8 Simple Ways College Students Can Lead Healthier Lifestyles

Note: This an article that I wrote for the print edition of the college newspaper Sidelines at MTSU. I interviewed students and professors at MTSU for advice on how college students can live healthier lifestyles despite having busy schedules. 

Most college students tend to live unhealthy lifestyles. We sit in classes all day, stare at a computer for hours cranking out our research papers, stuff our faces with pizza, and then sleep for about five hours before doing it all over again. Let’s not even discuss what the weekends look like.

Research anything about college health, and you’re likely to find a plethora of articles warning about “The Freshman 15.” While this is a proven myth, college students are still at an increased risk of getting cancer and other health problems later in life, according to a 2014 study by Northwestern Medicine and Northeastern Illinois University.

Here are some tips on how you can lead a healthier lifestyle despite a busy schedule:

1. Drink more water. 

Angela Ramos, an MTSU professor who coordinates yoga, Pilates, tai chi and activity dance, said, “Don’t drink your calories. Most people go over their calorie intake because of drinks. If you want something sugary, you can either have a dessert every once in a while or a soda, but most people do both.”

Sodas are packed with caffeine and sugar. Stop drinking soda, and not only will your sugar intake go down, but you may also shed a few pounds.

2. Grocery shop and meal prep.

Reginald Arthur, a junior exercise science major who works at the Rec Center, said, “I say you’ll save money if you grocery shop. That’s my biggest tip. [Meal prepping] is what’s saved me for the past few years I’ve been in college, is meal prepping.”

To meal prep, you pick a day to prepare all of your meals and put them in containers. In the long run, it should save you money, and help you cut back on your fast-food intake.

When grocery shopping, try to stick to the outer part of the store and avoid the center where all of the junk food is. Make sure to pack plenty of fresh, healthy snacks for whenever you’re hungry in order to not over indulge yourself later on.

3. Take a class.

MTSU offers plenty of physical education classes such as Pilates, yoga, aerobic dance, self-defense, and personal conditioning. By putting a fitness class in your schedule, it basically guarantees you’ll be active a few times a week because it is part of your grade. This will also allow you to learn correct form and keep you from making mistakes that could potentially injure you if you were to try the new activity on your own.

Activity fliers that are free to take at the entrance to the Recreation Center (Photo: Emily Austin)
Activity fliers that are free to take at the entrance to the Recreation Center (Photo: Emily Austin)

4. Use an app to track your progress.

MyFitnessPal is a free app you can download for iPhone and Android. This app allows you to keep track of your calorie intake and how many calories you’re burning throughout the day. You log in how much you currently weigh, your goal weight, gender, age and how active you typically are.

This easy-to-use app will tell you how many calories you should be consuming daily to reach your goal weight by a certain time. After completing an entry each day, the app will tell you how much progress you’ve made.

MTDining supports MyFitnessPal and some of Aramark’s food on campus is registered into the database, showing you the nutrition facts and calories.

5. Use the Rec Center

Every MTSU student can use the Recreation Center for free; all you need is your Student ID number. The Rec offers a weight room, cardio room, basketball court, swimming pool, fitness classes, personal trainers and information on intramurals.

“The majority of staff are exercise science majors, along with myself, “Arthur said. “We are more than happy to answer you questions.”

Students work up a sweat in the upstairs cardio room of the Recreation Center (Photo: Emily Austin)
Students work up a sweat in the upstairs cardio room of the Recreation Center (Photo: Emily Austin)

6. Get more sleep.

This is likely to be the most difficult one to accomplish. With classes, part-time jobs and social lives, college students tend to get little sleep. According to Brown University, college students are among the most sleep-deprived people in the country. Getting plenty of sleep may take some prioritizing.

According to Ramos, women tend to need eight hours of sleep while men need seven. However, college students need more.

7. Do more cardio.

Sitting around all day is bad for you, so move around any way you can. If you want to lose weight, you will need to work out about four to five times a week for 45 minutes to an hour.

If this can’t be accomplished, fit in movement whenever you can. Some time is better than no time. Have a 15-minute break? Go for a walk. If you have a long break between classes, use it as an opportunity to at least go for a 20-minute run at the Rec Center.

8. Make good habits and stay positive. 

“Don’t look at it as a task,” Arthur said. “It’s important if you’re goal-oriented. It’s very good to implement a goal with exercise, because if it continues, it makes you get into the habit of coming in and just going with the routine that allows you to reach your goals.”