College is a time of independence. Maybe for the first time, mom is no longer there to cook dinner and make healthy food choices for you. Or maybe you were an active athlete in high school, with practice every day. But now you’ve traded your athletic life for focusing on your academics and you actually have to think about how to incorporate exercise into your daily life.
The Freshman 15 can be a real fear for many students entering college. But it can be easily avoided by being aware of your actions. Here are six tips for making healthy choices in college:
1. Eat Right
Eating healthy in college can sometimes seem like an uphill battle. The chaotic nature of your schedule can make it difficult to select healthy options, when all you want to do is grab something fast. But there are easy ways to be conscientious of your eating habits.
First, always eat breakfast. This may be difficult when you’re rushing out the door to get to that 8 a.m. class, but grabbing a granola bar, protein bar or banana goes a long way in keeping you from overeating throughout the day.
Also, never skip meals. Again, the day-to-day routine of a college student is constantly changing, but you always have time to grab a healthy salad or sandwich from the dining hall. Snacking can also help. Try the ELMO method – “Eat Less, More Often.” Eating a little something every few hours can keep your appetite in check throughout the day. Snacking can also stop “mindless eaters” and those who eat for comfort. Keep things like pre-cut vegetables and fruit, nuts, or string cheese in your backpack or dorm room mini-fridge so you aren’t tempted to buy unhealthy snacks.
For those late-night cravings during all-nighters, try healthier alternatives to your favorite late-night foods. For example, get pizza with whole wheat crust, vegetable toppings instead of meat and low-fat cheese.
Finding time to exercise amidst classes, group project meetings, extra-curricular events and studying can seem near impossible. But one of the easiest ways to get exercise is to walk to class. Depending on your class schedule, this could add anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour of exercise every day.
Most colleges also offer free or reduced memberships to gyms. This is definitely a perk that ends after graduation, so take advantage of this now.
If going to the recreation center intimidates you, try out an intramural sport! It’s a fun way to get some exercise and a great way to meet new people.
Remember, exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Even a small study break for a 20-minute jog across campus can provide great benefits – it can clear your head, get your heart rate pumping and provide a fresh start to hitting the books again.
3. Get enough sleep
Though you may be tempted to pull an all-nighter to study for an exam or stay out until 3 a.m. partying with friends, make sure it doesn’t become a habit.
Sleep deprivation can lead to reduced brain function, fatigue, headaches and weight loss or gain. College students need between seven and nine hours of sleep and getting this amount can improve overall health.
To stay rested throughout the day, try taking a short nap. Taking a 20-minute power nap can boost your energy and productivity to get you through the rest of a busy day.
Also, try to stick to a schedule and have a set bedtime. Having a consistent sleep schedule is important for your body’s overall health. Another tip: turn off the social media. I know it can be hard as a college student to put down your social media, but the bright screen acts as a stimulus that alerts your brain. Turning off the screen for at least 30 minutes before you go to bed will gradually let your brain relax and allow you to fall asleep more quickly.
4. Avoid caffeine and sugary drinks
While coffee, soda and energy drinks seem to be running through the veins of most college students, caffeinated beverages are ultimately harmful in the long run. The combination of caffeine and sugar in these drinks causes you to crash and feel exhausted later. If you need an energy boost, try eating high-protein, high-fiber foods.
5. Wash your hands
College students are always in close contact with others: through classes, living situations with roommates, sharing residence hall bathrooms with 30 other people and walking around campus. Needless-to-say, the amount of germs on college campuses is staggering and it enables people to easily catch colds or viruses. Studies have shown that simple hand-washing can help prevent a large number of illnesses. Even pop some hand sanitizer your backpack to ensure you’ll always be able to rid some germs.
Between classes and exams, college students are usually pretty stressed. Stress can cause numerous problems and getting too run-down can adversely affect your health. Relaxing and having down-time is essential to staying healthy. The easiest way to relax is to create a routine and give yourself regular breaks. Also, make sure you take time to hang out with friends and de-stress by reading a book, watching your favorite television show or picking up a hobby.
Staying healthy in college may seem difficult, but just be aware of the choices you make. Making healthy decisions now will set you up for healthy lifestyle choices in the future and as you enter the “real-world” in a few short years.
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