Healthy Living in College 101: Fitness, Nutrition, Stress, and Sleep
Updated: Nov 15
PHS '16, University of Delaware '20
Healthy living is not only the absence of disease or looking fit from the outside. Instead, I would define healthy living as an overall lifestyle that benefits your whole body, such as paying attention to physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and environmental health. As a graduating Nutrition and Dietetics major at the University of Delaware, I wanted to share advice and research I’ve learned throughout my college career to help all of you succeed in reaching a healthy lifestyle in college.
Whether it’s gathering friends on the campus green to play Frisbee or a game of volleyball, there are many ways to stay active in college. Some fitness principles to keep in mind include doing a variety of exercises throughout the week by rotating through cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular fitness, and flexibility. A general rule-of-thumb from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans includes 150 min/week moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 min/week vigorous-intensity physical activity or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity physical activity.
Tips to staying active in college:
Walk to class and take the stairs instead of the elevator
Most colleges offer a free gym on campus to those with their student ID
Some of the Registered Student Organizations you will see on campus involve fitness. My university offered CrossFit, Zumba, and yoga classes for free
Intramural sports provide an opportunity for students of all skill levels to participate in friendly and informal competition. You can form teams with friends and compete against other students at your university
Club sports are a step-up from intramurals, but less rigorous than collegiate sports. They are organized athletic teams offered at college where students compete competitively with other universities. Some club sports have tryouts, while others are open for all to participate. This is a great option for those of you who played sports in high school and want to continue playing in college
Nutrition can be tough to maintain in a college setting with endless fast food restaurants and dining hall options, along with classes that are during usual mealtimes. Below are tips I’ve learned in my nutrition classes and through personal experience on campus to choose healthy options.
Nutrition tips for college:
Eating a healthy breakfast before or during your morning classes can boost brain power and provide the energy you need to get through the day. For the days I didn’t have time to make breakfast, I would grab a banana and Greek yogurt before running out the door
Having snacks in your bag is helpful for the times when you have multiple classes in a row or need extra energy to study. Here are some snack ideas to add to your bag:
Bananas and apples: both fill your body with vitamins, minerals and fiber without causing a sugar crash during class
Nuts: packed with nutrients and healthy fats, while boosting your brain’s processing capabilities
Protein bars: protein provides increased satiety, which is the feeling of fullness. Avoid protein bars that contain high amounts of added sugars and sweeteners
Balance is key! Try to grab items from all food groups at the dining hall (fruit, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy)
Know it’s okay to not eat healthy all the time. Aim for the 80/20 ratio, where 80% of meals goes toward your health goal and 20% include your favorite foods
Remember to pack a water container! There are water refilling stations throughout my campus to help students stay hydrated all day. Dehydration can cause a lack of energy, dizziness, and headaches
Stress and Sleep Management
Have a major exam coming up and about to pull an all-nighter? You bet I’ve been there! However, it will actually be harder to recall facts, focus, and take in new information with sleep deprivation. Additionally, insufficient sleep causes the body to increase the levels of stress hormones, and this added stress gets in the way of quality sleep causing a harmful cycle. Continual release of stress hormones can reduce the ability of the body to protect you from infections. Attaining the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night boosts your immunity since proteins called cytokines are released during rest that regulate infections and inflammation, which is especially important with COVID-19.*
Tips to reducing stress and improving sleep:
Avoid the temptation to procrastinate
Find a relaxing activity you enjoy to clear your mind when feeling stressed (e.g. listening to music, watching your favorite Netflix show, going for a walk)
Consider downshifting by saying “no” if you have too much on your plate
Exercise early in the day instead of at night and reduce screen-time at night for a better sleep
College is a large adjustment, so starting with small goals and slowly adding to them will help make healthy living on campus easier to achieve. Healthy living should also be fun! I created a healthy cooking Chopped competition for my sorority as the Healthy Sisters Chair, and colleges will make it simple for you to host events on your campus. Feel free to reach out to me with any health questions. You've got this!
* Reference: Donatelle RJ. Health: The Basics. 13th ed. New York: Pearson Education; 2019.