How can health influence learning?
We often think about the abilities and disabilities associated with learning, but we also need to consider how our own health contributes to this process. Here are various ways in how can health influence learning and how poor health impact education and general learning process.
- Nutrition impacts learning. Children develop cognitive abilities at a greater rate when they get enough of certain nutrients found in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy foods. It’s important for both mothers and children to eat well during pregnancy and the early years because the foundation for good habits is built then. Eating healthy foods and limiting TV time and video game play help students concentrate better and perform at higher levels. But we need to realize that malnutrition slows thinking and interferes with our ability to learn.
- Our brains need exercise, too. Like all of the body’s muscles, the brain works better and faster when it is used regularly and given a variety of challenges and opportunities to think on its feet. Engaging in mental activities throughout life can boost memory as we age. Learning a second language or how to play an instrument are some ways students can stimulate their brains so they work at peak performance.
- Sleep deprivation impairs learning. Getting enough sleep is critical for students’ success in school because they need adequate rest to fully engage in learning activities that take place during the day. Chronic sleep loss puts adolescents at risk for mood disorders that can interfere with concentration, motivation and memory. Chronic sleep loss has also been associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and school absenteeism.
- Managing stress is a key factor in learning. We all know that some stress can be good because it motivates us to accomplish goals and provides the impetus for students to study harder so they perform well on exams or complete class projects. But chronic, unrelieved stress over time wears out our nervous system and can lead to health problems as well as decrease performance at work and school by interfering with concentration and motivation. The Foundation’s Stress Less program teaches teens how to deal with life’s pressures more effectively through relaxation exercises and other evidence-based approaches that help them feel calmer and less stressed out.
- A positive attitude impacts learning. As students approach learning tasks, their beliefs about how well they can do—their self-efficacy – help them decide whether or not to try new things and what strategies they will use if a task is too challenging. Believing that you can master a challenge improves your chances for success. On the other hand, low expectations lead some students to disengage from learning activities and give up easily. Focus on building resilience in children from an early age so they overcome disappointments and setbacks with confidence.
- Exercise boosts mood and enhances cognitive abilities. Students who exercise routinely consistently perform better on tests of memory and attention than those who are sedentary. One reason is because regular exercise prompts increased flow which carries more oxygen to all parts of the body, including the brain.
- Emotional health is key to learning. Negative emotions like anger, anxiety and substance abuse interfere with students’ ability to learn because they cannot focus or pay attention for long periods of time. Children who are easily overwhelmed by frustration, sadness or anxiety may withdraw from activities that require effort and concentration. A child’s inability to cope with stress increases impulsivity that may lead them to choose unhealthy coping options such as trying drugs or engaging in self-harming behaviors. On the other hand, positive emotional experiences can increase curiosity and drive for mastery of new skills which enhances learning abilities.
- Harnessing motivation increases success. When kids find something interesting and exciting about a subject they will be motivated to learn more about it. Learning how to find something interesting in the subjects they are studying enhances students’ persistence and performance on tests of achievement. For example, if a student is having trouble understanding basic math concepts, instead of giving up or not trying new approaches to solving problems, providing activities based on real life examples of math applications can help them break through barriers and increase their chances for success.
- The brain craves novelty. When students try new things – a different way of solving an equation or dressing for school weather that requires bundling up – it sends signals to the brain that this new approach is just as good as the old way. However, when people do the same thing over and over again without stopping to try something new, the brain becomes bored and less responsive.
- Students need positive feedback when learning something new. As learners gain confidence in their abilities they progress faster toward mastery. Giving them praise for their effort rather than ability helps increase their motivation to do more because they know how hard they are working to improve skills as math or penmanship.
- The brain is a learning machine. It continues to form new connections between neurons—the brain cells that receive messages – all through our lives if we keep challenging it with new material. Scientists have even observed that older brains have more ‘gray matter’ which reflects an increase in density of neuron cell bodies as we age. In addition, as scientists learn more about how the mind works, they discover these facts:
- Practice has a bigger impact on performance than innate ability does. If you want students to achieve their full potential, helping them to expand their knowledge base through practice will produce better results than making excuses or focusing solely on how talented they are at certain skills like math or science.
- Memory is affected by the way information is encoded . Learning involves taking in new information and storing it as memory. Encoding occurs at three levels: sensory (what we see, hear, taste and touch), short-term (the last thing we’re thinking about) and long-term memory (recollection of ideas, concepts and general knowledge). Practices that help students to encode assignments in a variety of ways can enhance how well they learn.
How does education affect health?
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We know how can good health influence learning from the above points. In this section, we will investigate the question of how does education influence health and wellbeing.
There are many factors that influence health (see the earlier point about education influencing health). These include genetics, physical environment (e.g., clean water), individual behaviour (smoking, drinking alcohol) and social circumstances (poverty, family life). All these factors can be influenced by an individual’s education status. Education provides knowledge of healthy living practices, safe environments and how to be independent by taking responsibility for one’s own decisions. This means that the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to think independently about their choices and take responsibility for them.
An example to demonstrate the above point: a study conducted in India found that there were higher rates of female malnutrition and mortality among those who had been child brides compared to those who had not been. Further education reduced the likelihood of being married as a child bride, but also those with more education experienced lower levels of undernourishment and mortality as a result of being less likely to accept such early marriage practices.
Another example is smoking. The more educated a person is, the more likely they are to have knowledge about how smoking affects their health and be conscious that it may cause death. According to this , ‘The prevalence rate for smoking was nearly twice as high among adults with no formal schooling compared with those who received at least some secondary school education. The prevalence of smoking also increased with decreasing levels of formal education, from those who had completed at least some secondary schooling to those with a primary school education. In the same study, approximately 80% of smokers cited stress as a major reason for smoking‘.
In summary, those who have been educated about health and wellbeing are more likely to care about their health and do something about it. Although there is often a time delay between being educated on an issue and changing behaviour as a result of this education, it can be seen that the sort of behaviour changes mentioned above (e.g., smoking) would not occur if people hadn’t first become more educated.
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