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Archive for the ‘Health & Wellness’ Category

How Mindfulness Can Help Students in School

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Mindfulness

With the average high school student bombarded with constant information and social media overload, as well as frequent tests and the ever-present pressure to get into college, it’s no wonder that students report being stressed out. That’s why many schools are introducing a popular technique for stress reduction: practicing mindfulness as a way to slow down.

Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways, but most of them involve some form of meditation. You can do this by sitting in a comfortable position for five minutes or more and just trying to focus your attention on the present moment. Popular techniques include counting your breaths, observing the sensations in different parts of your body, or noticing the sounds in your environment. A common misconception is that meditation means emptying your mind of all thoughts. For most of us, though, that’s nearly impossible. Instead, the goal is to notice when a thought crosses your mind and then just bring your attention back to your breath or whatever it is you’ve decided to focus on.

Many teachers and students are finding that practicing mindfulness for even a few minutes every day can have a remarkable effect on students’ anxiety levels, making them calmer and more able to concentrate on a lesson, be creative or take a test. And best of all, it’s free and easy—anyone can do it at any time.

With all these great benefits, it’s no wonder mindfulness has become a buzzword in education. Mindful Schools, a non-profit organization that encourages schools to adopt mindfulness practices, has impacted more than 1.5 million students since 2007 by training teachers to bring mindfulness into their classrooms. And similar organizations are cropping up across the country to do the same.

According to Mindful Schools, numerous studies have shown that mindfulness can help improve students’ attention spans, increase the compassion they have for themselves and others, reduce levels of stress and make them better able to regulate their emotions.

The practice has shown to be especially helpful for students who have witnessed violence or experienced childhood trauma and are plagued by anxiety. In one study, researchers looked at 400 students in an elementary school in California, and after just five weeks of regular mindfulness practice, teachers reported that the students were more focused, caring and willing to participate in class.

Another study in the U.K. that looked at students age 12 to 16 who practiced mindfulness in school showed that it led to fewer depressive symptoms, lower stress and a greater sense of well-being.

Here at Educational Endeavors, our director, Stephen Weber, has also seen the benefits. “Mindfulness is a good tool for reducing stress and anxiety, and that’s good for being able to receive information and learn,” Stephen says.

Educational Endeavors started incorporating mindfulness training into our Ideal Student Workshop this year as a way of introducing the concept to students and showing them how they can try these techniques on their own whenever they feel they need to calm down and concentrate. And we started seeing results right away.

Our program manager, Erin Bosack, reported one instance that really stood out. “On day two we played an experiential learning game, and afterwards the students were really excited and chatty. Usually it would take them a while to wind down from the game and focus on the next lesson, but we did a mindfulness exercise and within minutes everyone was calm and ready to concentrate,” Erin says.

During the Ideal Student Workshop, students spent five minutes each day for the first four days trying a mindfulness technique. On the last day of the workshop, they reflected on the benefits they had noticed and discussed ways to incorporate these techniques into their daily lives.

“We talk a lot about how to develop keystone habits in the Ideal Student Workshop, and cultivating a regular mindfulness practice is one of those habits that is likely to have a domino effect. If you’re being mindful, you’re more likely to build the other academic habits we teach in the ISW, like managing your time, doing your homework, and staying organized,” Erin says. “If you can sit quietly for five minutes, that’s going to carry over to other parts of your life.”

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How to make healthy eating a part of your routine

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

 

healthy bfast

The other day I got a craving for a Potbelly sandwich at lunch time. I was driving back to the office after a meeting, and it would have been so easy to stop at Potbelly along the way.

I did a quick Google search to find all the Potbelly locations nearby, did some quick mental calculations about which restaurant had the easiest parking, and had all but made the decision to go when I remembered I had packed a pretty good lunch that day and it was waiting for me back at the office. My mind lingered for another minute on the sandwich I was craving, the bag of salty chips and can of refreshing soda I would get to accompany it. And then I let it go.

This decision actually felt pretty good – even better, I suspect, than it would have felt to give in to the craving and head to Potbelly. Back at the office I ate the packed lunch: leftover stuffed acorn squash from the previous night’s dinner, a cup of Greek yogurt, and a small piece of dark chocolate. This seemingly simple choice brought two kinds of satisfaction: 1) the lunch tasted good, and 2) I had stuck to a routine!

I think of myself as a pretty healthy eater. I eat a lot of organic fruits, vegetables and grains, very little meat, and few processed foods. I use coconut or olive oil for all my cooking. And at home, I’m pretty good at limiting my intake of bread, sweets, juices, and other refined sugars. But things can get dicey when I’m out and about during the day, which is almost every day of the week. With coffee shops full of breakfast pastries on every corner and the convenience of Chipotle, Potbelly, and so many other “fast casual” options where I may or may not make healthy choices, it really takes some discipline to keep the new year’s resolution I set for 2015: to pack a healthy breakfast and lunch for myself five days a week.

All of this brings me to the importance of two key factors when you want to maintain good eating habits: routine and reward. Let’s look at the value of routines first. Leo Babauta of the blog Zen Habits points out that routines create a structure that will give…

your day and your week a more ordered and calm feeling… Most importantly, [routine] puts you in control of your day, instead of putting you at the mercy of the ebb and flow of all incoming requests. Without a routine, we have no good way of saying “no” to requests as they come in, and we are at the beck and call of every person who wants our time and every website that wants our attention.

In the context I’ve been discussing I would replace “requests,” “people” and “websites” with “cravings” or “temptations.” If I don’t have a routine for packing and eating a healthy breakfast and lunch each day, then I will be at the “beck and call” or the mercy of whatever cravings my mind can create and whatever convenient foods are available.

Instead I have to grocery shop regularly, cook regularly, and wake up early regularly. Notice the keyword here. If I can make those things routines, packing my lunch will become a no-brainer and healthy eating will be more likely to happen.

I imagine some of you don’t like to cook. Or you have such busy lives that mornings are hectic even when you do wake up early. Or you are a teen reader and aren’t in charge of the grocery shopping. For all of you, I’d like to offer some tips for making healthy eating a routine in spite of those obstacles. I’m going to focus on breakfast since that’s the meal so many of us are likely to skip, and the one that is so important to our health and energy throughout the day. These tips are particularly good if you don’t feel hungry first thing in the morning and want to eat your breakfast a little later in the morning or on the go.

STEP ONE: Make a shopping list. If you’re a teen, make sure your parent knows what healthy items you’d like for breakfast each week. Consider putting these items on your shopping list:

  • Apples, bananas, oranges – easy to grab and go
  • String cheese – rBGH- & rBST-free if possible
  • Yogurt – Fage, Oikos, and Wallaby get high marks for health
  • Eggs – see prep suggestions below
  • Oatmeal – plain rolled or steel cut to avoid added sugars
  • Granola bars
  • Nuts
  • Chocolate chips
  • Raisins or other dried fruit
  • Protein powder – avoid soy-based products if possible

STEP TWO: Prepare any items that aren’t already “grab-and-go.” Consider these ideas:

  • Make some hardboiled eggs on Sunday night. Peel them and keep them covered in the fridge. Grab one or two on your way out the door and eat them when you get to work or school.
  • Make a big pot of oatmeal at the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge. There’s even an “overnight version” for steel cut oats you can make with only a few minutes of actual cooking time. Microwave a portion in the morning and put it in a thermos to take with you to work or school. Throw in some raisins or sliced apples to sweeten it up.
  • Make your own trail mix. Put all the items you want (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, etc.) into a big bowl and mix them up. Then distribute into small plastic bags so you can grab one to eat with a carton of yogurt or a piece of fruit while you’re on the go.
  • If you have time in the morning, a shake is a great way to start the day. In a blender I mix half a banana, a scoop of protein powder, a tablespoon of peanut butter and a half cup of water or almond milk (experiment with the liquid to get a consistency you like).

STEP THREE: For this whole system to work, you have to designate certain items as your breakfast food items. Label them or put them in a special spot in the fridge. Otherwise, if you’re anything like me, you (or your family members) will gobble up these items as snacks in the evening and you’ll run out of breakfast food by Wednesday.

STEP FOUR: Wake up early enough to pack the items.

The same basic steps apply to lunch and snacks; it all boils down to planning ahead and staying committed.

If you can get yourself into some healthy routines like these, the rewards will come as a natural result. For one thing, eating well feels good. There are the physical rewards like the pleasure of consuming tasty meals and the energy you feel when you are well-nourished. Then there’s the mental reward—the satisfaction I mentioned earlier when I chose to keep on driving past the Potbelly. There’s actually a calm that comes over me when I resolve to do the thing I said I was going to do. I just feel good about myself and am more likely to make other good choices in the future.

Finally, since this is the Learner Blog we can’t overlook rewards in the academic arena. Numerous studies have shown that both cognitive processes and behavior are improved amongst children who eat a healthy breakfast. Alissa Fleck summarizes the findings of many of these studies:

Breakfast is a crucial part of every child’s day. It affects everything from memory to creativity in the classroom. Children who go hungry are more inclined to become distracted from learning at school, or give up more easily when faced with challenges. Healthy, well-rounded breakfasts are best for a child’s maximum performance level.

Whether you’re a child or an adult, a student or a parent, make routines a part of your life for 2015. And please comment below to share what healthy snacks and meals you’re cooking up to reward yourself!

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Students’ Health & Wellness Matters

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Whether you set goals on a regular basis or just once per year, now is the time to envision your healthy lifestyle in 2015. This month on the Learner Blog we highlight the negative consequences that unhealthy habits can have on academic performance and social relationships. And we offer tips for making a healthy lifestyle easy, fun, and rewarding.

Drink Well: Your Brain Needs Water Not Soda

Most of the bottled drinks sold today–even those marketed as healthy–have little to no nutritional value and are in many cases even harmful to your health. That includes soda, juices, teas, and sports drinks. We won’t go into all the reasons why sugary drinks are bad for you. Instead, let’s look at why water is so important.

HealthyBrainForLife.com explains that “Dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, poor concentration and reduced cognitive abilities” and says that “even mild levels of dehydration can impact school performance.”

Are you ready to hydrate? Here’s an experiment that will get you drinking more water in no time.

What you’ll need:

  • an envelope
  • an empty bottle
  • a good cause

How it works:

  • For one month, every time you are about to buy a soda, juice, or sports drink, take the money you would have spent on that drink and put it in the envelope.
  • Then fill up your empty bottle with water (it’s free!) and drink that instead.
  • At the end of the month, donate the money you’ve collected to the good cause. It could be a charity you believe in, but it doesn’t have to be. Your good cause could be something personal like taking your mom out to lunch or stocking your pantry with healthy snacks!

Need more reasons to drink water? Read athlete and personal trainer Adam Pegg’s “Ten reasons why water is the ultimate health booster.”

 

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