This is my sixth semester of college and, let me tell you, even when you tell yourself that you’e going to start being healthy in college, IT’S HARD. Your dining options aren’t always in line with your definition of healthy; your assignments have you pulling your hair out; your body tells you to go to bed but your pile of homework tells you to get shit done. Yeah, it’s pretty difficult, but it doesn’t have to be one big improvement all at once. I’ve come up with a list of small, actionable things that you can start doing to have a healthier college experience.
1. Get enough sleep!
Lots of college students pride themselves on being able to run through an entire day on four hours of sleep or less. The way you hear people bragging about this, you’d think they were competing against each other or something. Not getting enough sleep will make you very sluggish and less alert during your classes.
2. Hang out with friends.
Being social is actually really important for being healthy. Sometimes you just want to get out of your room and be around people for a little while. Also, friends are great for when you feel like you really need to get something off your chest. If you’re worried you can’t see your friends because you have a lot of homework, schedule a study date with them. I do this with my friends all the time, even though none of us are studying the same thing. It’s just really nice to see them and have them as company. Be sure to check out my Secrets For Making New Friends In College!
3. Don’t substitute snack foods for meals.
I was super guilty of doing this and it’s really unhealthy. You don’t get as much energy as you need to get through the rest of the day, and you’ll likely end up being hungry again really soon. A pack of crackers is not lunch. Sit down for an actual meal if you’re hungry and you’ll feel much more full. I know a lot of people look for healthy options on campus and college campuses aren’t exactly breeding grounds for healthy foods, but if your campus has a dietician, make an appointment with him or her. The campus dietician can help you identify food options that suit what you’re looking for.
4. Have a piece of fruit with every meal.
I started doing this during one mini winter semester at my school and I felt pretty healthy because, before, I was completely disregarding fruit in my diet, unless I grabbed a fruit smoothie from Red Mango. I started having a banana with everything I ate — with cereal for breakfast, with a sandwich wrap for lunch, with pasta for dinner (I chose a banana because I’m allergic to apples and the only open dining hall only had apples or bananas as fruit options). It helped fill me up quicker and I didn’t even feel the need to grab ice cream or cookies for dessert. This is a good trick to try if you also have a sugar habit you’re trying to kick.
5. Give yourself breaks when you do work.
Don’t try to cram all of your chemistry notes into your brain over the course of four straight hours. Your brain can get fatigued and you won’t be able to retain what you study. I like taking a 10-minute social media break after every hour or so of studying or doing work. Another method of studying I’ve heard of is called the Pomodoro technique where you work for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break and then repeat each work-study block as needed. However, you must give your full, undivided attention to your task during those 25 minutes. If you have tried the Pomodoro technique, let me know if you were successful with it!
6. Listen to your body.
This is one of the most important things you could do for yourself. Always put your personal health above everything else — yes, even above going to class! If you’re extremely exhausted and feeling extremely crappy, don’t push yourself to go to an event or even go to class if you don’t think you can make it. It’s better to show up performing at your best than at your worst. Listening to your body can really tell you what you need. A headache may not seem like a big deal, but it can be your body’s way of telling you that you’re dehydrated and need some water ASAP (this has happened to me a lot). Be aware of the signals!
7. Don’t hold grudges.
I’m a natural grudge-holder, but I’ve learned over the years that holding grudges takes some SERIOUS energy — energy that I can expend doing other more worthwhile things. There aren’t enough hours in the day to walk around with a chip on your shoulder because someone did you wrong. I don’t forget what people do, but I move on from the situation and I don’t make it the number one thing on my mind anymore. It feels so much better to just think about the more important stuff in life and not sit over one insignificant thing that I’ll probably forget about by the end of the semester.
8. Have alcoholic drinks in moderation.
I get that everyone wants to go out and party once in a while to relieve some stress and momentarily forget about school, but use caution when drinking. Avoid binge-drinking (four drinks in one sitting for girls) and try to drink with people you trust who will look after you if you need care.
9. Bundle up when it’s cold outside.
If you see people shivering outside and you think you should wear a hat, YOU SHOULD PROBABLY WEAR A HAT. I know the weather can sometimes deceive you, but it doesn’t hurt to at least pack a hat or scarf in your backpack in case you need it. It’s better to overcompensate for cold weather than to walk outside unprepared. Don’t play games with the cold; it can get you sick in a heartbeat. For more tips, be sure to check out my post on How To Avoid Getting Sick In College.
10. Drink lots of water.
This ties into my point on listening to your body. When you’re dehydrated, you’ll feel it. I get headaches in a specific part of my head when I really need water, and those headaches can hinder me from staying focused on my work. Water is also a good substitute for coffee when you’re trying to stay alert but don’t want to add to your caffeine intake. I like carrying around a refillable water bottle during the day because I find that I drink more water than if I were to just use a recyclable bottle of water.
11. Follow the instructions for using gym equipment.
If you’re one of the brave souls who like to mix things up at the gym and try out different types of equipment, first off, good for you — I’m too comfortable with the few machines I use to try out different ones. Second, make sure you keep yourself safe by asking for help if you aren’t sure how to use a machine or equipment. I know it can be a daunting task because you don’t want to look like you’ve never been to the gym before, but really, who cares? Everyone at the gym should be there to work and focus on themselves, not judge others. Better safe than sorry!
12. Walk to class instead of taking the bus.
This is an easy way to get your steps in for the day. My campus is huge and there are several buses running through it. Walking to class from my dorm room, even if it takes 15 minutes, is a great way for me to stretch my legs (and get my heart rate up if I’m running late!)
13. Avoid pulling all-nighters.
Sometimes, staying up extremely late is unavoidable if you have an extremely packed schedule, but if you can avoid it, you should. This ties in with my first point on getting enough sleep, so I won’t talk about this too much.
14. Create a bedtime routine to help you sleep.
If you sometimes get in bed but find yourself unable to actually sleep for another few hours, try coming up with a bedtime routine to get you to sleep. Here’s my routine: After finishing homework, I remove my makeup and take a shower; I get into my pajamas and hop into bed; I go through my phone for about 30 minutes to catch up on social media or messages; I read whatever book I’m enjoying at the time for about an hour to an hour and a half. I’m usually able to fall asleep by midnight if I do this. My routine is pretty simple, but feel free to do whatever you need to do to fall asleep. What’s your bedtime routine? Let me know in the comments!
15. Take care of yourself as soon as you think you’re starting to get sick.
If you feel your throat starting to feel dry and sore, get some cough drops and start drinking really warm tea. Don’t wait until it progresses to your nose getting stuffy and you coughing up a lung before you decide to take medicine or get treatment.
16. Find healthy ways of venting your frustrations.
Everyone has shitty days, but the way you handle them is what’s really important. I’m the type of person who needs to complain loudly to get something that really upset me off my chest. I always feel like I can move on once I tell someone about it. If you aren’t big on talking to others when you’re upset, venting to a journal is a great alternative.
17. Don’t over-exert yourself.
This ties into listening to the messages your body sends you, so I won’t go into too much detail with this one. I’m not just talking physically here, I’m also talking mentally. Don’t pile on too many obligations for your brain to handle. Know what your limit is and don’t try to exceed it.
18. Listen to music.
Listening to music is like a temporary break from your mind. I love listening to music in the morning while I brush my teeth and shower for class. It makes me feel so much better about having to wake up for my 8a.m. and it puts me in a really good mood. For more ways to have a brighter morning, check out my post on How To Make Your Mornings More Exciting.
19. Ask for help when you need it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help if you need it. It’s not a sign of weakness and it’s completely okay to seek it. Looking out for yourself is one of the best things you could do. Your college likely has free resources for students, so don’t be afraid to ask around and find the services that will suit you.
20. Set goals and be realistic about them.
Goal-setting is a healthy way to track progress and find ways to improve your performance. I love setting goals because if I reach or surpass them, I feel extra good, and if I don’t reach my goals I know exactly what I have to work on for next time.
What are your tips for healthy living in college?