Bags have been packed and unpacked, dorms have been filled with cart-full after cart-full of bedding and living essentials, and the new semester has officially begun. The excitement of starting or returning to college is real and there are dozens of new places to explore and friends to meet. The first month of school can turn into a blur of running from classes, completing piles of homework, and spending weekends at the most popular parties. Before you know it, the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen” has crept up, and even the high school sports all-stars have fallen out of their athletic routines. It is incredibly important to get a well-rounded college experience, and this includes learning how to navigate a healthy lifestyle amongst a social life and homework. It may seem completely out of reach, but there are some great tips, tricks, and resources to make it a successfully healthy year.
Before college, it is not uncommon for mom or dad to be in charge of all meals throughout the day. It could be a mixture of home-cooked and fast food, but either way, the tables have turned and now it is your turn to take the reigns. This may also mark the first time that thoughts of nutrition have come into play. Sure, the food pyramid may have crossed your path before, but to be in charge of your own nutrition is another story entirely. That is why it is important to plan ahead and avoid extra calories and wasted money. Make a calendar where you plan where and generally what you are going to eat. On a busier day with more classes, you may want to pack a lunch and snacks. On a day where you have more freedom, you can plan to visit your school’s cafeteria or an outing with friends. This way, you can visually map out your week of meals and avoid the sudden need for food and a visit to the local convenience store. We all know that only leads to bags of chips and bottles of soda. The money you save planning ahead can be saved for something a little more exciting like a fun spring break getaway!
Speaking of college cafeterias, while convenient, it can be incredibly easy to get carried away. Usually, these cafeterias host a large handful of food stations with every food genre you desire. Remember that a healthy meal is a balanced meal. You should be filling your plate with a good dose of fruits, veggies, grains, and proteins, with the vegetables being the largest selection. Most college cafes are equipped with a salad bar, so you should not have too much trouble filling your daily veggie quota between lunch and dinner. Just as importantly, proteins are what will give you an energy boost to get through those long classes. Especially in the morning, be sure to start your day off with a well-balanced meal like oatmeal and yogurt with fruit. Of course you will be tempted by the do-it-yourself waffle bar and the self-serve soft-serve ice cream station, but try to keep these as occasional treats when you ace that intense exam. The same goes for eating out. Pick dishes that are heavy on the nutrients and less on the fried, bar food side. It may seem like a difficult task when your friends want the loaded nachos, but your waistline will thank you.
Many college students rely on coffee, soda, and whatever is served at the weekend’s hot spot, that they forget to most important liquid of all – WATER! Water will be your best friend when creating a healthy lifestyle at school. Invest in a large reusable water bottle and fill it up a few times a day. The more water you drink, the better hydrated your body will be. This translates into feeling more awake and much better brain function. You may be able to ditch that morning jolt of caffeine. Another perk of that reusable bottle? You will not have to spend money on plastic bottles every day. That’s another $1.50 into the spring break fund every time you refill your reusable.
It may seem like an obvious point that exercise will make for a healthy lifestyle, but it is also one of the easiest tasks to push aside during the college years. Leading up to college, you may have played a sport, but even if you did not, your school most likely required you to take gym class every year. Your exercise was a no-brainer because it was automatically built into your schedule. In college, like planning your nutrition, you now have to plan your exercise. Luckily, the majority of schools actually have their own fitness centers that offer a variety of cardio equipment like treadmills, elliptical, and stationary bikes, as well as a handful of weight training equipment. If you are lucky, your school also has a group fitness room where they offer fun classes like Zumba or yoga. If your school does not have its own facility, have no fear! Because living a #fitlife has become a welcome trend, there are bound to be fitness specialty studios or gyms within a close radius that offer various classes based on your interests, but also have student specials so you do not break the bank. Make yourself a schedule that you can stick to. Using the same food/nutrition map you used earlier, look at your schedule and plan a few days a week where you will work out. If you need a little extra motivation, find an exercise buddy and commit to a routine together!
The value of sleep really comes into play when you start college and can make the biggest difference in your success. Try for a solid eight hours of sleep per night, which may seem like a hard sell when there are so many parties to attend. However, getting a good night’s sleep can mean the difference between you passing that test or having to repeat a class next semester. Sleep allows your brain to rest and recharge and even better, helps to keep your metabolism in top shape along with that healthy diet and exercise.
The phrase “lifestyle change” can seem a bit daunting, but in the case of creating a healthy college lifestyle, the “changes” are not terribly dramatic. In fact, you most likely have had many of these tools in place back home and just need to transition them into your new setting. That is the key here. From the start of the new semester, make the pledge to integrate these five steps into your weekly routine and you will find yourself feeling better and functioning at a higher level than you imagined. College is a time to enjoy life and learn as much as you can. Start by taking care of your body and it will carry you through an experience of a lifetime.
Alyson Monaco is a published writer, expert in health and fitness, and professional dancer hailing from New Jersey. Her love of how the body works began through early dance training, which lead to a major in Dance at internationally renowned Boston Conservatory. Aside from movement studies, she was trained extensively in kinesiology, anatomy, and nutrition. These would only aid in her pursuit of both Group Fitness and Personal Training certifications through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA)/National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Alyson has been actively working as a fitness instructor, Personal Trainer, and nutrition coach since 2013 and has been writing on her areas of expertise since 2016. She loves working one on one with people of all ages and ability, and truly enjoys helping people find a better quality of life.