Thursday 2 July, 2020

5 keys to help you stay healthy and well in college

By Meisha-Gay Mattis

Attention all college students, freshmen and returning! College is believed to be the place where you get real world ready, and by that I mean you are developing key habits that will probably shape your life. The habits you develop can either set you up for failure or success, and a healthy lifestyle is one of those things.

You may feel like you have no time to maintain or develop a healthy lifestyle, especially when you start contemplating exams, term papers, group projects (oh, how we hate those!) and maintaining an active social life.

Health and wellness is probably the last thing on your mind. But it does matter because, in addition to life and sometimes work experience, one thing many students gain in college is weight. Ever heard of the ‘Freshman 15,’ those 15 (or more) pounds many gain before their first year is completed? It’s an American term, but I assure you, it applies in Jamaica, too.

Let's dissect how we can prevent the Freshman 15, along with helping you to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle through this new, exciting and challenging period of your life.

1. Pay special attention to your diet

A few keeps ways to be strategic with your diet include:

  • Eating breakfast – Allow yourself enough time to prepare breakfast before you leave for classes in the morning. Food give you energy, vitality and life, and breakfast powers you up to start your day off right. It will also prevent you from overeating throughout the day. Eggs, fruits and oatmeal are great, simple options, so stock up on those items.
  • Limiting sugary and caffeinated beverages – This might sound a little crazy, as you might consider these your primary sources of energy and fuel for those late night study sessions. But the truth is these beverages don't keep you full and will pile on the empty calories. Also, sugary and caffeinated beverages deteriorate your health over time and lead to various non communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and others.
  • Monitoring alcohol consumption – We know college students love to party, but don't go buck wild with the libations. A drink or two is fine, but going overboard, especially if you make it a regular occurrence, taxes your liver unnecessarily. And you want to avoid the potentially dangerous side effects and those yucky hangovers.
  • Avoiding junk food as much as possible – Do not get caught in the ‘grab-and-go’ culture. Having a snack here and there is fine, but don't make it a habit. Junk foods are devoid of essential nutrients that the body needs to thrive, and are loaded with unhealthy additives and preservatives.
  • Creating a convenient healthy eating environment – Make it easy on yourself to eat right:

- Keep healthy snacks on hand, like fruits and nuts.

- Shop for fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk with your roommates to save money. Also, if you leave the chips on the supermarket shelves, you’re more likely to reach for the apple or banana that you bought at the market.

- Make water your favorite beverage.



2. Don't lose sleep

This is just as important as the other activities you do. Sleep helps the body be restored and replenished. Not getting enough sleep may tamper with your mood, increase stress levels and make you cranky, and may also reduce your ability to concentrate. Try avoiding all nighters by making better use of your time, especially before a big exam. You don't want to get caught in a situation where your ability to do well is impacted by little sleep, regardless of how much or how long you studied. Have a discussion with roommates to agree on sleep times so that you all may benefit.


3. Be responsible for your sexual health

We’re not talking about the birds and the bees here, but if you’re going to do it, you want to explore sex and your sexuality in a safe manner.

- Protect yourself against sexual transmitted diseases (STDs) at all times--no exceptions! The safest way to do so is by using a condom. Always have your own; don’t rely on your partner to be the only responsible one.

- Once you are sexually active, get tested as frequently as required. Most colleges offer health cards and allows students to visit the health centre or clinic at no additional costs.

- Make sure your and your partner are on the same page and do not do anything that you’re uncomfortable with. If you feel uncomfortable discussing some things with your partner, find someone you trust to talk with.


4. Stress is no respecter of age

Particularly prolonged periods of tension can create havoc in the body. In addition to putting you in a bad mood, it affects your sleep cycle, diminishes thyroid function, impairs memory and cognitive function, elevates blood pressure and intensifies aches and pains. So you may want to monitor stress.

- Give yourself breaks and downtime to refresh and recharge.

- Try not to take on too much on your plate. Although you want your college experience to be well rounded, you don’t have to join a bunch of clubs and societies and spread yourself thin. It makes no sense if it results in adverse effects on your health.

- Learn time management. Prioritize by doing your most important tasks first, and the rest will take care of itself.

- Find fun hobbies that take you away from your daily routine, and don't allow yourself to get run down or overwhelmed with college life.


5. Get moving

You may find it difficult to fit exercise into your busy schedule, but your body will reap tremendous benefits from it. Every little movement counts. Our bodies thrive on movement. Getting active naturally gives you more energy, which you desperately need as a college student. It better conditions your lungs and heart, makes you better able to control your weight, and is also a de-stressor.

As little as 30 minutes a day, three days a week is a great starting point. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 30 minutes a day, five days a week, but no pressure. It doesn't necessarily have to include a gym session if you’re not into that. It’s all about doing the little things: walks in between classes, using the steps versus the elevator, where applicable. Listen to your body and find what works for you. Once you understand how various movements nurture your body and in what ways, you’ll know what works best for you.  

Be prepared as things will change in your college years. You’ll be expected to grow and learn new things as it prepares you for the real world of work and bills and adult responsibilities, but try not to be overwhelmed. Believe you can do this, and tackle it with confidence.

You have it within you, and making health and wellness a priority is a good way to set the tone to help other things in your life fall into place. Because if you don't have health, you'll have nothing. Being balanced is key as it will make you feel like you’re the one in control.

Contributed by Meisha-Gay Mattis, founder of Bodhi, a Kingston-based holistic wellness company. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Personal Fitness Trainer. Email for more information or visit any of the following 

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