College is about studying, meeting new people, discovering passions and even attending an occasional party. Between all of these different aspects of college life, many students forget how to stay healthy.
Staying healthy by eating right, getting enough exercise and sleeping enough is hard to do when homework, reading assignments and midterms pile up.
However, Erica Melling, a nutrition senior and peer health educator for the Health Enrichment Action Team (H.E.A.T.), said it is difficult but possible to stay healthy as a college student.
“If you make getting enough exercise and eating right a priority, there are so many avenues to make it happen,” she said. “The biggest thing is to simply make (it) a priority.”
Eating right could possibly be the biggest problem students face. Many pick food that is convenient while also cost effective, Melling said. When money is low, quick runs to Carl’s Jr. and McDonald’s to order off the dollar menu seems like the best option.
Those quick, high calorie meals just do not have the nutritional value of a home-cooked meal, but college students are not known for regulating food choices, Melling said.
“The easiest rule of thumb for eating right is eating food that is minimally processed; however, that comes with more preparation,” Melling said.
Something that comes with the college experience is partying and many students choose to drink during nights out on the town. However, alcohol can be high in calories with absolutely no nutritional value, Melling said.
“We definitely have problems with moderation when it comes to alcohol … many people don’t just have a drink or two when they go out and those are just useless calories,” she said.
Though some college students may be eating correctly, many are not taking time out of their busy days to exercise. Kelsey Hanly, a personal trainer at the Cal Poly Recreation Center and social science junior, said many college students get caught up in studying and forget that they need to go out and exercise.
“Go to the gym, go running, be active, do what you want to do,” Hanly said. “But the most important thing is to actually get some physical activity in throughout the day.”
Stress about receiving good test grades causes many college students to spend countless hours couped up in the library, said Liz Reischl, a kinesiology junior.
“I think students get stressed out and the first thing to go is their routine for physical activity,” she said.
When stress builds, students tend to kick physical activity to the curb; however, exercise is actually a good stress management tool, Melling said.
“Many students forget that exercise is one of the biggest stress relievers,” Reischl said.
Between classes scattered throughout the day supplemented by busy jobs, sport practices and club meetings, exercise does not seem to fit into each day. However, Melling said it is vital for students to make time to exercise.
“It’s like a homework assignment,” she said. “It’s just as important and you have to find a way to fit it in.”
There are many ways to add physical activity to a daily routine, Reischl said. It can be as simple as walking or riding a bike to campus instead of driving or taking the bus.
“There’s so many ways to get exercise,” she said. “Go out and take a walk; we should all take advantage of San Luis Obispo’s natural beauty.”
When stress and anxiety builds over school assignments, not only does exercise take the back seat, sleep diminishes for many college students.
“Many students fear they won’t be studying enough, so sleep time decreases,” Reischl said.
However, sleep is vital to doing well in classes. Many students forget that choosing to study over sleep could possibly be detrimental not only to their health, but also to their grades.
Research has shown that sleeping enough before exam helps with concentration and improves cognition, Reischl said.
“Many students think that they are doing themselves a convenience by staying up and cramming for an exam, but they don’t think about the effects,” Melling said.
Hanly said sleeping enough, drinking enough water, eating right and getting some exercise is critical to college students’ health.
“By simply working out three to four hours a week at minimum, eating meals with nutritional value and basically doing everything in moderation, you will have a much more positive college experience,” she said.