5 Tips to Staying Healthy in College
Most of you know, I am currently taking my second Master’s Degree online at Concordia of St Paul. I also have a full-time career, compete as an elite athlete and ultimately just wants to live a healthy life, so I completely understand the struggle facing students!! Here is my take on priorities and tips to stay healthy during the college grind.
Student life is rough. Whether you’re starting your first year of an undergraduate degree or are a seasoned graduate student, chances are you’re busy, stressed, mentally overwhelmed, and on a budget. Many college students feel that, due to these issues, it is simply impossible to prioritize personal nutrition, fitness, and wellness until later in life. I get it. I recently have enrolled in the online Master of Science in Exercise Science program at Concordia University, St. Paul, and though it’s a flexible program, it definitely takes time!
It might seem challenging to stay healthy in college with all you have to balance, but the following tips from an experienced dietitian and current grad student can help you implement good habits now that can make you feel more focused, energized, happier, and generally be able to get more out of life as a student!
1. Boost your Brain - Your mind is taxed with endless studying, exam taking, researching, discussing, presenting, and learning new information. Make sure it has the stamina and focus to retain all that content! Consume healthy fats and antioxidants known as “brain food” such as mushrooms, fatty fish, leafy greens, walnuts, berries, and egg yolks. In addition to diet, getting enough sleep and working to boost mental health is vital. Sleep masks and ear plugs are easy ways to improve sleep quality. Positive mental attitude and mental health can be improved by devoting a few minutes a day to mediation, or you might benefit from utilizing the counseling services offered through your university, like those offered at my school, CSP!
2. Sip Smarter - Most students rely on caffeine to keep energy levels high from early morning classes to powering through all-nighters. This powerful compound is known to stimulate alertness, boost energy, and even promote health. However, it can also lead to anxiety and sleep deprivation. Aim to limit caffeine after noon. Whether you like fancy coffee drinks, smoothies, or alcohol, liquid calories are mostly sugar and do not promote satiety in the same way that solid food does. Those calories add up quickly. To ward off quick weight gain, cravings, and mood swings, limit sugary beverage consumption.
3. Fit in Fitness - In grade school, most of us take a physical activity class or are involved in an extracurricular sport that mandates we stay active. Unfortunately, this activity tends to fade out of our lives as college brings extended periods of sitting (lectures, libraries, and desks) and the need for self-discipline when it comes to being active. This inactivity can quickly lead to decreased energy levels, weight gain and potential for increased disease risk later in life. Aim to make fitness a priority by devoting several days a week to hitting the gym or doing an online fitness class from home, even if it’s a brief session. If standard workouts seem boring, go find an adventure like hiking or kayaking with friends. Upping your activity can also come in simple, small ways; commute by bike, walk to class, jump up and down cheering your school’s athletic teams, or go dance it out at a club.
4. Don’t Skip Breakfast - Eating well is a struggle in college due to potential limits in cooking skills, facilities, time, money, and the newfound ability to make your own dining choices. While it’s fun and easy to order take out every night, consistent poor diet choices will catch up with you quickly and lead to sluggishness, moodiness, poor health, and weight gain. There are endless ways to improve eating habits, and starting with breakfast is key to setting your day up for success. Start with a simple glass of water and follow with a filling meal that includes protein and complex carbs. Oatmeal, protein powder, fruit, eggs, potatoes, and yogurt are all easy, inexpensive breakfast staples. When you fuel your body with nutritious foods first thing, you’re more likely to feel focused, energized, experience fewer cravings, and make healthy choices throughout the day.
5. Skip Stress - College is a big introduction into the world of adult stress. Stressors will be with you all your life; grades, bills, relationships, careers, etc. They never go away. For most, the number of stressors faced increases with time as life responsibilities and goals also increase in number and importance. While we can’t get rid of stressors, we can deal with them better. This is very important as chronic stress is a large contributor of poor health outcomes. Now is a great time to learn how to manage your reaction to the things causing you stress. Try talking to a counselor, practicing meditation, spending a few minutes (at least) each day doing things that make you happy, eat antioxidant rich foods, be active, journal, get quality sleep, improve time management, and have meaningful conversations with your friends, family, and academic team.