"What's the best way for busy college students to maintain a healthy lifestyle?"
Great question, and one that I've pondered many times.
I very much enjoy working with students. To share some background, I was a Resident Advisor for two years in college. I've served on the advisory board to the Midwest Asian American Students Union for about seven years to date. Now, I work for a private university.
Beyond my background, I also think many times about what the me of today would have told the me of my younger days (if that makes sense).
Here are my suggestions on how college students can maintain a healthy lifestyle. (Although, these suggestions are certainly not limited to college students!)
1. Schedule workouts
For many folks, working out is something to do when time permits. This means that workouts can easily go by the wayside for any number of reasons. I've procrastinated on working out because I got sucked into Facebook, started cleaning out my email inbox, or finally decided to attack Mount Laundry such that its depreciative effect on my sock drawer could be resolved once and for all.
If you have plans to, say, meet your best friend for dinner, you schedule that time into your day and you do everything you can to keep that appointment. Why not do the same thing with your workouts? Put them into your calendar and treat them like any other appointment you make.
|OK, maybe not like these appointments.|
Now, we certainly can't always control every aspect of our schedules. There's no telling when some emergency will occur or some unforeseen circumstance will throw a huge wrench into your day. And it's okay to skip working out on days like those. But on most other days, having your workout appointment helps you organize your days more effectively, establishes a sense of focus and control, and also keeps your workouts a priority.
2. Do a little every day
Some folks might feel that they need to go all out with every workout. They have the philosophy that no pain is no gain, so they push themselves to the absolute limit every time. In my experience, this quickly leads to burnout and puts you at risk for injury. Killer workouts are not always enjoyable - and if it's not enjoyable, you're not going to do it. It's also more difficult to find the time to do big workouts, which means you're less likely to work out when things get busy.
Healthy lifestyles and exercise are cumulative over time. Therefore, I strongly believe that it's more effective to do a number of shorter, less-intense workouts per week than it is to do one giant workout per week.
I suggest trying to do some kind of exercise seven days a week - and in doing so, to feel free to vary the intensities. On those days when you don't feel like doing anything, just go for a quick walk. Unless you are injured or under the weather, the easiest workout is still better than nothing. Usually getting started is the hardest part - but once you get going, you will probably find it much easier to keep going.
3. Make sleep a priority
If anyone were to ask me for my biggest health tip, it would be simply to try to get as much sleep as possible, every night
Many folks would disagree, thinking that sleep is a waste of time. I know plenty of people who even take pride in not getting much sleep, wearing it like a badge of honor. Many people say, "I will get plenty of sleep when I'm dead." After all, who needs to sleep when there are emails to be answered, work to be done, or friends to talk to?
I adamantly disagree. I believe that if you are constantly sleep-deprived, that you'll get to your deathbed much sooner. We simply function better with adequate sleep. Sleep improves your mood, your memory, and your immunity; and it reduces stress and anxiety. I think an hour of much-needed sleep will result in more than an hour's worth of improved productivity the next day. It's an investment well worth it, in my opinion.
Obviously the key to being able to get enough sleep is to plan accordingly. If you procrastinate on your work to the point where it's midnight and you haven't even started a 20-page paper that is due at 8 AM the next morning, then at that point you may not have a choice. Don't let yourself get to that point! Assess your deadlines and then work backwards from that date to determine what needs to get done now in order to stay on track towards meeting that deadline as best as you can.
Example: Today is Sunday and I have a report due first thing Friday morning. I know that I'll need one day to do research, one day to draft the materials, and one day to review and revise it. Since I need at least three days to complete the paper, I need to get started by Tuesday in order to stay on track for a completion by Thursday night.
I also know plenty of people who are chronically sleep-deprived during the week, but always try to "catch up" on weekends. As with all healthy lifestyle habits, the effects of getting enough sleep or being sleep-deprived are cumulative. It doesn't make sense to eat junk food five days a week, but then try to make up for it by consuming only vegetables and water on the weekends. Sleep is no different. Do your best to get enough or as much sleep as you can EVERY night.
4. Mix things up
It's very easy to get into a routine with your lifestyle, e.g. the same food, same exercise (or lack thereof), same path to/from your home, etc., etc., etc.
However, at most universities, there are plenty of resources - whether they be clubs and organizations, advisors, fitness facilities, food choices, and other people from all walks of life. With so many resources and so many options, challenge yourself to try something different at least once a week, if not more often.
Instead of your usual workout regimen, try a different workout machine. Vary the intensity of your workouts. Run your usual route in reverse. Try a new type of restaurant or dabble with a different food selection in the dining hall. Eat breakfast for dinner. Your body eventually adapts to nearly everything you put it through, whether good or bad, so keeping things diverse will improve your resiliency and your overall health. It's also easier to stay on track with being healthy when you do not feel as though healthy habits are constraining you.
Now, a quick side note to illustrate a personal example of a routine you REALLY SHOULDN'T do. When I was in college, the dining hall had a soft-serve ice cream machine. During my freshman year, there was a long period where I ate soft-serve ice cream three meals a day, seven days a week. My idea of "mixing things up" that year was more along the lines of this:
|Living the dream... six flavors of soft-serve ice cream in a single cone.|
Eventually I came to my senses and limited myself to eating soft-serve ice cream only twice a day, seven days a week. But as you can imagine, I definitely packed on a few pounds that year. At the rate I was going, it wouldn't have taken long for me to rival the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. And that is not a good thing.
5. Take pride in your successes
Thus far I've talked a lot about eating habits and exercise. However, mental considerations are just as important, if not more important, towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Give yourself credit for everything that you do towards being healthy, because it does all make a difference. Just because a workout might have been an easy one certainly doesn't mean it was worthless and that you shouldn't be glad you did it.
Also, there is no time like the present to maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Even if you only stay on track for a day, that was still one day that you were on track versus another day that you weren't.
If it were easy to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle, then everyone would do it. Realize that we are all human so we will all inevitably slip from time to time - and that is okay. No need to beat yourself up over something that didn't go the way you wanted it to. Heck, allow yourself to let loose once in awhile so you won't go crazy feeling restricted. Just keep moving forward and doing the best that you can to the extent possible.
In short, it all adds up and it all counts - and be proud of yourself for taking any steps that you can.