Category Archives: Health and Wellbeing

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Keeping the balance – Get Active

Partying is so much more fun when you’ve done enough cardio to dance all night. Keeping active is one of the ways that you will be able to stay focused throughout your studies. Having some sort of balance is very important but often overlooked. University is where you have a choice to develop either healthy or unhealthy habits, most of the time it ends up being unhealthy. Break this cycle and start getting active as soon as you get to uni this year!

Getting active in groups is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to socialise. Joining one of UC’s social sport groups, or something more niche like the climbing club or the tramping club will get you exercising but also meeting new people.

During my first semester; I wasn’t active enough at all. I just went out, went to class and went to work. No exercise that I went out of my way to do. Things changed the following semester, I slowly got more involved in rec centre classes like Zumba and Pilates with my flatmates. It’s fun to go in a group and it made me feel a lot more balanced. The rec centre is a fantastic resource, and it’s completely free for UC students. You do need to register on your first visit but after that you’re good to go for a year. Pretty much everyone has an activity or class that will appeal to them so get amongst it.

2020 was when I got back into skiing. I always associated this activity with my parents but making friends who like heading up to Mt Hutt changed all this. I’m not a gym rat but I love being outside and in Christchurch we have pretty much everything you could ever want available to you. There are great bike tracks in the port hills, bottle lake forest, McLeans island and the adventure park. Walks are pretty much everywhere. My personal favourites are the uphill climb at the adventure park and doing Rapaki on a warm day. Pegasus beach is great if you have a dog, and you can’t really go wrong with a walk around Hagley Park and Mona Vale.

Make the most of everything we’ve got around us.

How micronutrients help under stress (4 min read)

Stress and neurotransmitters

When we are under high stress, we can often reach for foods that are “comforting” like biscuits, donuts, cake, pastries, and chocolate bars, but these foods may not be the best choice for feeding your brain under stressful and demanding circumstances. Comfort foods are calorie-rich but nutrient-poor.

Further, under high stress we release adrenaline. This is part of our natural alarm response system. Adrenaline is an essential neurotransmitter that is released as part of the fight-flight response. It enables our body to get us to safety, shut down non-essential functions, and make sure the muscles needed for flight or flight get activated. Cortisol, a hormone, is also essential for the alarm system to function optimally.

Unfortunately, over extended periods of time, the alarm system can go into over-drive, and this is one factor that can lead to re-experiencing memories, flashbacks, hypervigilance, being on edge all the time, feeling anxious and panicky when reminded of the traumatic event, struggling with sleeping and having nightmares.

Neurotransmitters and micronutrients

Making neurotransmitters and hormones requires micronutrients like zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron, and niacin. If your body is depleted of these nutrients, then either it won’t have sufficient nutrients to make these essential chemicals, or it will redirect all resources to the fight-flight response (as it is so vital for survival) and there won’t be much left for ensuring optimal brain function to do things like concentrate, regulate moods and deal with anxiety.

Consequently, as micronutrients get depleted at a high rate during times of stress, we need to replenish them in greater quantity from our food (and perhaps other sources).

Restocking your micronutrients

Compare a banana to a biscuit; one obtains far more of these micronutrients (like potassium, magnesium, folate) that are required for brain function from a banana. Reaching for a carrot stick and dipping it in hummus would be better for your brain than gorging down a commercial meat pie (although meat pies can be healthy if they contain lots of vegetables too). Choosing nuts and seeds over pretzels would also give you better brain food.

Question: where can we get micronutrients from?

Answer: nutrient-dense foods – that is, real food, not highly processed foods.

Overall, to cope well with stress, your goal should be to increase intake of plant food and food high in nutrient density while still getting adequate protein, fats and carbs. Fish is a great source of protein and of essential fatty acids, which are also vital for brain function. In eating these types of foods, you would be shifting your diet from a Western type of diet (highly processed, high in sugar) to a Mediterranean-style diet (high in fruits and veggies, fish, nuts, healthy fats and low in processed foods).

The simplest (and most cost effective) way to get your essential nutrients is to ensure you eat different types and colours of food. Have a look at your plate…what’s the predominant colour? Sadly, those delicious comfort foods like donuts, chips and bread tend to be yellow and brown, meaning a lot of refined sugar and fat, providing very little nutrition. Eat your greens, reds, purples and oranges first, then if you’re still craving that donut, you’ll be good to go.


Professor Julia Rucklidge

School of Psychology, Speech and Hearing

Director of the Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group