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Top 3 Surprisingly Healthy Student Habits

I wanted to tell you that I'm so proud of everything you're juggling while studying and trying to do your best to see your friends and family, go to the gym, eat right and actually get more than six hours of sleep. Maybe you're an absolute rogue, trying to do a legal internship on top of it all and volunteering for a Community Legal Centre (CLC). Your expectations of yourself are high, and they should be. After all, you've got a lot of ambition and many things you want to get done. But what would you do if you could do them better and back your practices with something almost as deadly as your knowledge of the Constitution? Below we've included three top tips that will enable you to make tiny and surprising habits to help support your incredible work ethic and perform at your best.

1. Eccentric exercise

It's no secret that going to the gym or working out with your mates can feel like the last thing on your to-do list after a long day of studying, working and/or socialising- not me wondering if that disclaimer only applies to introverts with an unreliable social battery. Regardless, we know that exercise helps us de-stress, but a fact that may surprise you is that your exercise regime doesn't have to be intense to reap the benefits for your mental health and well-being.

You might think that running up a hill is better for you than jogging down, or that climbing a flight of stairs is going to challenge your muscles more intensively than taking the lift to the top of a tall building and walking down, but in fact, the opposite is true.

But what is eccentric exercise? Dr Mosley confirms that eccentric exercises involve muscle groups that are elongated (as you go downstairs or lower the weights). To further support the benefits of eccentric exercise, Tony Kay is a professor at the University of Northampton studying biomechanics. Professor Kay explains that all forms of exercise create microscopic damage in the muscle. Furthermore, the greater the damage, the more calories the body burns after the exercise has been performed. Increasing your overall metabolic rate and strength.

In one study, there were two groups tasked with walking either up or down a flight of stairs in a building. Although both groups experienced improvements in their physical health, the experimental group had superior resting heart rates and a noticeable improvement in their insulin sensitivity, blood fat levels and bone density. Prior to learning this, I wouldn't have known how low maintenance and beneficial eccentric exercise is. But more importantly, how easy it would be to fit into my daily routine. This is especially true if your campus is essentially a miniature city *ahem* UNSW students.

2. Play video-games

I'll admit that when I read this tip, I immediately felt justified in jumping on STEAM playing Goose Game or finally playing The Last of Us since it recently dropped on Netflix. Do I feel incentivised? Yes, I will probably go play video games after studying for our legal hypothetical this week- also, yes. But I want to know, what's the science behind this, and what are the benefits? Cognitive Neuroscientist Daphne Bavelier is a professor at the University of Geneva, specialising in the study of video games and behaviour.

The right games enhance how well you pay attention, and improve perception (how well you see and hear), and [participants] show a marked improvement in special cognition, working memory and the ability to multitask.

What I find ironic about the cognitive benefits of playing video games is that seemingly "mindless" behaviours such as video gaming are often viewed as a major time and or procrastination hole. But to know that the above-mentioned benefits, including relaxation, and assisting with multiple tasks, is pretty amazing. Improvements in working memory, eh? Suddenly I can't remember a single reason why I don't need a PS5.

3. Read a fiction book

Yesterday, I was talking to my friend about experiencing anxiety whilst studying law and perpetually hustling throughout the entire degree. I think one of the things I grappled with a lot in the first year was how to keep my personality and make time for doing the things I loved, even though I didn't feel like I couldn't effortlessly balance keeping up with the workload and having hobbies. Funnily enough, I never thought that I would want to keep reading fiction outside of all of the assigned textbook readings. But looking back and even now, it feels amazing to escape into a different reality. Even better still, reading a fiction book helps your brain in more ways than one.

Researchers at Stanford University scanned the brains of participants whilst they were reading Jane Austen (an excellent choice, if I may add). I will also quite happily read The Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), so I wouldn't take my book recommendations too seriously. They witnessed an increase in blood flow throughout areas of the brain, demonstrating that reading fiction acts as a whole brain workout.

Furthermore, a different study conducted by Psychology professor Dr Raymond Mar at York University, located in Toronto, confirmed that

reading fiction can boost your empathy and interpersonal skills because the part of the brain that we use to understand stories overlap with the ones we use to understand other people. It essentially helps our brains get better at predicting what people may think, feel and do.

That makes sense, but what I also didn't see coming was that reading fiction and indulging in that invariable escapism may reduce an avid reader's risk of depression since Dr Mar states that anxiety is all about having attention focused inwardly- but since we're in a different world when we read this can 'take us out of our head and help us relax.' The health benefits of reading fiction cannot be understated. Further research from Yale University found that those who read for 30 minutes a day lived approximately two years longer than those who spent the same about of time watching television.

In conclusion, as busy as University gets, I hope you make a point of taking regular breaks to do eccentric exercises, improve your ability to multitask and escape into a different world. You don't have to lose your personality in your degree or sacrifice your hobbies. In fact, I would encourage you to be quite deliberate about what, where, when, and to whom you devote your time. You don't have to do it all, and you will drop the ball at some point, and that's okay. I hope you have a productive and restful week, be kind to yourself.


Reference List

[1] Dr Michael Mosley, Just One Thing (Hachette Australia, 1st ed, 2022).

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