In This Article
The Importance of Health and Safety in College
How To Stay Healthy in College
Sleep and Rest
Pursue What Makes You Happy
The Importance of Health and Safety in College
College is the time to thrive, but it’s important to take care of yourself throughout the journey. While you balance school, work, family, and a social life, your health and wellness should be a high priority.
Many college students let their personal health and wellness slide first when everything gets difficult to manage. This may lead to getting sick or experiencing greater levels of stress while in college.
Whether you are applying to college for the first time or in your senior year, it’s not too late to prioritize your health. Now is the time to establish strong well-being practices you can continue well after graduation.
In this article, we’ll cover several tips to help you stay healthy throughout your academic journey.
How To Stay Healthy in College
You might have heard the phrase "Freshman 15," which describes the weight some students gain during their first year in college. According to Johns Hopkins, the average college student gains between 5 and 10 pounds in their first 2 years of college.
While some of this weight gain can be due to natural development, some other causes can include:
Ignoring ingredients and serving sizes
Late-night nibbling during study sessions (or crams)
Ordering take-out or fast food rather than cooking
Using food to cope with stress and anxiety
Drinking or eating too much at parties
Eating while on the go
These behaviors can create bad habits, which could be hard to break later. The good news is you can start to make healthier choices and create new habits. The tips below can help you make substantial changes to your diet.
Diversify Your Meals
Maybe you’ve been eating fast food for the last week or a bag of potato chips for lunch. It’s easy to fall into the same daily meal plan, especially with such a busy calendar. However, it’s critical to change your diet day to day. Strive for a healthy meal and a "colorful" plate.
According to Penn Medicine, a colorful plate covers the “superfoods”:
Citrus - bright yellows and greens
Pomegranates - ruby reds
Kale - rich greens
Potatoes - creamy purples, reds, oranges, and whites
Squash - Vibrant oranges and yellows
Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
A colorful plate includes lots of fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. These nutrients help maintain a healthy gut and prevent digestion problems. For a healthy diet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends you cover at least half of your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal.
Eating fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to be boring. They taste delicious, plus there's so much variety to choose from.
Keep Healthy Snacks Handy
Getting “hangry” can stop you dead in your tracks, but you want to limit junk food. When you feel weak and tired, unhealthy foods can be even more tempting.
Whether you’re going to class or taking exams, have something healthier to munch on to keep you focused. Hummus and pretzels can never go wrong; fruit (especially apples) and peanut butter are winners as well.
Drinking water is the most important thing you can do for your overall health. Dehydration, or the lack of drinking enough water, can cause fuzzy thinking, mood changes, overheating, and even constipation.
Try drinking lots of fluids throughout your day. If you have difficulty remembering, maybe get a fun water bottle that will make you want to keep it around.
The Mayo Clinic recommends you have an average of:
One liter of water is about a quarter of a gallon.
Make it Convenient to Eat Right
The convenience of takeout and fast food makes it hard to eat nutritious food sometimes, especially when you have a busy schedule. Make it a point to stock your fridge and cabinets with healthier foods to make it easier to grab those first when you get hungry.
This also means making yourself a college budget. If you do the math, you’ll find cooking at home is a lot cheaper than takeout.
Treat Yourself Every So Often
Of course, you must eat healthy to stay healthy, but don’t lose your mind trying to be healthy 100% of the time. It’s fine to listen to your cravings on occasion. Practice self-care every once in a while and treat yourself to something yummy.
Fitting exercise into a busy schedule isn't always easy, especially if you don’t like to exercise. But sedentary behavior is linked to health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
The CDC recommends that adults:
Let's go through a couple of tips to help you stay active and healthy.
Walk or Bike to Class
If you live close enough to school or work, try biking or walking instead of taking the bus or driving to class. It will give you a bit of exercise between your classes and boost your mood. Exercise releases endorphins, which can lower stress and improve your spirit.
Make Working Out Fun
Does the thought of jogging or going to the weight room make you groan? Those kinds of workouts aren’t for everyone, but that doesn't mean you should reject aerobic and anaerobic exercises. Choose different kinds of exercise that you do enjoy. That’s the key to creating a sustainable healthy habit.
Try these workouts for more fun:
Join a college team for a sport you enjoy.
Volunteer with a non-profit that builds homes.
Take a yoga or dance class.
Bring a friend to work out with you—it's fun and keeps you motivated to stick to your workout.
When you choose activities you enjoy, it’s a whole lot easier to make exercise a part of your routine. So, pick up a new activity, or start up again with a sport you used to love. Just remember not to take yourself too seriously.
3. Stress Management
Stress devastates your emotional equilibrium, as well as your physical health. It can dampen your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy life.
Effective stress management helps you work with stress, so you are happier, healthier, and more productive. You want to create a balanced life with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun—and the strength to hold up under tension and meet challenges head-on.
Stress management is not one-size-fits-all. So try a few strategies to find what works best for you.
Here are 6 signs of stress you should watch out for:
Loss of appetite
Once you notice you’re experiencing stress, it’s time to apply a strategy to work with it. Here are some tips that will help you relieve stress:
Apply Stress-Calming Techniques
Attempting to power through while stressed could make you less productive. Not dealing with stress in the moment could require more time to finish your work, and the results will probably not be as high quality as you would like.
When stress arises, calm yourself by:
Incorporating these strategies gives your brain a break from whatever is stressing you out and recharges you to take on the next challenge in your day.
Being grateful for the things you have in your life can actually help your body manage stress and have profound impacts on your overall health. Grateful people sleep better, have healthier hearts, and have fewer aches and pains.
Here are a few things you can do to practice gratitude:
Keep a gratitude journal
Share gratitude with others
Savor the good for a quick moment
State what you’re grateful for before you meals
4. Mental Health
Stress management affects your overall mental health. College students are at higher risk for depression because of the increased stress of balancing school, work, and social life.
Keep yourself happy and healthy with these easy tips:
Stay in touch with family members, friends, and roommates
Don't be afraid to ask for help
Try to build new friendships
Do things that bring you joy
Get involved on campus
Talk It Out
Talking about your stress and feelings is a great way to release your burden. Chatting with family and friends can improve your well-being. Talking to a professional therapist can also help you develop professional, research-based coping skills while understanding yourself better.
Many college campuses have counseling centers that offer individual and group therapy services for students. If you find that you’re struggling to cope with the difficulties of college, it may be time to seek some professional help.
5. Sleep and Rest
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) states that adults require at least 7-8 hours of continuous sleep per night. (So don’t pull those all-nighters!) You need enough sleep for your mind and body to function optimally. Try these tips to help you get adequate rest.
Relax Before Bedtime
About 45 minutes or so before bedtime:
Do gentle yoga poses or stretches
Take deep breaths and meditate
Make a to-do list for the next day to get those tasks off your mind
Shut off all electronic devices—blue light affects your sleep
Invest in Comfy Bedding
A mattress or pillow that’s too stiff or too soft may seem like a minor deal, but it can be terrible on your sleep schedule.
The Better Sleep Council suggests replacing bedding if:
A comfortable bed enables sound sleep. Considering how important sleep is for overall energy levels, investing in bedding you love is wise.
Make Your Bed a Sleep-Only Zone
If you have a small living area, you will inevitably study in the same room where you rest. However, try designating your bed for sleeping only. Here’s why:
When you work/study in bed, you associate that area with work instead of sleep.
A mental association between work and a mattress can increase anxiety or stress that discourages sleep.
Working on a computer or watching a screen before bedtime reduces melatonin, which helps create a good night's sleep.
Strive to do schoolwork as far away from your bed as possible. If that requires heading to another place like the library, do it. It can help make your sleep more restful.
6. General Health
Support Your Body, Support Your Mind
Proper nutrition, exercise, stress management, mental health, and sleep are essential components of optimal college student wellness. Here are a few more ways you can stay healthy and boost your well-being.
Manage Your Time
This goes without saying. As a college student, there are many classes, deadlines, projects, and assignments you need to be aware of. Having quality time management strategies helps you be on top of what you need to do when. It also frees up time in your day to do the things you really enjoy.
Protect Your Body
Take vitamins or immune system boosters, like vitamin C packets, to ward off common illnesses, like colds. Also, wash your hands regularly to prevent infection, especially after being in a public place. Being sick is no fun, and it pulls you away from activities that increase your well-being.
Get Check-Ups Regularly
Regular check-ups prevent the worsening of illnesses you may have, but also make sure everything else is fine. Keep up with your immunizations and get your bloodwork done each year. And don’t forget your annual flu shot.
7. Pursue What Makes You Happy
A solid support circle is key to better health. Connect with peers and participate in fun hobbies and social activities where you can meet new people. Having people in your life who you enjoy being around is good for both your mental and physical health.
While working hard helps you succeed in college, you also have to remember to have fun. The better you are at prioritizing both your schoolwork and your personal life, the greater happiness you will have and the better your performance in school will be.
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