Staying healthy in college is really, really hard. From sitting in class all day to pulling all-nighters in the lib, finding balance while also taking care of yourself can feel impossible. Luckily, there are some ways to make it all more manageable. Here are some tried and true, evidence-based strategies to eat better and live better on campus.
You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: sleep, sleep, sleep. When it feels like you don’t have an extra minute in the day, let alone a couple of hours, someone telling you to sleep more can be suuuper frustrating. How can you be expected to get a full 8 hours every night when you’re juggling classes, clubs, studying, and making new friends? There simply are not enough hours in a day, right??
Actually, it turns out that prioritizing sleep can make your waking hours both easier to manage and more fulfilling. Even though it may feel like you can’t spare an extra hour to catch some z’s, sleeping more can save you time in the long run. You’ll be more attentive in class, and therefore spend less time reviewing material outside of class. When studying, you’ll be more focused -- you might not even have to re-read that textbook page over and over to retain information. Most importantly, you will be more emotionally present for meaningful time with friends.
Plus, getting more sleep helps you manage your appetite. This is because sleep plays a massive role in how our bodies regulate hormones. A lack of sleep has been linked to an increase in the hormones leptin and gherin, which makes us hungrier. As a result, we eat more than we really need to. A simple way of thinking about it is when your body isn’t refueled with rest, it looks for fuel somewhere else. The easiest way it can refuel is food, which leads to overeating.
TL; DR: if you’re trying to feel less stressed, more confident, and happier, prioritize getting in your eight hours of sleep.
We know, we know. You’ve heard this one before and you don’t like it. Well, we’re not saying you have to cut coffee out of your life entirely. One cup of joe in the morning won’t hurt you. But after your first cup, consider switching to tea for the rest of the day. Studies show that drinking tea, either green or black, every day can decrease your risk of developing neurocognitive disorders. Tea is also full of antioxidants and can have almost as much caffeine as coffee to help power you through your day. Switch out your iced latte for a matcha or a London fog -- you’ll barely be able to tell the difference.
We don’t need to tell you that getting your blood flowing is good for your health. But we will tell you why it’s especially crucial for students. Exercise has so many benefits for your brain. Studies have suggested that working out can actually stimulate brain cell growth, improve memory retention, boost concentration, and relieve stress. Even light exercise, such as walking or stretching, has been shown to yield these positive results.
But how do you get started with adding exercise to your busy schedule? Here are some ideas for how to build light work-outs into your daily routine:
1. If you take the campus shuttle to class every day, make time to walk instead. This will help wake you up and get you focused for your first class. 2. Haven’t seen a friend for awhile? Ask if they want to go on a stroll around campus with you. You’ll be multi-tasking by socializing and getting some steps in! 3. Most campuses have gyms that are free to students, so make the most of your tuition. Watch pre-recorded lectures on the elliptical. Do your readings on a stationary bike. Or do a more intense workout sans homework to de-stress and re-focus. 4. If your dorm or apartment building has an elevator, opt for the stairs instead. Or, if you’re really high up, take the elevator halfway and the stairs the rest. 5. Try to find a yoga club on campus, so you can make new friends while moving your body. And if you don’t have one, start one! Apply for funding through your student center.
These recommendations may seem small, but they’ll add up in the long run to make you happier and healthier.
If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to do intense exercise, never fear! Research shows that the very act of being in nature is enough to make us happier and healthier. One reason for this is because nature relieves what scientists call “attention fatigue.” Basically, attention fatigue is the exhaustion that we feel when we’re bombarded with information all day -- whether it be in the classroom, on social media, or even walking through your student union. Humans evolved in nature, not in urban centers, and so being around the natural world can relieve the stress of 21st-century life.
You don’t need to go hiking every day to reap these benefits (although, if you want to, you should!). If your campus has green spaces, consider doing your homework on the quad. Bring your textbooks or pre-printed readings to a park. The change of scenery will do wonders for your mental health, and help you improve in the classroom.
Ultimately, our bodies know what they’re doing. They’ve had years to adapt and evolve, and sometimes they know what we need even if our minds don’t.
So much of diet culture (especially college campus diet culture) revolves around restricting things that we want to eat. Sharing dining halls with other students can lead to peer pressure to eat the “right” amount when, really, only you know what’s right for you. Restricting leads to binging on our guilty-pleasure foods when we’re stressed, sometimes causing you to eat more than you might have in the first place.
Instead of restricting foods, listen to your body. By allowing yourself to eat the treats you want when you crave them, you’ll crave them less. Had a long night of studying and all you want is french fries from the late-night dining hall? Then get them! Building trust with your body, feeding it when it wants to be fed, will help you trust yourself in the classroom as well. Plus, indulging your cravings when you have them will make you more likely to eat healthy the rest of the time. Healthy eating won’t feel like punishment, it will just become part of your routine.
The sum up:
Unfortunately, there’s no single secret trick for how to stay healthy in college. It may require a couple of different lifestyle shifts to get where you want to be. But making these changes will make your undergrad years more enjoyable in the long run, allowing you to focus on school, friends, and your future. Looking for more healthy recipes and lifestyle tips? Sign up for Foodsmart with the link below to be included in our member-exclusive newsletters!