Mind-Body Secrets for College Success - Six Key Secrets

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Embrace the secrets of the body-mind connection and tap into an inexhaustible supply of power and energy leading to your college success. College is a demanding challenge. The role of the physical body is key to peak performance. This secret tool allows us to summon the full measure of our brainpower and talent on demand without hesitation. Strong study habits and academic discipline are most productive when performed by a brain and a body well fueled and precisely tuned. Six key secrets of mind-body performance are nutrition (do's and don'ts), hydration, exercise, sleep and true relaxation.

Secret #1?Focused Nutrition_____ Superior brainpower requires high quality fuel. The brain is fueled by oxygenation, hydration and proper nutrition, namely carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are transformed into glycogen within the body, fueling the muscles and the brain. The brain uses 50% of the body's available glycogen and even more when under stress (like during exams). Despite protein's reputation as "brain food", complex carbohydrates are a far superior fuel. Aim for a mix of 2/3 complex carbohydrates and 1/3 protein in your meals and snacks. The best strategy to fuel the brain is to begin the day with a complex carbohydrate rich breakfast and then eat lightly and nutritiously; 'grazing' throughout the day. Be sure to keep the brain well supplied with another 'nutrient': water.

Secret #2?Diet Downfalls_____ Despite the popularity of low- carb weight-loss plans, one of the largest contributors to poor mental performance is a diet low in complex carbohydrates. Yet, avoiding certain types of food supports high-level brain functioning. Sugary, fatty, and many protein heavy foods are poor quality brain fuel. Sugar increases anxiety while providing a jittery, scattered rush of energy, followed by a dramatic crash in energy, thinking ability and sometimes mood. Fats and protein slow the brain and create foggy thinking. It is much better to save the cheeseburger or steak until after the exam or power-study session.

Secret #3?Ample Hydration_____ Proper hydration is another secret component to boosting brainpower. Brain tissue itself is 85% water, and the brain is quite sensitive to dehydration. Ample hydration allows the brain to function most efficiently, much like grease on gears. Conversely, dehydration slows the brain and is a major factor in fatigue. Reach for a tall glass of spring water rather than a caffeinated beverage, as it will serve you better as a student needing energy and focus. Conservative and judicious use of caffeine can be a useful study aid, but more often it is overused or abused and has an overall negative effect on performance. Be aware that coffee is especially dehydrating. For maximum benefit drink 48-64 ounces of water per day. The benefits extend far beyond boosting your brainpower to support the health of your entire being.

Secret #4?Essential Exercise_____ Exercise nourishes the brain with oxygen while cleansing the body of performance damaging chemicals. Exercise relieves the body of stress and it's by-products to create clearer, more creative thinking. Exercise trains the body to handle stress as well as aiding in recovering from stress. Stress itself is not bad. Stress creates growth (mental, physical and emotional), yet the growth occurs during a recovery period. Exercise addresses both sides of this equation; it can relax as well as increase stress capacity. This is especially true when the form of exercise is carefully chosen to create a specific effect. For example, a kickbox-aerobics class or long run may be the best choice when you feel dull and sluggish or frustrated and irritable. Yoga, Chi Gung or a nature walk help soothe nerves and re- focus the mind when you feel pressured or anxious. There is a physiology to our emotions and it is well established that we learn and perform better when we feel good. Exercise is a major key to peak performance that powerfully supports academic and personal success both in college and in life.

Secret #5?Quality Sleep_____ We underestimate the importance of quality sleep and true relaxation on our success. However, it is essential. We need at least seven hours sleep for peak performance. Naps are great, but not as a substitute for regular sleep. Studies actually show that "early to bed, early to rise" really does create success. This may be quite a challenge at school, but keep it in mind.

Secret #6?Deep Relaxation_____ College success can be derailed by the wrong kind of relaxation. While socializing and 'partying' has it's traditional place in college life, they do not fulfill the requirements of "deep relaxation." Highly personal, develop your own repertoire of spirit-feeding, body-soothing activities like nature walks, playing an instrument, inspirational reading, deep breathing exercises, star-gazing, meditating or yoga practice. Eventually you will be able to precisely read your body's signals and take meaningful action to enhance your talents and abilities despite any outer stress or circumstance.

Most advice about achieving college success is centered on developing excellent study habits. While academic discipline and strong study habits are indisputably key factors in college success, there is a powerful 'secret tool' at work at the very foundation of all our efforts. Achieving meaningful success at college, both academically and personally, requires a holistic approach. All mental and emotional strategies we may employ are deeply affected by our core foundation: the physical body.

Copyright 2005 Karen B. Cohen

Karen B. Cohen is a performance and wellness coach living in a college town in rural Virginia. She works frequently with the faculty and students at Washington and Lee University. Most recently Karen presented "New Paradigms in Modern Leadership" as part of the "Lessons in Leadership" seminar series at W&L. She is available for seminars, workshops and individual coaching, and can be reached through her latest project (

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