The Ultimate Guide to Staying Healthy and Fit in College
As you prepare to leave for college, you might be wondering what life away from home will be like. You are probably not thinking about health and fitness, but there are good reasons why you should be. If you want to succeed in college, you need to take care of yourself while you are there.
College gives you the opportunity to establish healthy habits that will last your whole life. While there are many factors affecting your health, this guide will focus mainly on diet, weight, and exercise, all of which contribute to your level of fitness now and your long-term risk of many illnesses. You at your healthiest will get the most out of college.
Know Your Starting Point
Before getting started, you’ll have to go back to the basics. It’s important to learn about how nutrition affects your body. While you might have thought about nutrition in terms of calories and losing weight, there’s so much more to it than that. If you took health education in high school, you may still remember something about diet and exercise. These resources will give you more information.
Take a quiz to get started. How much did you know? You will get some healthful suggestions while taking the quiz and after finishing. There’s more here to learn than just diet and exercise, and you can follow links provided if you want to learn more now.
Review why physical activity is important. Exercise provides many benefits, some of which can help you in your studies, so focus on those. For example, exercise can help you control your weight and improve your mental health.
Learn about BMI (Body Mass Index). BMI is one way to see if you are underweight or overweight to the point that you are putting your health at risk. Check out the adult BMI calculator if you are 20 years of age or older, or the Child & Teen BMI calculator under 20 years old. If your BMI is high, you need to start thinking about weight control now.
Did you get enough exercise during high school? Did your school require physical education all four years? Are you an athlete? Do you enjoy activities like martial arts or dance? This site will tell you how much exercise you needed as a teenager. Did you get it?
Learn the different amounts and types of exercise you need as an adult. The amount of exercise recommended depends on its intensity. Muscle strengthening is also necessary. This link contains definitions of aerobic exercise and other terms, as well as a table that shows where a number of activities fall on the intensity spectrum. Start thinking about how to incorporate exercise into your daily life.
Get some ideas about healthy eating. Here are eight realistic, healthy-eating goals and some ways to achieve them. Once you get to college, you can choose to eat well.
You will almost certainly need a physical examination before you start college. This resource from Swarthmore College will probably be similar to what your college sends you. See what medical services are available at Swarthmore. Your college will probably offer similar services. If you need a physical examination, try and see your regular doctor, and ask any questions you have.
Take this quiz to see what vaccines you need. Even if you were up-to-date in high school, you will need other vaccines. Your college will let you know which ones. If there are outbreaks of infectious illness while you are at college, you may need other immunizations later.
Eat a Nutritious Diet at College
You will probably be living in a dormitory and eating cafeteria food, although fast food and snacks will be easy to find. Here are some ways to begin a healthy diet.
Get specific dietary advice using this online tool. You can start by entering your current weight and activity level. The calculator will suggest a diet to maintain weight or a diet to gain or lose weight. Follow the links to see “My Plate,” which will tell you the amounts and types of food you need. This includes important nutrients, not just calories. You can enter data a second time, adjusting your activity level to show you how increased physical activity affects what you need to eat.
Put it all together by tracking your diet and exercise. Use the SUPERTRACKER to monitor your progress to a healthy diet and a healthy level of exercise. You can create a personalized plan or use a general one. You can find a lot of information here, including the calories and nutrients in over 8,000 foods.
Get some healthy eating tips from actual college students. These come from Rutgers University. Many students recommend eating breakfast, avoiding midnight snacks, and trying to limit indulgences at campus food trucks. The next time you’re at the dining hall, look around for healthier options instead of just grabbing a slice of pizza.
Read a module on food and nutrition from The George Washington University. This sums it all up while also presenting a lot of data about the college experience. If you prepare a lot of your own meals, the last part of this module gives useful ideas about cooking and healthy eating on a college budget.
Get the Exercise You Need
You might be willing to exercise, but don’t know what choices there are or how to start. These resources will help.
Avoid the freshman 15. It is a common but unproven belief that freshmen gain 15 pounds the first year. It is clear, though, that many freshmen do gain weight. This resource from Champlain College explains how exercise can prevent a large weight gain, as well as reviewing many other benefits of exercise and suggesting some kinds of activity you may not have considered.
Do college students really exercise? Yes. This resource gives you 13 reasons why you should exercise, as well as tips about how to get started.
Review the exercise you need starting at age 18. This gives official recommendations for all adults, including time needed as well as types of exercise. Review the examples of moderate and high-intensity aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercises.
Learn a way to gauge exercise intensity. This resource demonstrates how to use the talk test to see how hard you are exercising. There is a link at the bottom to “Target Heart Rate,” another way to gauge activity level by taking your pulse. After reading about moderate and high intensity activities, try and imagine things you might enjoy doing that are not traditional exercise.
Remember, college physical education is not high school PE. Think of this as a wish list. See the activities offered at Columbia University and start thinking about what you might try if you could. This is a way to get both college credit and health benefits. Some colleges actually require a semester or two of physical education. Now go to your school’s website to see what is offered.
Find healthy activities in everyday life. Find some easy ways to exercise. Walk or ride a bicycle to get from your dorm to class. Use the stairs. Take a walk with friends. Go hiking. Be creative.
What Else Can You Do to Stay Healthy?
Get an overview of college health and wellness from people who know. The 101 health and wellness tips from Rutgers University start with diet and exercise but go on to cover a lot of other things. You will find answers to a lot of questions here.
Nourish your "Physical Root." These simple but important tips from Dartmouth serve as reminders that our bodies need to be healthy in order to function well.
Enhance the physical aspects of your wellbeing. The University of Minnesota has developed a program called “Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing.” Right now, focus on the part called “Health,” which you can see in the upper left part of the pie chart. Click on health, and you will see five areas, Diet & Nutrition, Physical Activity, Sleep, Thoughts & Emotions, and Stress Mastery. There is information about each of these, as well as quizzes to see how you are doing and help you set goals. You can look beyond nutrition and activity by following links. For example, you might want to check out ways to improve your sleep.
Stay healthy in general. Here the CDC reviews ways to stay safe and healthy at college, along with links to more information. Beyond healthy eating and regular physical activity, the resource goes on to discuss physical safety, sexually transmitted diseases, and substance abuse.
There are many factors that impact your health and fitness in college. While healthy eating and appropriate exercise are keys to fitness, other aspects of your life affect the way you feel. You can use the resources here to start to look at many of these factors. Most importantly, learn to take good care of yourself so you leave college healthy in mind and body.