Learning can be fun, even as an adult, but sometimes you need to take it seriously. Adults face greater constraints in terms of how much time and resources they can allocate towards learning. The stakes can also be higher, as they study something in order to do better on the job or advance their careers.
Serious learning calls for discipline, and a controlled environment. Unfortunately, it often gets bumped down to a lower priority among the other responsibilities and concerns in adult life. As a result, adult learners devote less focus to their studies and suffer poorer outcomes.
There are many factors that can affect how well you learn. But if you approach learning like an athlete trains, you’ll realize that what’s important is focusing on those you can control. And just like athletic training, that starts with physical factors: sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
Get enough sleep
Among athletes, it’s well-known that recovery is crucial to performance. Tired muscles practically cry out for rest. Pushing past muscular fatigue leads to injury. And the body can’t build more muscle in response to training stimulus unless it has an adequate recovery period.
Similar principles are invoked in the learning process. The brain is a more complex organ, making it difficult to study. But current research holds that learning and memory take place through the functions of acquisition, consolidation, and recall. And that vital middle step of consolidation is strongly linked to the times when we’re asleep.
Specifically, we seem to need deep, restorative sleep, as well as REM sleep (the stage when dreams occur most frequently). Power naps won’t be nearly as effective. And that’s a problem area for most adults. Our lives are full of stress and stimuli. Worries and devices contrive to keep us up at night.
Increasing your exposure to natural light can help regulate your circadian rhythms. If your partner’s sleep cycle is out of sync with your own, a dual temp bed can help you both. And make a habit of putting away your devices at least an hour before bedtime.
Committing to increased exercise
Exercise, by definition, is part of an athlete’s training. But any athlete can tell you that there’s a world of difference between warm-ups, practice sessions, and real competition.
When you’re trying to boost your learning outcomes, you don’t have to worry about the stress of competing on an athletic level. You don’t have to push your workouts in terms of intensity. But you do need to get in the groove through increased physical activity.
Studies have shown that students who take time to be physically active during the day will have better academic performance. The relationship is strongest in mathematics and reading, which require a high level of executive functioning.
In the long term, exercise continues to have a positive effect on cognition and mental health. Increasing intensity also seems to improve those benefits.
We often use our hectic schedules and heavy workloads to excuse ourselves from working out more often. But stress can often make days seem busier than they are. Manage your time effectively, and you’ll find that you can spare at least half an hour for exercise.
Once you commit to exercising, it will boost your mood and performance. You can get things done more efficiently, handle stress better, and empower your brain to process new information.
Ensure proper nutrition
The last core piece of the physical puzzle is your diet. No modern athlete will train without also giving serious consideration to what they eat. They are mindful of portion size, nutrient content, and even the timing of their consumption, as it can really affect performance and training gains.
Adult learning doesn’t require such a high level of micro-management. But there’s evidence that certain nutrients are particularly beneficial to cognitive function. Their absence or deficiency in your diet can be detrimental to your efforts to learn.
You can consume more fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants, such as blueberries and spinach. Soy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds also offer similar benefits. Foods such as salmon with a high omega-3 fatty acid content are also good for your brainpower.
But rather than rely on specific foods as a sort of panacea or memory booster, you can experience greater benefits simply by adhering to a healthy diet. Cut the junk food out of your life. Your overall health will improve, and you’ll learn more effectively in the process.
If you’re serious about learning as an adult, study like an athlete trains. You’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve just by focusing on the basics and things you can control.