Start Smart! How to Get a Healthy Start to the School Year
On New Year’s Day, millions of people make resolutions to start the year off right. People want to face challenges, look good and feel good, and live a better life than the previous year. Some of the most popular resolutions include “eat healthy food, get fit, lose weight, and manage stress” (source).
At college, a new school year can come with many new changes; new home, new roommates, and a new schedule. It also provides a new opportunity to start the school year off right! Keeping up with your health in college is one of the keys to success. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be less likely to get sick (and therefore less likely to miss class), you may have better concentration, and you may find it easier to study and tackle assignments. You may also gain a new sense of self confidence that helps you to make new friends and improves your public speaking skills. Taking care of yourself involves a proper sleep pattern, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and time management skills.
Getting enough sleep. There are many excuses and reasons for why college students don’t get enough sleep. You may be up late working on an assignment for your 8am class, you may be pulling a late shift to pay for your textbooks, or you just don’t feel like going to bed.
Getting enough sleep (more than 6 hours a night) may be one of your lower priorities at school, but it should be the highest. Those who chronically don’t get enough sleep are less alert and more confused, forget more information and have trouble learning new information, and have difficulty focusing and paying attention (source). You also may reach for a candy bar or soda to help you stay awake, which could lead to weight gain and more health problems.
It may sound juvenile, but in order to make sure you get enough sleep, you may need to set yourself a bed time. Try going to bed 7-8 hours before you need to wake up, and don’t use your computer or watch TV within 30 minutes of going to bed. The light from the screens may prevent you from falling asleep when you need to, and may disrupt your sleep cycle for the rest of the night. Eating within an hour before you go to bed may affect the functions of your digestive system, which could also prevent you from a good night’s sleep.
Eat right. Getting enough sleep and eating right go hand in hand. Because of hormones, those who sleep less than 8 hours per night have an increased appetite and tend to weigh more (source). Proper nutrition is also important for concentration and optimal brain function. MyPlate provides the latest recommendation for healthy eating, and offers a visual for what a healthy plate should look like.
Filling your diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins (such as beans, tofu, or lean poultry), low-fat dairy, whole grains, and healthy fats (such as olive oil and nuts) is a great way to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to keep you healthy and focused. Keep your metabolism fired up and your hunger at bay by going no more than 5 hours without eating. Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can leaving you feeling hungry, lethargic, and cranky, and makes it much more difficult to concentrate and study. Staying hydrated is also important for concentration, and helps fight fatigue.
Exercise. You may already be aware of all the physical changes you see when you begin an exercise regime. Not only does exercising improve the muscles you can visibly see, such as biceps and calf muscles, but it also helps improve brain function. Exercise helps improve blood flow to the brain, and cells are able to function at a higher rate. According to studies performed by the Franklin Institute, walking can help improve memory, and learning ability, and running increases brain cell growth as well as helping to prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s (source).
Moderate exercise 30 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week should suffice. If you feel you do not have time for exercise, try 10 minute sessions three times a day, or schedule it into your day as an appointment you can’t miss. Exercise doesn’t have to be a vigorous cardio session; any activity that raises your heart rate and gets you to break a sweat is great! Walking, jogging, biking, skiing, hiking, swimming, tennis, basketball, soccer, and even yoga can be considered exercise. Thinking of exercise as something fun rather than a chore may help you find motivation to exercise.
Manage your time. Time management is critical in college, as well as the workplace and everyday life. In college, you may find yourself swamped with school work, meetings and events, and needing to find time to get the proper amount of sleep, exercise, and nutrition. You may have even heard the phrase, “sleep, study, social life- pick two of the three”. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. With some proper time management, you can get everything done that you need to, and still have free time!
Tips for time management:
- Keep a planner: A planner can be one of your most helpful resources for time management in college. In the beginning of the semester, write down all your assignments for the entire term, as well as exam dates, extracurricular activities, and other meetings. You can use an academic calendar, an online calendar (such as Google or Microsoft Outlook), a simple wall calendar, or even an app on your phone!
- Make to-do lists: Once you have your planner filled out, you will know when all your assignments are due, but this doesn’t mean you won’t leave them for the last minute. Each day, make a to-do list of what you need to do ahead of time to get your assignments done. Put the most important assignments first, even if they seem the most difficult.
- Avoid distractions: When doing school work, school work should be the only thing you are concentrating on. Avoid distractions such as Facebook and Twitter, your cell phone, or the TV. If you are easily distracted by people, find a quite place like the library to do your work. Distractions will result in you studying for longer than you should have, which may lead to stress.
- Manage stress: If you find yourself stressed, it will be more difficult to get your work done. Manage stress by avoiding procrastination, and following your planner and your to-do lists. If you are more relaxed, you will be able to focus and concentrate better, and you may be able to finish your work in a shorter amount of time! Exercise, meditation, and yoga are other healthy ways to manage stress.
Keeping yourself healthy in college is a great way to ensure success. Start off the year right, and you will be more likely to finish the year right. Remember to get enough sleep, have a healthy diet (check out MyPlate for helpful nutrition tips), exercise 30 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week, and manage your time by keeping a planner, making to-do lists, avoiding distractions, and managing your stress!