Staying Healthy in College

The Holidays are upon us; an open invitation for all things festive, colorful and…delicious. For many people, the defining moments of the holidays often revolve around food. Whether it’s baking cookies in the kitchen or sitting down to a dinner feast, the Holidays are a time to rightfully indulge. That being said, there are times where being indulgent should be kept in moderation. Keeping an active, healthy lifestyle in general should be a main priority for everyone, but sometimes it can be difficult to do so with so many other commitments. Often, we allow regular life to get in the way of our own health, and that is not the way it should be.

As college students, staying fit and healthy may seem like a demanding prospect. We cannot deny that everything we approach, even keeping ourselves healthy, is a time-commitment. Many of us are so busy with rigorous schedules and heavy course-loads that it may feel as though we cannot make the time to stay fit. We say that we will go to the gym, but another week flies by without some cardio work-out. It may be easier to reach for the chicken nuggets than the salad when we’re in a rush at the dining hall. And of course, we’ve all had those nights where we struggle to finish our work through sleep-deprived eyes in the wee hours of the morning. These issues are commonplace for college students, yet can be alleviated with a few simple lifestyle changes. While it is vital for us to focus on our academic and social successes, taking care of our physical well-being can most definitely be mindfully integrated within our schedules. Whether you’re looking for a new routine, wanting to stay fit during “off-season,” or hoping to boost your energy, staying healthy in college does not need to be mission impossible.

Tip #1: Make a “Work-Out” Schedule

There is no denying the obvious and widely-known health benefits of regular exercise. According to the Harvard Business Review, staying fit in college does not only correlate with higher rates of psychological well-being, but also lower chances of becoming seriously ill. Before coming to college, I found it very hard to get to the gym because I felt as though I never had time to go. The real reason is that I never set aside time to go to the gym in the first place. With access to fitness centers all across campus, I knew I could not take that for granted. When you review out your schedule, see when you have substantial breaks that can be used for working out. For example, let’s say your classes end early Monday and Wednesday. Those afternoons can be set aside for gym days. The Harvard Review mentions that twenty-minute bursts of intense work outs at least three times a week can be sufficient. Make sure the time spent at the gym and the time between or after classes is realistic and manageable. Also, adding rest days are great for recuperating and taking a break on those very hectic days!

Feeling tired after a long day of classes? Going to gym is actually a natural energy booster (as long as you have the energy to get yourself to the gym)!

Tip #2: Work-Outs: Mix It Up

The key to staying fit is consistency, aka making sure that if you make a plan, you should stick to it as close as you possible can. However, getting into a routine may seem a little boring, so its a good idea to switch up workouts and do a variety of exercises. For me, working out was not part of my “routine” before going to college. Therefore, I was not sure what to do when I first entered the Cook/Douglass fitness center. A good place to start for anyone who is unfamiliar with working out is cardio. This includes running, biking, dancing, and utilizing a treadmill, elliptical, or other cardio device. From heart-pumping cardio, you can move onto strength exercises like weights or machines. Studies show that strength exercises actually burn more residual (post-work-out) calories than cardio exercises do. Also, do not forget to stretch! Having a variety of exercises will not only work out more of your body, but also keep working out exciting. Having a gym buddy, especially an experienced one, is also a wonderful way to stay motivated with each other, try new things, and do a larger number of workouts together.

If going to the gym is not your thing, Rutgers actually offers many really awesome Fitness programs that I feel are definitely worth looking into! There are several activities throughout the year, such as Zumba sessions and various clubs, that can be great ways to get a fun and intensive work out.

Tip #3: Food: Don’t Limit, Expand

I will not even hold back – I do love food. When I go into the dining hall, of course the pizza is going to catch my eye before the salad does. That being said, limiting food or starving yourself is not the way to go when wanting to stay healthy. Instead, try diversifying your plate while keeping this in mind: 1/2 leafy green vegetables, 1/4 protein, and 1/4 starch/grain. That way, you can remain satisfied with that pizza, but also get nutrients needed from a delicious, crisp salad. Outside the dining halls, college students love their ramen and other proceed goodies. However, cutting down on processed food often results in feeling psychically better overall. Some great alternative (and energy-packed) snacks are frozen grapes, almonds, bananas, trail mix (hopefully home-made), yogurt, and veggies with hummus, so keep your dorm-room fridge chock-full of healthy, delicious options. The most important thing to remember with eating is to make sure you eat and drink enough water during college and maintain a balance for maximum health and wellness.

Tip #4: Get Enough Sleep!

Sure, this is far easier said than done, and I definitely need more help with this one as well. The severity of this situation is made clear when you consider that only about 11% of college students get enough sleep. Still, there are ways to tackle this troubling issue. One way is time management, and one step ahead of that is actually creating and sticking to a sleeping schedule. The key to a sleeping schedule is to always stick to it, or at least as close to it, as possible – even during the weekends. 7-9 hours is vital for maximum energy and focus, and leads to a less chance of having poor health overall. More sleep also results in higher academic success and lower chances of dropping out, so catch those Zs!

These are the ways that have personally helped me stay active and ultimately find balance within the hectic college life. I truly do believe that staying healthy is important because it helps you feel better overall and carries over to all aspects of your student life. Ever since I’ve become more health-conscious, I find myself having more energy to do the things I love and stay focused for school. Granted, before I came to college, I was not exactly a “fitness guru.” After I took a year off from dance my senior year in high school, I admittedly struggled staying fit. I was constantly eating out and staying up late for no valid reason. My gym membership card barely exceeded its use as a key chain. It soon dawned on me that I could not keep up this lifestyle which was not only draining me, but also might have dire effects on me later on since my family has a history of cardiovascular issues. When I finally started college, I decided that I would change my ways and balance studying with staying healthy. It was more than just avoiding the freshmen fifteen – it was a conscious effort to maintain my health and my energy. With these tips, I have been able to keep up with staying fit while not sacrificing too much time. In fact, when you approach staying healthy as a part of everyday life, it does not have to be a chore.

So, treat yourself to the dessert table on Winter Break, but don’t forget to enjoy some iron-packed spinach during dinner and find some time to work out after the food coma concludes!