studying Credit: Shae Ashamalla | Mustang News

The transition to online learning meant that Cal Poly students and staff are no longer spending their days climbing the “poly hills” and strengthening their “poly calves,” but rather sitting at their desks, staring at a computer screen. 

With the ability to roll out of bed and open the computer, as opposed to getting ready and walking to class, students’ physical health is up in the air. 

Nutrition professor Aleksandra Kristo said that having a routine is important because it affects people’s biology. However, online school and COVID-19 have interrupted people’s normal routines.

When people do not have sleeping, eating or physical activity routines, their exposure to things like daylight changes, which in turn affects their biological clock, according to Kristo. 

Physical activity includes any form of movement, including getting out of bed or walking to class, Kristo said.

“Having physical activity in our lives has to be intentional,” Kristo said. “That’s the major difference, whereas before physical activity for a lot of us occurred as part of our daily routines.”

Kristo said that reduced physical activity decreases immunity. 

“You’re a lot more sensitive now to COVID[-19] itself but other conditions, as well,” Kristo said. 

The decrease in physical activity combined with an increase in food consumption may lead to rises in chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease in the future, according to Kristo.

Creating routines — including setting consistent times to wake up, eat meals and get physical activity — as well as having a community to spend time with and focusing on self-care and a balanced diet are important ways in which Kristo recommends people maintain their physical health.

“Yes, granted, you are a student and you want to do well, and that means studying hard and working hard,” Kristo said. “But if you don’t take care of your physical health, but also your mental health, it’s not going to do you any good.”

Not just in the short-term, but in the long run as well, Kristo said.

Food science and nutrition professor Cindy Heiss said that some students do not do well in the online learning environment, causing an increase in stress. 

With the rise of stress levels comes an increase in eating and snacking, according to Heiss. 

The disappointment of COVID-19, the disruption of a “normal” college experience and loneliness are some of the things that have impacted students, Heiss said.

“Some people adapt well, they’re good about getting up every half hour and getting some activity in,” she said. “But some people just aren’t built that way.”

Heiss said she recommends students keep in contact with friends, practice gratitude, build daily structure, find ways to eat healthier and exercise. 

“I know it’s hard because there’s certain times of the quarter where it’s really crunch time and you feel like you don’t have time to do that,” she said. “But, really, you’re going to pay a price if you don’t.”

Heiss said she also works on self-care and tries to listen to “upbeat” music.

Public health junior and peer health educator Sinead Swayne said that because of online school students have shown fatigue, irritability and an absence of motivation.

As a result of the ability to be contacted so easily and frequently, Swayne said “Zoom fatigue” and “email fatigue” have occurred.

Swayne said that students may also have poor posture from sitting at a desk or in a bed for extended amounts of time, as well as eye fatigue, dry eyes, blurry vision and headaches. 

When students have breaks they should step away from screens completely, rather than watch TV or go on social media, according to Swayne.

Swayne said that students should use the “2020 rule,” as explained by the American Optometric Association, while in class or working on a screen. The rule says to focus on an object that is not a screen that is twenty feet away, for twenty seconds, every twenty minutes.  

In addition to the “2020 rule,” Swayne said students should turn off screens at least an hour before going to bed, avoid looking at a screen once every hour for ten minutes and place their screen just below eye level to avoid dry eyes. 

Blue light glasses and dimming screens at night are other useful ways to combat eye strain, she said. 

An upside to virtual learning is the flexibility that comes with online class, Swayne said.

She can eat at more convenient times and does not struggle to find time to exercise due to her class schedule. 

“I also would recommend for students to not be hard on themselves and think when it comes to physical activity and eating healthy it shouldn’t be seen as this ultimatum of good or bad,” Swayne said. “It should be seen as a continuum and something that we can work into our lifestyles — it’s not something that just happens overnight.”

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