of sleep to academic success, my favorite sentence from any of the articles is this: “Sleep is not a luxury.” (3) You wouldn’t go through an entire exam week without eating or drinking because it’s not as important as passing your test, because food and water are necessities for life. Sleep is also a necessity! I would even argue that sleep is equally as important as having enough to eat when it comes to your potential for success on your exams. You’ll do worse on an exam if your stomach is growling and you’ve been thirsty for days, just as you will do worse if you’ve been avoiding sleep like the plague for the past week. It is your choice to focus instead of Facebook, your choice to study instead of procrastinate, and your choice to close your book at the end of the night, knowing that you’ve worked hard that day but that now is the time to rest. If you take all of the hours that you waste during exam week doing things that are completely unrelated to your exams and turn that time into sleep, you would be amazed at how much better you’ll feel and how much more successful you’ll be as we finish this semester. So let’s stop treating sleep like a luxury and start treating it like the necessity that it is. Your mind, body, and grades will thank you.

For anyone interested in learning more about how you can achieve academic success in upcoming semesters, check out this book entitled “Thriving in College AND Beyond: Research-Based Strategies for Academic Success and Personal Development,” available on Amazon.com for less than $5!

Health Alert: Your Cell Phone is a Pain in the Neck

Constant phone calls, late night text messages, and 24/7 connectedness – your smartphone probably requires constant attention, and keeping up with the device might be stressful at times. But new research suggests that your handheld gadget could be an actual pain in the neck by contributing to chronic neck pain.

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When you look down at your cell phone – or any handheld device – you flex your neck downwards. Using advanced software models, researchers in New York calculated the net weight exerted on the cervical (upper) spine at varying angles. When the head is in perfect posture – ears aligned with shoulders and shoulder blades retracted – the weight of the head is about 10 pounds on the upper spine. At 15 degrees, the net weight of the head on the spine increases to 27 pounds. At 30 degrees, your neck experiences 40 pounds of pressure from the head. At 45 degrees – the posture at which many people text – the weight of the head is a whopping 49 pounds.

According to the study, the average American spends an average of 2-4 hours a day in this hunched position. Over the course of a year, this accumulates to 700 – 1400 hours. Extra stress on the cervical spine over time contributes to premature wear and tear as well as degeneration. In other words, craning your neck downwards can hurt your upper spine and lead to permanent posture problems. You probably won’t look good or feel good if your cervical spine is damaged.

Read the study for yourself

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This week, make every day ThrowBACK Thursday and focus on maintaining proper posture with your head aligned with your spine. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the handheld devices that require us to look downwards, but we can make a conscious effort to improve our posture.

Ready to get fit from head to heel? UNC Campus Recreation has the perfect program for you! 

Images courtesy of Dawn.com and Dr. Ken Hansraj M.D.
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