Put your health first

In a previous post, we spoke about mental health and the importance of setting boundaries. Closely related to that is the issue of physical health. As we mentioned, there is a strong link between a healthy mind and a healthy body. In much the same way that creating boundaries is important, so too is making time for exercise and putting your health first.

Don’t fall into the dangerous trap of neglecting physical health while you study. Setting aside just 20 minutes a day will be a worthwhile investment to help you to concentrate and focus better when you do study. Watching what you eat is vital too, so we’ve covered some healthy foods and unhealthy foods for brain health.

Further on we’ll cover the benefits of exercise to your brain and body to encourage you to try out some home exercise routines such as Pilates, callisthenics, skipping rope and the Japanese towel exercise. If you are nearby to any of the three University of Pretoria campuses, you can also make use of the Tuks gym and join one of the many UP sports societies.

Healthy food for your brain

Maintaining a healthy diet when studying online is easy to do and you have little excuse for not eating healthily. You can cook for yourself and keep your fridge and kitchen stocked with healthy food to keep your brain well fuelled for your study sessions.

Healthy food

These foods are great for your general health and for boosting your brain.

  • oily fish
  • dark chocolate
  • avocado
  • broccoli
  • berries
  • nuts and seeds
  • kale
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • coffee

Food to avoid

A healthy diet is as much about avoiding certain foods as it is about choosing healthy ones. The following food and drinks can be detrimental to your studies and should at least be limited in your weekly diet:

  • sugary drinks
  • foods with lots of sugar
  • greasy foods
  • fried foods
  • trans fats
  • carbohydrates
  • fish with a high mercury content (tuna)

Exercise – good for the brain and body

Getting regular exercise has many benefits and knock-on effects. Just exercising for 20 minutes can boost information processing and memory functions.

If we experience stress during the day, our bodies pump out adrenaline putting us into a “fight or flight” mode. Having exercise allows you to “burn” off that adrenaline and stress buildup in your body. This also helps us sleep better in the evening as we go to bed with our bodies tired and relaxed.

Exercise also helps to boost your mood, thanks to the release of “feel-good brain chemicals“, which help keep you motivated while you study. The increase in energy levels will also help you to better cope with the stress of exams and assignments.

Easy home exercise routines

Circumstances don’t always allow us to get outside to enjoy the fresh air and some sunlight, but fortunately, you can still get all the exercise you need within your own home. There are many different routines that you can do at home to get your blood flowing and your muscles working. While we may have laughed about the mere idea just two years ago, there are now many different online fitness classes that you can join, which can help with motivation.

Try out these easy home exercise routines to get your blood pumping and to give you the aerobic exercise you need to perform at your best.


Callisthenics exercises (or callisthenics in US English) are designed to make use of your own body weight. Pushups, crunch exercises, sit-ups and pull-ups are some well-known forms of callisthenics. They prove that you don’t need expensive equipment to keep in shape and make use of simple things like a pull-up bar or an armchair to give you a thorough workout.

Try these links for some introductory courses and lessons:

Skipping rope

This is a simple and quick way to work up a sweat. Although very simple, skipping rope is an effective way to get good aerobic exercise in a short time. As we’ve covered, exercise is good for brain health, but skipping rope is especially so. According to some claims, the very best workouts for brain health involve coordination, rhythm and strategy.

Try these links for some introductory courses and lessons:


Pilates is a popular way to keep in shape that you can do at home. While there are some routines that use specialised Pilates equipment, you can still do a full session at home with a mat. Pilates will increase your flexibility and muscle tone, but you should still also do some aerobic exercise to increase your heart rate. It is also good for your posture, which is important when at your desk for long periods at a time.

Try these links for some introductory courses and lessons:

Japanese towel exercise

Here’s a simple home exercise routine you may not have heard about. All this requires is a towel and a mat to lie down on. This method was created by Toshiki Fukutsudzi, a Japanese doctor and specialist in reflexology and massage. The exercise aims to strengthen the core muscles, overcome bad posture, reduce back pain and shrink the waist. This can help immensely for people who are at their desks working and studying much of the day, but like with Pilates, it’s recommended to also work other aerobic exercises into your weekly fitness regime.

Try these links for some introductory courses and lessons:

UP gym

As an enrolled student with the University of Pretoria, you can make use of UP’s gym facilities at three campuses. At the time of writing, the gym is still limited by Covid-19 safety regulations, but these are likely to ease in the coming months. If you live nearby, then have a look at the following links to see what is on offer:

UP sports societies:

The University of Pretoria has a very proud sporting tradition, having trained and coached many of South Africa’s 2021 Olympic team. That said, you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to benefit from joining a sports club. As well as being an opportunity to get that all-important exercise, joining a sports club is a great way for online students to meet people and get some social interaction.

Look at the TuksSport website to see all the sports on offer.