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Healthy Habits that Boost School Performance

Do better in school by adopting six healthy habits.

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Eat your veggies

A nutritious diet nourishes the learning brain. In particular, the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables seem to promote healthy brain function. That was evident in a new study of more than 16,000 students at 40 U.S. colleges. Students who ate plenty of fruits and veggies had higher GPAs than those who didn’t. The difference was modest—less than a quarter of a point, on average. But that’s a good return for something that doesn’t require spending any extra time in the library.

Break a sweat

Being in good physical shape isn’t just helpful for climbing the rope in PE. It may boost grades in other classes, too. Studies have shown that physically active students tend to outscore their classmates at every age, from elementary school through college. In one recent study, for example, sixth- and ninth-graders who scored well on a fitness assessment also did better on math and social studies tests, compared to less fit students.

Grab some breakfast

Mom was right: Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, at least as far as academic performance is concerned. Research has shown that eating a healthy breakfast is associated with better memory and fewer missed schooldays. In a study by Dutch researchers, students ages 11 to 18 who skipped breakfast had lower grades, on average, than those who ate the meal. It’s no coincidence that the breakfast skippers also reported having more trouble paying attention.

Meditate on it

Meditation calms the mind and sharpens mental focus. Those effects may come in handy when learning new material or taking a test. In a recent study, college students who meditated before a psychology lecture did better on a quiz afterward than those who didn’t meditate. One noteworthy thing is that the students took part in just six minutes of meditation exercises. With more extensive practice, they might have seen even greater benefits.

Get an A with zzzs

Forget staying up late to cram for a big test. Lack of sleep only makes it harder to listen, learn, recall information, and solve problems. In research involving more than 500 high school students, those who sacrificed sleep for extra study time had more trouble understanding what was taught in class the next day. They were also more likely to have difficulty with tests and assignments.

Wash your hands

Students can’t learn in school if they aren’t there, and hand washing cuts down on illness-related absences. Researchers from Northwestern University put this commonsense notion to the test in pre-K through eighth-grade classes at two Chicago schools. All students had access to soap and hand sanitizer. In addition, some teachers gave brief lessons on hand washing, and school absences were decreased in their classes during flu season.

The CliffsNotes version: For students of every age, the same good habits that promote physical health also support academic success.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a writer who specializes in health, psychology, and the intersection between the two. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.