Basic Training: Lessons for Student Life

Hi there!

This is my good friend Conor. We met at Trinity College Orientation Week 2014 and have been buddies since. Among other things, Conor and I share a passion for physical activity and education, and we share teaching responsibilities for a Bootcamp class at UofT.


My buddy Conor is one of the most intelligent and honest people I know, and he is always able to provide the best advice!

This week I sat down with Conor to discuss the four pillars of the HealthyU mandate (MoveU, SafeU, HappyU and FuelU). I am always eager to hear Conor’s perspective on important issues, because his life experiences include being a full-time student, a fitness instructor, and Military Maritime Surface Officer with the Royal Canadian Navy.

Mostly, I was interested to know how Conor applies some of the techniques and teachings he has received from the military in his life as a student. I learned a bunch of new military jargon; concepts that have considerable applicability to student life too. Here I’ve pieced together our conversation:

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Goodnight moon

“When do you find time to sleep!?” people often ask me. (I like to keep busy). My response is usually something like “Sleep finds time for me”. Truly, since first year, my sleep schedule has become increasingly erratic. I find myself sleeping when [if] I have time, or when my body has just given up being awake and forces me into shutdown mode. Some weeks I get 8+ hours a night; others I’d be lucky to have 8 hours across the whole week. Sometimes I’m asleep by 10pm, other times I’m asleep by noon. This is not healthy.

Facebook timeline moment: Charles is in a Relationship with Sleep and it's Complicated.

Granted, we have no clue what sleep is for. Really. Scientists are baffled. But we don’t need science to tell us that a lack of sleep and a sleep schedule is bad. It might sound okay to be able to flexibly sleep whenever the time arises, but it also means sometimes sleeping through classes, feeling unrested for tests, difficulties with concentration and memory, and other nasty things. (My friends are also getting tired of receiving “Good morning” Snapchat messages at 4pm on a Monday). In short: I need to start sleeping like a more regular person. Especially with midterms on the rise.

(Well, like a regular student anyway. I don’t mind staying up late every now and then, but I can’t let a nap from 2pm to 5pm on a Monday be my only sleep until Thursday).

Two panel comic: at night, student frets about how much he has to do next day. Then, next day, falls asleep because he spent all night worrying.

Don’t worry, be nappy. [source]

So I’ve decided to take pro-active steps toward sleeping better. And who better to help than the scientists from MIT? Here are some of their tips I’ll be following for the rest of the term.

  1. Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bedtime; eat dinner early. This can be hard when I’ve got a 6-9pm class I need to slog through, but I’ll do my best to replace coffee and sodas with water and fruit, and to avoid snacking at midnight and beyond.
  2. Establish a pre-sleep routine. Guiltily, I don’t have any regular routine around falling asleep, which is probably my problem. When I was young, I’d regularly fall asleep listening to golf playing on TV down the hall. Maybe I’ll finally make good use of my radio.
  3. Keep your internal clock set with a regular sleep schedule. I don’t think I’ve seen the words “regular sleep schedule” without an “ir-” in front. This is probably my worst sleep vice: sometimes I’m up all night and asleep during the day. I’ll sleep during any hour on the clock, when I should be setting a window of time aside for sleep alone.
  4. Light affects your sleep patterns, so let light in first thing in the morning and get sun during the day. Admittedly, my blinds are usually closed to keep light out for the very reason that it helps me wake up when I want to sleep. But, if I want to get my schedule on track, I’ll probably have to leave them open and deal with this notion of “morning”. (And re-installing f.lux wouldn’t be a bad idea either).
  5. Keep your bedroom for sleep and sex. Well, this one’s a little more difficult because all I’ve got right now is a bedroom in a shared house: I do nearly everything in that room. But, while I can’t designate my bedroom for those things alone, I can try and do more things outside my room: studying in offices and libraries, eating in the ever-vulnerable shared kitchen.

All that, plus a little bedtime story couldn’t help…

What about you? How do you manage to keep sleep on your side?
Give me your tips in the comments below!
(If I don’t reply, I’m hopefully zzzzz)


Uh oh, I slept through my final exam!

“Mum, I slept through my final exam.”

Of all the horrors film can provide, and no matter what craziness happened on Friday night at the Hart House of Horrors Halloween Party, this will forever be one of my life’s more terrifying moments.

It was 2009, and after a rough term, I was woefully behind in my studies and tried to cram to the point where I ended up asleep on my bedroom floor. By the time I arrived at the Test and Exam Centre, it was too late.

I admit this is a First World problem, but when university feels like your whole world, one’s perspective gets distorted.

I’m not telling you this to frighten you. My goal is just to impress upon you the importance of sleep.

“But Sarah,” you may say, “finals are more than a month away! Why tell me this now?”

Because, if you’re like me, this time of year is when the rubber hits the road: tests have come and gone with more on the way. Essays and labs are due soon. Not to mention that any extra-curricular obligations still carry on in spite of your heavier workload.

If ever there was a time to consider skipping sleep hours, it’d be now.

Source, Flickr ,Lily Monster (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Source, Flickr ,Lily Monster (CC BY-NC 2.0)

We know that feeling well-rested makes us feel better about life in general. Our friends at Harvard tell us that sleep can also help with learning and memory, before and after learning a new task. So sleeping after a study session can help you remember what you learned or reviewed, and make it easier to get more learning done the following day. You also will be less likely to fall asleep in class and more likely to pay attention and take good notes.

But how much is enough? According to the Mayo Clinic, adults (yes, we do fit into that category, as scary an idea as that is) should be getting 7-8 hours a night, but more if we’re sleep deprived, which is probably most of us.

Is napping ok? As long as it’s short (20 – 30 minutes), it shouldn’t interfere with your nighttime sleep. The National Sleep Foundation has some great napping tips and suggestions for improving your nighttime sleep, too.

It’s easy to forgo sleep when deadlines creep closer, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not worth it. As much as you may think 7 hours of sleep would be better spent studying, you don’t want to end up fast asleep on your floor when you should be acing an exam.

Take it from me – get to sleep before the lack of sleep gets you! You will feel so much better for it.

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee: A Search for an Alternative around Kensington Market

Like most students, I absolutely love coffee. Although I am not a PSL drinker (if you don’t know what that is, pat yourself on the back), I do love my vanilla lattes and cappuccinos. Recently, however, I have been drinking more, most likely to substitute for my old nicotine addiction…

Whether it is a cappuccino,

Whether it is a cappuccino,

Or an ice cap...

Or an ice cap…

or good-old tasty residence coffee...

or good-old tasty residence coffee…

I love my coffee <3

I love my coffee <3

However, when I had one of those notorious “coffee migraines” this week after not having my morning coffee, I knew this habit was no longer in moderation.

Me off Caffeine

And so, when I was at the lovely Aunties and Uncles for some, well, coffee, I decided to go walk around Kensington Market for a healthy alternative.

But here is the thing: I am not the most intelligent person around when it comes to food in the green, red, and orange colour categories.

When I walked into these markets that had vegetables and green things that looked like vegetables, I just got plain confused.

blog 5

I found miniature trees!

What is that? Are those the tasteless leaves people put in soap?

What is that? Are those the tasteless leaves people put in soap?

I didn't know they had vegan dog treats.

I didn’t know they had vegan dog treats.

I was just shocked by all the colours, the variety, and the health smell of the place. I left pretty quickly to find only THIS:

blog 7

Indeed, the patriarchy is in healthy doses at Kensington Market. So with my options limited (because of course, I made them limited), I just went to buy some apples and walked home.

But then a funny thing happened. As I was eating one of these lovely red apples on my way back, I realized I was not crashing like I usually did before my second cup. So I looked it up and found out that although apples do not have the same stimulation as coffee, they give you more energy (i.e. calories, vitamins and minerals)!. They also contain 4g of fiber, which helps you feel full and energized for longer. An apple a day keeps the coffee away, am I right?

So tasty, so cheap, and so much energy?

So tasty, so cheap, and so much energy?

“So did you give up coffee, Haley?”

No, dear reader, I have not and nor do I plan to. But what I am trying to do is put my coffee drinking into moderation. Quitting smoking sucks, but I still need to maintain a healthy balance. Now my body has gotten used to being without nicotine (four weeks free, hurrah!). Organs take time to heal it seems, especially the brain.

And so, if you are searching for a healthy (and cheap) alternative to your potentially unhealthy lifestyle, check out the Health and Wellness’ 5-Buck Lunch happening next Wednesday, October 29th from 11:45am-2pm at Hart House (Great Hall)

Here are the slightly verbose details:

5-Buck Lunch is a culinary voyage around the U of T universe that doesn’t empty your wallet! Experience the tastes, sights and sounds of your university while enjoying a fantastic meal.

OMG I want to go on a culinary voyage!

Alright, all for now,


Student hacks: The Sleep Edition

Oh, the romanticization of the coffee-addicted student who sacrifices their sweet slumber at the expense of marks. It is no secret that at some point during the semester, many students will lose sleep over their assignments and exams.  But let’s face it, sleep deprivation is awful—so awful that it is technique of torture! Lack of sleep leaves me feeling run-down, blunted and unmotivated. Realistically though, getting less hours of sleep is often unavoidable for students because of our busy lifestyle that sometimes feels like we’re juggling eggs on a unicycle.

As you may realize if you’ve been following my posts, I love all things efficient and self-experimental. So I’ve decided to look into hacking my sleep using different methods to optimize my time awake and asleep. Here are my results in a nutshell (and yes, they’re all quite subjective).


Sometimes we’re all a little tired.

1: Lucid Dreaming to Accelerate Motor Skill Acquisition

What is this about? Dr. Dax Urbszat, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto describes lucid dreaming as “the act of being conscious—or what others would call “awake”—while dreaming”. Basically, lucid dreaming entails being aware that you’re in a dream state while sleep, which enables you to control your dreams. Studies have shown practicing a motor skill in a lucid dream can speed up its acquisition1.

The experiment: I play squash a lot and I like learning different techniques to improve my game. One of these is the power serve. However, I have a lot of difficulty with bringing my racquet behind my head and snapping it to the front to hit the ball and actually put power behind my serve. So, I decided to induce lucid dreaming 3x a week for 4 weeks and practice this specific move in my sleep. If you want to try lucid dreaming as well, here’s a how-to guide. (link:

Results: The hardest part of this experiment is actually inducing a lucid dream state, which takes some practice. Overall, I think it did help me refine my technique faster. By the end of the second week, my squash partner observed that I snapped the racquet back a certain way that I hadn’t done before without prior rehearsal except during my dreams. I wouldn’t recommend dreaming lucidly too often though, because it leaves you feeling faintly like you haven’t slept.

2: Placebo Sleep

What is this about? A new study (link: has shown that people who were told they slept better performed better on cognitive tasks (whether or not they actually did sleep better).

The experiment: Over a period of a month, whenever I got less than 8 hours sleep, or felt tired, I told myself that I actually got high quality sleep and felt rested. I also picked out a friend who I would tell upon seeing him that he looked like he had gotten a great night’s sleep.

Results: This only worked if I believed what I was telling myself. Some days I was so tired that it was hard to convince myself. As for my friend, he told me he felt a bit more energetic when I told him that he looked like he had a good night’s sleep, even when he said he was tired (Note to self:  don’t tell friends that they look tired, when they look tiredJ).

3. Actual Sleep

What is this about? There comes a time at 3am when I ask myself whether I should keep studying and pull an all-nighter, or go to sleep with what I know and go to the exam as well-rested as possible

The experiment: If I view the past 3 years of my student career as an experiment, then I can say that I’ve done repeated trials of seeing the outcomes of staying up and pulling an all-nighter, or going to an exam well-rested.

Results: I do much better going to an exam well-rested. The fact is information that you’ve learnt consolidates in your brain while you’re sleeping, so it’s important to let it seep in while you sleep!

Do you get enough sleep or do you feel sleep deprived? What are your sleep tips and tricks? Let me know below!


Staying active while sick 101

If you’ve gone outside within the last few weeks, then you’re aware of how brutal the weather is in Toronto. This means many students are getting sick. Sadly, I am one of said students. For many university students, catching a cold per semester is practically a tradition. Sadly, when I’m sick, I tend to put my life on hold until I get better.

Being sick can be a bit of a hindrance when trying to keep up with my goals, but it’s not the end of the world. I’ve found that with  exercise, the usual lethargy  that comes with  having a cold tends to go away. Being sick doesn’t mean that I need to stop everything I’m doing but instead, just change my pace,

Here are my tips on staying  active while fighting a  cold:

1) Stretch, Stretch, and Stretch.
No, seriously, stretch as much as you can. Even if it means touching your toes and lifting up your arms, warming up your muscles can alleviate symptoms of soreness in your body. Even though having a cold means full-on exhaustion, I personally find that by stretching, I regain some of that lost energy and feel less lethargic.

Once I’m feeling a bit better,  I’ll try a drop-in  exercise class on campus. I’m aiming for a class like Stretch Works, which happens on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the Athletic Centre (Free for all U of T students). I find that  getting out of bed and moving my body makes me feel  better mentally and  physically.

2) Buddy Up!
Of course, having a cold makes you want to isolate yourself and create a blanket fort in your room. Well, at least for me. But why not create a buddy system and make plans to hit the Hart House gym after class, just for a half hour or so? I’m planning on going to a drop-in class with another bed-ridden friend of mine this week. We can encourage  one another to leave our rooms and hit the gym! An exercise session with a friend   can benefit  your studies too! Physical activity helps me to focus on  schoolwork afterward. Believe me, with all of the drowsiness and brain fog caused by this nasty bug, focus is needed right now!

3) Rest
Call it a day, or call it a night—getting rest  is an  important element  in the recovery process. I know that I tend to be a night owl, but I also know that I need to defy the typical university student sleep schedule and go to bed early.  I start my day with  stretching to energize myself, and I end with more stretching  to calm myself down. When it comes to stretching before bed, this is when I  focus on yoga moves such as Pigeon Pose, where I stretch one leg out and back, and then lunge my other leg while bending it toward my inner thigh. Doing yoga  before bed  helps prepare me for the next day by releasing tension from my body. I can already feel myself calming down just  thinking of the poses I’ll do!. Namaste!


Even when  sick, it’s still possible to boost your  energy with exercise!

My dear readers: how do you stay active while recovering from a cold?


New Year, New Resolutions.

It’s 2014. Second semester has already started and I’m still trying to settle in. Along with my two full-year courses, I’ve got three new half-year courses, so my schedule has completely changed. And speaking of change, my schedule isn’t the only thing getting an overhaul. My goals have changed too. I know, it’s typical for everyone to make a few resolutions at the beginning of the year, and also to drop them after a few weeks, but this year I’m a little more hopeful.

My reaction to every new years resolution making before 2014. – VIA BILLBOARD.TUMBLR.COM

During the holidays, I took some time to reflect on my last semester and my attempts to establish a healthier lifestyle. I made a jumpstart on my aspiration to make a total 180 by getting out there and being active.I signed up for a Pilates class at the Athletic Centre. I made a pact to go to the gym at least once a week, and conquered the ever-so-despised plank. That was only the beginning. With the new year, I’ve come prepared with new, yet realistic, goals that I hope to achieve by the end of the semester. My goals for 2014 are as follows:

1) Try out a new exercise class.
With the second semester starting and all, I’ve been a bit inspired by the #tryitUofT campaign celebrating January as the month to get into new clubs and events. When it comes to exercise, I am craving a new approach. I’ve always stuck to slow, relaxation exercises, like yoga and Pilates. I think it’s now time to try something new. Now that doesn’t mean that I will quit Pilates— I mean, that whole semester spent doing planks wasn’t all for naught. I plan to keep up my relaxation exercises, along with my crazy dancing when I’m in my dorm, and in the gym.

I’ve been looking into martial arts, to even quirky classes like archery. Oh the many options that Hart House and the Athletic Centre at U of T has to offer!

2) Eat healthier
First semester was all about getting off my butt and moving my body. Second semester is still going to be about that, but it will also be about finding balance with the meals that nourish and energize my body. This is especially important after workouts, when I need my muscles to recover. I’ve realized how important eating healthy is; I find it affects my stamina when I have to move around all day. If I want to achieve my new goals, I need to start treating myself better.

Most of all, I don’t want to have a mid-day slump. I want to be able to be energized going into the gym and relaxed going out of it.

For inspiration, I took a look at fellow Student Life, and Health & Wellness, blogger Gloria’s post on mindful eating.

3) Go to the gym three times a week
Last semester was all about getting rid of the fear of going to the gym alone and exercising in public, and honestly, even though there are some days when I find myself slipping back to those thoughts, I’ve never once regretted going to the gym. Now it’s time to bump it up from going to the gym casually to making my commitment official.

4) No More Sleeping In
Oh my, sleep is a wonderful thing. Sleeping in is even better. But it’s a time-costing luxury that gets in the way of doing my work, and being an active person. Just like eating healthy, sleeping well is another goal that isn’t directly connected to being more active, but plays a huge role in the quality of exercise I get. So I want to be able to get to sleep earlier, and wake up earlier. I don’t want to go to the gym in the evenings, but instead, I want to start off my day by going to the gym first! That old expression, “you snooze, you lose” has never been this relevant!

What I used to think about sleeping. – VIA THETEENAGEGENTLEMAN.TUMBLR.COM

So far, these are my “healthy” goals for this semester.

Care to share your resolutions for 2014?

Staying Productive Over the Holidays

They say that what really defeated Hannibal Barca in his war against ancient Rome was the winter he spent at Capua. His soldiers became soft. They ate and drank and slept and relaxed, and when spring came around they were unfit for the tough demands of soldiering. I think you know where this is going . . . 

The Holidays are upon us! Well, soon. And over our nearly month-long break, it is tempting, tempting, tempting to throw away all cares and concerns and succumb to complete mental and physical abandon. OOH YES!!

BUT doing so tends to make returning from the Holidays much more arduous. Luckily, there is a beautiful word and a wonderful idea that relates to this exact predicament:


A healthy balance between relaxation and reasonable productivity is exactly what the Holidays call for.  Here’s what I do:

Sleep . . . in.

I sprawl in bed throughout the morning. I need the rest. But I always get up before noon. It’s a terrible crime to sleep in past noon. Everybody knows that!

Eat . . . what I want.

I eat only my favourite foods. And I eat a lot of them. My favourite foods provide the best nutrients because my body likes them so much, and I need to replenish my fluids. All I eat over the Holidays is shrimp and asparagus. Warning: This rule could make you hate all your favourite foods.

Read a book . . . that I enjoy.

That’s easy because I find every book enjoyable. Reading helps keep my brain active, but not too active. I try my best to read a book that has a higher percentage of words than pictures. Pictures books are not books, their called magazines.

Talk to someone . . . about nothing.

I try my best to avoid talking about anything over the Holidays. I like to clear my brain. But it’s hard. Conversations are so easily started, and once they get going it’s hard to walk away. The best way to talk about nothing is to eat a lot of your favourite food!

Sleep . . . more.

Once I’ve done all the other stuff, especially after I’ve eaten some of my favourite food, I find it helpful to go back to sleep. Sleep offers priceless restorative powers for both your body and your mind. In fact, most doctors say we should probably sleep at least once every day.

And if I feel like it . . . sometimes . . . I review my old study notes. But I don’t really have to explain the merit of that one. You’re a university student. You get it.


Have a great break, U of T!

– Stephen

Little Things Count Too

With the semester coming to an end, I find myself focused on reaching the big goals that I set for at the beginning of the school year. Just to recap, my ambition for this blog is to build the habit of making physical activity a part of my lifestyle. My secondary goals are to become physically fit, more energetic, and fearless when it comes to exercising in public. When I look at these goals, they can be a bit broad and, at times, I lose track of where I am going. Yet, it shouldn’t have to be all or nothing for me when it comes to exercising, because every moment of physical activity counts into my journey. Instead of focusing on the big picture, I’ve realized that I should pick out each pixel to work on instead. Each day is an opportunity to make smaller goals that can help me work up to the bigger ones, and motivate me to stay on track.

I’ve decided to start off with a minimum of three goals to accomplish each day. After all, I don’t want to bombard myself with too many tasks, I’m still getting into to this new lifestyle and change doesn’t happen overnight. Instead of getting overwhelmed with how much work I still have to do, I can change my perspective around and focus on what I have accomplished each day, and see how close I am to realizing my aspirations. Following through with these goals each day will also help me appreciate that even the littlest things that I do in terms of physical activity can contribute to becoming a healthier me.

1) Work On My Posture
Ever since I was sixteen, I’ve had the nasty habit of slouching whenever I am sitting down or standing up. And lately, this slouching has been causing a ton of back pain, especially when I’m hunched over my desk studying. The pain distracts me from my studies. Since having bad posture tends to lag me behind on my exercising, such as making it painful to do crunches, I’ve decided to tackle this problem head on.

Enough with the bad posture! – VIA GIFSOUP.COM

Even though through Pilates (thanks to the plank), I’ve managed to strengthen up my core a bit, I still forget to relax my chest and roll my shoulders back. I know that it’s impossible to have perfect posture 24/7, so I aiming to work on straightening my back for at least a half an hour each day. Then, I will build up to an hour or two, until having a straight posture becomes second nature to me. Correcting my posture can be a pain, even though it sounds simple, but it’s worth it. I get the confidence by shifting my appearance and standing tall, and running around campus becomes less of a task since I won’t have to work on keeping up with my slouching.

2) Start/End The Day By Stretching
Like so many students, I’m often in a rush to get to class in the morning so I jump out of bed and forget to warm up my body as a way to prepare for the day. And sometimes, after many hours of working, I collapse onto my bed, forgetting to loosen up my muscles and relax before passing out for the night. Either way, I start and end the day sore. Whenever I take the time to condition and stretch my body, I’m more energetic, focused, and, obviously flexible.

Even cats do the downward dog. -VIA AMEOWZINGOBSESSION.TUMBLR.COM

Since mornings can be hasty, I plan to do one full-body stretch, standing up on the balls of my feet, lifting my arms above my head, trying to reach for the ceiling. I will also add touching my toes and twisting my body from left to right. At night, I’ll devote more time stretching, and do yoga postures like downward dog (standing on all fours), child’s pose (lying face down, legs bents, and pressing my thighs to my chest while stretching my arms over my body), and tree pose (standing on one leg, while the other is bent with the foot inwards to the opposite leg and knee outwards). The best part about yoga is that it also frees me from whatever state of mind I am in. Was today a rough day? Am I excited about something that’s going to happen tomorrow that I can’t sleep? By stretching, all of that is forgotten, and I’m able to focus on the present. There’s no better way to go to sleep than on a positive note.

3) Do At Least One Physical Activity
Be it taking a walk, going to Pilates class, going to the gym, or dancing like crazy to a favourite song, it doesn’t matter what I do, as long as I manage to fit in some sort of activity into my day. I’ve come to the realization that being physically active doesn’t have to only be about running on the treadmill for 90 minutes, and if there’s no time for that, then nothing else will do. Instead, it’s about the minor changes I make in the way I live, such as taking time to stand up and move around after a long study session. Life can be busy, so why not get creative and fit in a workout in between the most crowded moments?

I mean, running away also counts as exercise, right? – VIA GIF-CENTRAL.BLOGSPOT.CA

What are your daily active goals that you plan to achieve?