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Skills for the Summer

The summer period gives ample opportunity to develop several hobbies that are both enjoyable and useful in the long-term. There are also many resources online that make more things accessible; from painting, fitness, or designing a website. Hobbies that can provide transferable skills to take into an academic or corporate environment are essential to personal development. In this post, I have rounded up several skills that one can take up – and potentially master – in a month. These range from more creative tasks (which can introduce a new interest in artistic pursuit) to practical tasks, that can develop your digital aptitude. The summer holidays are an ideal time to expand one’s interests in different areas, alongside gaining skills that will aid you throughout life.

 

  1. Learning Basic Code – The benefits of coding are greatly overstated but certainly true. Coding gives people the opportunity to learn how to build simple website designs and games, as well as refining logic and problem-solving abilities. Non-profit foundation org is helpful for coding novices. It provides a great starting point with lots of useful online resources. Code Monster is a great resource for young kids to teach them different coding commands and what they do. Coding can unlock the door for a greater interest in computing and digital design.

 

  1. Learning a Foreign Language – Although many students will encounter more than one foreign language in their primary and secondary school curriculum, the summer is the perfect time to brush up on our linguistic skills. One can also learn a new language through online resources such as DuoLingo or even through private tuition. Communication is an essential skill and knowing more than one language encourages education on different cultures and practises.

 

  1. Volunteering – Although the current situation has left limited options when it comes to face-to-face interactions, there are various opportunities to still volunteer and help out in our local communities. Emailing non-profit social organisations shows initiative towards getting involved with different social causes. In our new ‘Zoom’ climate, one can also volunteer tutoring services to younger students, offering academic help through voice or video call.

 

  1. Photography – The art of photography is special in that its canvas is the world around us, and its tool is non-specific; one can use a DSLR camera or phone camera. There are so many tutorials online to learn basic portraiture, landscape photography, or fashion photography. The members of your household can act as models when you need some inspiration!

 Although I have only suggested four, there is a seemingly endless list of skills you can try out. This online page has compiled a huge comprehensive list for those who want to choose more than a couple of activities. Remember, the aim is not always to master, but to keep practising beyond the summer months!

 

 

Beat the Heat! Ways to Stay Cool this Summer

The drastic (but very welcome) rise in temperature this week has led to small changes in daily routine. Going out for exercise feels torturous under the glaring heat; working at a desk feels uncomfortable in the sticky humidity. BBC Weather has reported that this sweltering heat is the hottest August we have seen in 17 years, as temperatures have reached around 36° Celsius. Finding motivation in a heatwave and within a pandemic seems like a Herculean task. It is clear that “productivity levels have slumped as the heat affects the nation’s diet, routine and sleep patterns” (The Independent). However, small but key changes can be made to accommodate for any weather, but specifically the British summer.

 

Eat Cool to Stay Cool – Surprisingly, eating spicy food will cool you down through inducing you to sweat more. A recent Independent article spoke to nutritionist Daniel O’Shaughnessy about other foods that can help beat the heat, such as soup, spinach, and turmeric for its anti-inflammatory effects. Although soup is a traditional winter dish, O’Shaughnessy speaks about the benefits of its consumption specifically in the evenings. Another easy hack to stay cool is to drink lots of water – infused with cucumber, melon, or celery for taste. Dehydration is definitely a possibility in this heat, so it is important to keep drinking water (or hot drinks, they help too) throughout the day.

 

Sponge and Cool – A study conducted at the University of Sydney, as reported by Huffington Post, suggests that dabbing water to your chest, legs, back, and arms can increase comfort in extreme heat. This is a useful trick to use when you are studying or doing zoom tuition over the summer holidays. Taking small breaks to hydrate and apply water prove to be most effective.

 

“The study’s results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found applying water to these areas of the body improved comfort during a heatwave, in addition to lowering cardiovascular strain and reducing the rate of dehydration.” – HuffPost

 

Check your Setting – It can be difficult to find a spot to chill, literally, when your house lets a lot of sunlight in. To keep rooms as cool as possible, shut your curtains or blinds when you’re not in the room. Sometimes, it is cooler outside so adhere to social distancing and find a shady spot in a nearby park.

 

There are rare and few moments where we get weather that resembles anything close to tropical so make the most of the sunshine, with home barbeques, socially distanced picnics, or just good old-fashioned water fights. Enjoy the weather!

Why is food so important for your brain to function?

Introduction

The human brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy. In fact, our brains use more energy than any other organ. Where does this energy come from? Food. Food is our brain’s “fuel” and what constitutes this “fuel” makes a significant difference not only to our cognitive function, but also to our overall health (Selhub, 2016).  A nutritious and balanced diet is pertinent in ensuring that our brain functions at its best. Therefore, by focussing our attention on the foods we eat, and maximising our nutrient intake, we are able support both our short-term and long-term brain function. Ultimately, the “fuel” we ingest impacts how our brains perform physically, emotionally and academically.

 

What foods should I eat?

There’s no magic formula which gives us the ‘ideal’ combination of foods to boost our brain function (Avery, 2020). Instead, one must focus on balance.

High-quality foods that should be incorporated into our diet include: fatty acids, antioxidants, and a range of vitamins and minerals. These all protect our brain from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the production of waste products known as ‘free radicals’ in our body. These waste products arise naturally when the body uses oxygen, and can damage our brain cells. Here are some examples of high-quality foods that are beneficial for our mind and bodies and why:

 

FOOD IMPORTANCE
Green vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale, broccoli) High in vitamin K, folate, lutein and beta-carotene.

 

These nutrients have shown to slow cognitive decline (Morris et al. 2016)

Fatty fish (e.g. sardines, salmon, cod) High in omega-3 fatty acids.

 

These fatty acids are essential to the formation of brain tissue and improve cognitive function (Bauer et al. 2014)

Berries Contains large amounts of flavonoids

 

Consuming flavonoids is associated with improved cognition (Miller et al, 2018) and improved memory (Avery, 2020)

Nuts High in omega-3 fatty acids (same reasons as above)
Turmeric Contains the active compound curcumin which has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits on the brain.

 

In animals, turmeric has shown to cause improved learning and memory (Khalid et al. 2017)

 

Low-quality foods on the other hand are often highly processed and refined. They tend have a low fibre content and are often digested quickly. Quick digestion means we experience fluctuations in our blood glucose levels which can be harmful to brain health, as well as affect our mood. Refined foods, specifically sugar, have also shown to promote inflammation and oxidative stress.

 

Impact of food on emotional and mental health

So far, we have mainly looked at the benefits of nutrition on cognition and it’s easy to forget the variety of other benefits a healthy and balanced diet provides us with. Of course, what we eat impacts our physical health. Studies have shown that there is also an association between food and our mental health and wellbeing (Mental Health Foundation, 2018). For example, a study by Parletta et al. (2017) showed that a Mediterranean-style diet (high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, fish etc.) was associated with reduced depression amongst participants. This was sustained for 6 months after the intervention. The significance of nutrition in childhood has also been widely studied. Poorer diets which predominantly constitute of poor-quality foods (e.g. with high levels of refined sugars, saturated fats etc.) are associated with experiences of poorer mental health in children and adolescents.

Nevertheless, the association between food and mental health is complex and indeed, nutritional psychiatry is a rapidly evolving field of research. The key thing to take away is that how we feel can impact how we behave, and therefore how we approach demanding tasks such as our academic work.

 

Conclusion

For the majority of us, there are probably quite a few dietary improvements we can think of which would be beneficial to our health. It’s important to recognise that it is never too late to amend our diets, or that of our children. Ultimately, the “You are what you eat” saying is highly relevant in nourishing our brains and small daily changes will amount to large improvements for the long-term!

 

References

Eva Selhub, 2016: Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

Aspen Avery, 2020: How Nutrition Impacts the Brain and Mental Health

https://thewholeu.uw.edu/2020/03/02/nnm-2020-nutrition-and-the-brain/

Morris et al, 2016: Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline

https://n.neurology.org/content/90/3/e214

Bauer et al, 2014: Omega-3 Supplementation improves cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24470182/

Miller et al, 2018 (Dietary Blueberry Improves Cognition Among Older Adults in a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28283823/

Khalid et al. 2017: Pharmacological Effects of Turmeric on Learning, Memory and Expression of Muscarinic Receptor Genes (M1, M3 and M5) in Stress-induced Mouse Model

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28302036/

Mental Health Foundation, 2018:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/d/diet-and-mental-health

 

 

 

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