Keys to a healthy lifestyle

Wellness Series emphasizes the importance of good sleep and proper nutrition

Students gathered once again for a Wellness Series presentation Thursday, March 31 by Liberty’s registered dietitian Kristina DiSanto. The presentation was titled, “The Brain Necessities: Sleep & Nutrition.”

DiSanto addressed the consequences of not sleeping and not getting proper nutrition,especially for college students who generally keep busy and push things like sleep to the back burner.

“At universities, people are low on sleep and high on stress,” DiSanto said. “Sleep affects all aspects of our lives — what we eat (and) how we act.”

FUEL — Students learned how essential sleep and nutritious eating are to a college student’s health. Photo credit: Shannon Ritter

FUEL — Students learned how essential sleep and nutritious eating are to a college student’s health. Photo credit: Shannon Ritter

A lack of sleep, she said, contributes to forgetfulness, fatigue, moodiness, weight gain, impaired judgment, aging of skin and even depression.

DiSanto said many people do not realize the importance of getting a proper amount of sleep, which is between seven and nine hours a night.

“Sleep protects our mental health, physical health and emotional health,” DiSanto said. “It helps with repair in our bodies when we need to recover.”

Getting good sleep strengthens the immune system, which is why a student will catch a cold after not sleeping much, according to DiSanto.

Finally, proper sleep also aids in memory consolidation, where the information that the brain took in throughout the day is moved from short-term memory to long-term memory while sleeping.

“Pulling an all-nighter the night before an exam is pretty much the worst thing ever because you won’t retain any of the information,” DiSanto said.

She gave students a few tips for getting better sleep, such as aiming for seven to nine hours per night and maintaining sleep consistency, meaning going to bed and getting up around the same time every day. DiSanto said she personally puts all her screens (phone, laptop, tablet, etc.) away one hour before it is time for her to go to bed.

“Nutrition is the other aspect,” DiSanto said. “(Sleep and nutrition) really do go hand in hand.”

She described the consequences of the body constantly getting poor nutrition, such as reduced immunity, impaired physical, mental and emotional development, increased susceptibility to disease, and decreased energy levels.

“We’ve all been there, and we just don’t feel good,” DiSanto said. “We feel sluggish mentally and physically. It also affects us emotionally because we feel bad about ourselves afterwards.”

Nutrition, she said, affects the brain’s ability to think, learn, remember, focus and stay alert. DiSanto then described the essentials to proper nutrition: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

“Carbohydrates are the most essential thing for our brain, so don’t ever go on a no-carb diet,” DiSanto said. “Carbs don’t make you fat. The problem is in the portions. Portion size is a really important factor, and as a country, our portions are really skewed right now.”

Good carbohydrates to consume include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, quinoa, potatoes, beans and carrots. She said as far as proteins go, it is important to choose lean sources of protein, to consume a variety of different ones day by day, and to aim for around 30 grams of protein each sitting.

“Now, it’s a little different after a workout,” DiSanto said. “You only need about 15 grams of protein. You need a good combination of carbs, proteins and fats to get that absorption and for your body to start repairing itself.”

Finally, healthy fats are also important, according to DiSanto, such as avocados, nuts, fish, seeds, eggs, yogurt and cooking with extra virgin olive oil. She said to avoid fried foods and to consume baked goods in moderation.

The last step in DiSanto’s presentation was hydration.

“(Good) hydration helps keep those brain cells going, and (they are) less effective if you are dehydrated,” DiSanto said. “(It) affects your focus and reflexes. We don’t think about it much, but if you’re dehydrated, your reflexes are way off and it’s just not good.”

She added that proper hydration supplies energy for the brain and helps it to think clearly and quickly. DiSanto said students should drink half of their body weight in ounces of water every day. She also suggested making clear goals to drink enough water each day.

Megan Long, who works for Liberty and has attended the Wellness Series previously, said she found this presentation to be very helpful, especially the section about hydration. She said what she learned will affect her daily life.

“(It affects) the choices I make, the food I eat, (and) the time I set aside for sleep,” Long said. “It really encouraged me to take ownership of my health, and it felt like it gave me the tools I needed to succeed in that.”

The next Wellness Series, “Eat Healthy on a Budget,” will take place April 5 from 5:30-6:15 p.m. at the Terrace Conference Room in the Jerry Falwell Library.

RITTER is a news reporter.

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