Transitioning from high school to college is an exciting time; it means new found freedoms, friends, and adventures. It also means learning to make new choices for yourself. As mentioned in part 1, habits formed in college tend to stay around as an adult. Poor dietary habits, lack of planning, and time management are some of the reasons why students tend to gain weight in college. Additionally, fitness and stress management are significant contributors to both achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. The greatest decrease in physical activity has been observed in those age 15-18, but continues for many throughout their 20s, as well. Despite overwhelming evidence that physical activity favorably affects weight control, disease prevention, and overall health, less than 25% of adults in America engage in some sort of physical activity, a staggeringly low number.
Moving away from home is a vulnerable time for many adolescents; healthy habits taught by parents may give way to unhealthy habits when students are on their own. Some studies have found that up to 70% of college freshmen do not meet physical activity recommendations. According to the 2000 National College Health Assessment, 57% of male and 61% of female college students reported that they did not exercise, vigorously or moderately, on at least 3 days of the week. Once moving off to college, students decide when and how much physical activity to undertake. Without parental guidance or mandatory fitness requirements from the university, activities like reading, studying for classes, and computer use may replace sports, exercise, or other physical activity. Studies show that men are more physically active then women, but also watch more television and spend more time on computers than women. For women, studying was more correlated with physical activity duration than television and computer use. Ways to incorporate more physical activity in your day include:
- Only watch television or play video games after you’ve been active or have your activity scheduled for later that day.
- Pick activities you enjoy and that fit into your schedule or try taking a class for course credit.
- Have a support system to help keep you active. Try a new sport, join a recreational team, or join a class at the gym.
- Schedule study breaks to allow for physical activity, even if it’s a brief walk.
- Remember, activity doesn’t have to be done all at once. 10 minutes three times a day is sufficient. Take the long route to class, park further away, or get off the bus a stop early.
Learning to live on your own, manage new responsibilities, working hard to earn grades that will help you to your career aspirations, dealing with the high cost of college, and discovering a new social network may feel overwhelming. It is understandable that with today’s high standards, students feel stress and pressure. Stress can decrease a person’s ability to exercise restraint over their emotions and behaviors and one often turns to behaviors that are easy and comfortable, such as remaining sedentary or consuming convenient junk food. This may be partially to blame for students’ unhealthy habits. In a study of students during exam time, researchers found that stress during exams predicted a reduction in physical activity levels among college students. Ways to manage stress levels in healthy ways include:
- Perform stress-relieving activities daily, such as deep breathing, yoga, or meditation.
- Avoid overscheduling yourself. Limit the number of classes you take each semester and reduce extracurricular activities to a manageable amount.
- Keep a schedule -- aim for consistent sleep, healthy eating, and break times.
- If you feel like stress is becoming unmanageable, reach out for help from a qualified source
Go into college armed with resources to stay healthy; but also enjoy this exciting journey. Have a plan for healthy eating, physical activity, and stress management. And, if you feel like you need additional resources, seek advice on your college campus from a Registered Dietitian, Health Coach, or counselor. Good luck on the new school year!
By Amy Kurtz BA, BS, CI-CPT, Certified Health Coach
This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.