Today’s guest post is from Larry Opalewski, lawyer and author of “The Bar Exam Trainer.” Welcome, Larry!
When preparing for the bar exam, everyone knows that you need to spend many hours learning the law. Most also know that you should create a daily schedule to ensure that you make the best use of your bar prep time. But what many bar preppers don’t know or don’t act on is that how you take care of your body during bar prep has a direct effect on how effectively your brain learns and recalls information. Below, I will show you why your lifestyle is critically important during your bar prep.
Exercise – It’s Not Just for Your Muscles!
Everybody knows that exercise is good for you. Exercise is so ubiquitous in our society that we take it for granted that exercise helps to keep us healthy, in shape, and looking good. What many people don’t know is that exercise keeps your brain healthy and helps you learn. This makes it an essential part of your bar exam training program.
One study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia found that exercise, even for brief periods of time, helps to improve your information processing and your memory functions. Obviously, both of those things come in handy during bar prep. Exercise also helps you sleep. A study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity concluded that people sleep significantly better at night and feel more alert during the day when they get about 150 minutes of exercise per week.Getting plenty of sleep is also vital to your bar prep.
On the flip side, not only does exercise boost your brain, and therefore, your ability to learn the law, but also there is strong evidence that lack of exercise actually harms your brain. Some types of exercise boost the production of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is primarily responsible for feelings of pleasure that you experience. Thus, it is often called the “feel good” hormone. It can also help you stay concentrated and motivated to achieve certain goals or finish certain tasks. Some of the effects of a lack of dopamine can include depressed moods, lack of ability to concentrate, and restlessness. In terms of exercise, there is direct relationship between a lack of exercise and a lack of dopamine in your brain. And obviously, it’s harder to study when you’re moody, restless, and unable to concentrate.
But obviously you don’t have time to become a world-class athlete while studying for the bar, so what exercise should you do during bar prep?
First, it should be pointed out that there are no exercises that are “bad” for your brain. If you exercise too intensely too close to studying, fatigue might temporarily impair your learning, but that just has to do with the incorrect intensity, not any particular workout.
While I could write another thousand words on workouts during bar prep, the one type of exercise that will likely give you the most benefit while studying for the bar is cardio. Any type of cardio will do, whether jogging, walking, biking, or a dance program like Zumba. While it is beyond the scope of this article, know that regular cardio will improve blood flow to your brain, and even repair damaged brain cells! It is a great way to boost your brain function while studying.
For me, the best time to do cardio during bar prep was first thing in the morning. Most reasonably fit bar preppers would benefit greatly from 30 minutes of mild-intensity cardio 3-4 times per week. If you need to start slower, that’s ok! Just as with studying, even a little bit is better than nothing. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to work out in the morning, find a time that works for you. Exercise is a vital resource to boost your brain function.
Food for Thought
You’ve likely heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” While most people apply that to eating healthy for physical benefits, it applies just as strongly to your brain. Research has shown that the kind of food we eat has a powerful impact on how our brain works, good or bad. For example, a diet containing higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to support cognitive function, including learning and memory, while a diet containing higher doses of saturated fats has been shown to reduce cognitive function and increase neurological dysfunction. Further, a UCLA study has shown that antioxidants and folic acid both enhance brain function as well.
So what foods should you eat while you’re studying for the bar? This is more basic than you might think. Essentially, eat more of the food you know is good for you. Fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Dark leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli are a good source of folic acid. Avocado and other vegetables provides a good amount of Vitamin E. Beans also help stabilize your glucose levels, which is what your brain uses for fuel. For salty snacks, peanuts and almonds provide healthy fats and protein, and sunflower seeds also provide Vitamin E.
Just as importantly, avoid foods that will slow down your body and your brain. First, avoid high-sugar foods. Think cookies, candy, soda, “fruit” juices, high-sugar protein bars, etc. Bad sugar inhibits your ability to learn and should be largely avoided during your bar prep. Another obvious no-no is foods that are high in saturated fats. These make your body and brain go haywire in too many ways to cover in this short article, but suffice to say that if you’re chowing down on a big bag of potato chips while studying, you’re making it harder for your brain to learn. Foods high in saturated fats can also leave you feeling sluggish, moody, and foggy. Foods that have too much salt also inhibit your cognitive function. So while it’s a good idea to enjoy some sunflower seeds while studying, make sure to not use more than a small dusting of salt.
As you can see above, lifestyle is a vital and often overlooked part of bar prep. Diet and exercise are only a portion of what goes into making sure you are functioning at as close to 100% as possible during your studying. While the big bar prep companies are fantastic at providing you with the law, it can be difficult to find resources on an optimized bar prep lifestyle. If you would like to learn more about how to optimize your lifestyle for bar prep, visit me at www.thebarexamtrainer.com.
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Larry Opalewski is the author of the new book “The Bar Exam Trainer,” the first book exclusively dedicated to the optimized bar prep lifestyle. You can find the book exclusively at amazon.com. He also offers bar prep lifestyle coaching to a limited number of clients. Larry practices law in Detroit, Michigan. He specializes in federal and state litigation. You can visit him at www.thebarexamtrainer.com or follow him on Twitter @barexamtrainer.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Can Taking a Break Save Your MBE Score?
- What You Can Do Now to Prepare for the Bar Exam
- Help! I am too Anxious to Study
- Should You Start Thinking About Your Bar Exam Mental State Now?
Photo credit: Larry Opalewski