Nov 11, 2008

Embracing the healthful side of college life

by Amanda Sullivan

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle while attending college may be a difficult task. College students are inundated with a wide array of food options that may not be the healthiest choice, despite the Reber-Thomas Dining Hall’s best efforts.
A student’s desire for greasy, salty french-fries and soft-serve ice cream combined with academic responsibilities and a demanding social life rarely provides time for consistent exercise. The high intake of calories plus the lack of exercise and sleep make it easy for students to pack on the pounds, allowing healthy habits to disintegrate.

“Exercising regularly, washing (your) hands often and brushing (your) teeth, organization, nutritious eating and good sleeping habits are extremely important preventive measures for college students to maintain good health,” Professor of Health and Sciences Joseph Mix said.

Learning to select healthy food options – regardless of location – is an essential component for maintaining a healthy life. According to CampusLife.suite101.com, students should consume foods such as fresh fruit, whole grains or low-fat yogurt or frozen yogurt. The salad bar has potential to provide a healthful meal, however students should be conscientious of fatty toppings such as cheese, croutons and non-fat free dressings.

Creating good eating habits make preserving a healthy diet while frequenting the college cafeteria a real possibility. The commitment requires students to make the choice to eat healthier food options on a daily basis. CampusLife.suit101.com recommends students refrain from consuming juices, sodas, full-fat salad dressings, fatty breakfasts, french fries, mayonnaise and butter. Some foods that plague the college campus population may still be consumed, but in moderation.

“My typical diet consists of meats, pastas, sweets, veggies, fruits – the whole works,” junior Heidi Sayre said, adding she eats “a lot of carbs and breads.”

The foods many college students choose to eat tend to be high in fat and calories, but maintaining a balanced diet requires individuals to select food from all major food groups. A balanced diet includes five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, six daily servings of grain products (including whole grain), fat-free and low-fat dairy products, poultry and lean meats and two servings of fish each week, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

“The average American requires 2,000 – 2,400 calories per day,” Mix said. “The average American consumes 3,400 calories per day.”
Choosing to eat the right foods is important but so is making the time to eat breakfast every morning. The saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is not a farce. The meal not only has healthy ramifications, but it also helps students become more alert for their early morning classes.

“Breakfast is your early morning refueling stop. After eight to12 hours without food, the body needs to replenish its glucose or blood sugar,” Centra Health Nutritionist Ida Proco said. “The brain needs a fresh supply of glucose, its main energy source, because it has no stored reserves. Sustained mental work requires a large turnover of glucose in the brain.”

Eating well is not the only concern for college students attempting to live a healthy lifestyle. Students should make a conscious effort to establish a consistent workout schedule – one that outlasts swimsuit season. In reality, whether a student works out to a Pilates video in the dorm room or heads to the gym, the most important aspect is that he or she exercises regularly.

An adequate exercise regime consists of aerobic exercise three to five times a week for 30 minutes, strength training two to three times a week and daily stretching.

“Work out large muscle groups (biceps, triceps, deltoids, pectorals, quadriceps and hamstrings),” Mix said. “For strength training in the dorm, (perform) push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and use free weights. For aerobic exercise in the dorm, climb stairs, (do) jumping jacks, run in place or skip rope.”

Healthy eating and consistent exercise are important factors of a balanced life, but learning to make time for good sleeping habits is also essential. A good night’s sleep leads to a more focused attention in classes and makes homework and studying easier to complete. As college students, sleep does not rank very high on the to-do list, but rest helps set the tone for the remainder of the day. Students should make a point to get at least eight hours of sleep each night, not the three or four hours of sleep per night that help further the college-students-never-sleep stereotype.

“Not getting enough sleep lowers one’s resistance to illness and increases the likelihood of stress, fatigue, common cold and poor performance on exams,” Mix said.

The lack of sleep that plagues many college students’ lives leads to the consumption of caffeine to compensate for tiredness. Caffeine comes in many forms such as coffee, soda and energy drinks – all of which may be found in many students’ hands on any given day. Caffeine intake has not been scientifically linked health risks such as cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, blood cholesterol levels, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease or osteoporosis, according to Proco. However caffeine still affects the body, so the key is moderation.

“Too much caffeine — more than the equivalent of one to two cups of coffee per day — can lead to the following problems of elevated heart rate, high blood pressure and dehydration,” Mix said.

Students who drink caffeinated beverages should be mindful of their water intake. On average, a person should drink eight to 12 glasses of water a day to remain fully hydrated. When caffeine is added into the mix, a person’s water intake should increase by 25 to 50 percent. Even though the each person’s need for water varies with the amount of salt and caffeine consumed by the individual, hydration is important.

Whereas healthy eating, good sleeping habits and exercise all lend a hand in maintaining a healthful lifestyle, going back to the basics of hand washing may be the most beneficial endeavor, as the common cold is the most prevalent illness on college campuses, according to Mix.

“The most common way (of spreading germs is by) lack of proper hand washing and doing it frequently,” Proco said.

In addition to maintaining good physical health, good mental health is important. Students should find time every day to relax and separate themselves from the life around them. The downtime provides the mind time to slow down, allowing students to more sufficiently evaluate life choices such as deciding to finish the 15-page paper that is due in four hours.

“Have a quiet time for a few minutes each day to clear your mind, pray and read (God’s) word,” Mix said. “Quiet means turning cell phones off, turning iPods off and turning laptops off.”

Incorporating good mental habits and physical habits such as healthy eating, getting enough sleep, exercising and hand washing make maintaining a healthy lifestyle less difficult to achieve while in college. For more information on how to maintain a healthy life consisting of healthy eating, sleeping, exercise and basic care, visit Web sites such as AmericanHeart.org, EatRight.org, CentraHealth.com and MyPyramid.org.

 


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