Wellness has been identified as an integral part of learning. Teachers, staff and children in Hong Kong schools are finding ways to make wellness a regular part of each day and the results have been extremely positive. Your children may have come home from school mentioning “mindfulness moments”, a 10 minute period when they all sit quietly and calmly to reflect upon the day. The impact of this simple act is measurable and can result in more focused learning.
While schools may be currently concentrating on mental well-being, the other three pillars of wellness are also important to consider. The four pillars of wellness are mental well-being, sleep, nutrition and exercise.
Mental wellness is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community (World Health Organization).” Children are being taught ways to relax and focus at school by using reflection time and mindfulness.
There are many ways to improve mental wellness and some of them are related to the other pillars of wellness such as getting a full night of sleep, eating a healthy diet and keeping yourself active.
Sleep affects every system in your body and is fundamental to maintaining mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety. Additionally, sleep is inextricably interwoven with the other three Pillars of Health – nutrition, mental wellness and exercise. Lack of sleep increases hunger, decreases awareness and cognitive function and adversely affects the desire to exercise.
Babies, children and teens need significantly more sleep than adults to support their rapid mental and physical development. One of the reasons it’s so hard to know when our kids are getting insufficient sleep is that drowsy children don’t necessarily slow down the way we do – they wind up. In fact, sleepiness can look like symptoms of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children often act as if they’re not tired, resisting bedtime and becoming hyper as the evening goes on. All this can happen because the child is overtired.
If you want to improve the quality of your life, improve the quality of your sleep. For optimal health, the number of hours an individual needs for sleep varies.
For growing children, the impact of good nutrition is far more significant than for adults since their brains are still developing and changing. Nutrients like healthy fats, protein, complex carbohydrates, micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) and water are essential in supporting all the important functions of the brain.
What’s the best fat for brain health and learning? Omega-3 oils from foods like fish, nuts, seeds and dark leafy greens are the best fats for the learning brain.
What role does protein play in learning? Protein provides amino acids which are the building blocks of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers of the brain. In this way, proteins are crucial to brain function. Eating sufficient protein not only supports brain function, it also helps avoid issues such as poor concentration and memory.
Legumes, nuts, seeds, quinoa, oats, cheese, fish, chicken and other quality sourced meats all provide protein.
Carbohydrates – Sugar, fiber and starch While the brain does require glucose (sugar) to function, too much sugar or refined carbohydrates at one time can actually deprive your brain of glucose. Eating sugar provides a boost in energy but excessive sugar consumption can cause bursts of energy followed by fidgeting, headaches, trouble concentrating or drowsiness.
These days, a lot of processed sugar makes its way into our diets because it is added to so many foods. Extra sugar in our diets from processed foods like deli meat, bread and most pre-made sauces and snacks, results in obesity, diabetes and increases the risk of heart disease. This is a serious threat to overall health.
Along with fruits and vegetables, whole grains such as whole wheat bread, rye, barley and quinoa are complex carbohydrates. These are better choices than highly refined white bread, French fries, cookies and processed foods in packages. Complex carbohydrates also contain fiber which helps the body slowly absorb the sugar in the food.
Exercise has countless health benefits and is crucial to well-being. There is strong scientific evidence that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and happier life. People who do regular physical activity have a lower risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers.
Research shows that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy. The opposite is also true in that sedentary behaviour, such as sitting or lying down for long periods, is bad for your health and raises your risk for those diseases.
Children ages 6 and up should get a minimum of 1 hour of physical activity every day, according to CDC guidelines. It doesn’t all have to be done at once and keep in mind most kids get this amount of exercise from playing outside with friends during and after school.
Prioritising wellness in schools is crucial to help children grow into well-adapted and happy individuals.
Featured image by Shutterstock; image 1 courtesy of Sleep Foundation; image 3 courtesy of Shutterstock