It's never too early to start incorporating healthy habits, and the earlier you start, the easier it will be to carry these habits into the rest of your life. Finding patterns that work for you and becoming your best self is a journey that may have ups and downs, but college is a great time to start exploring your needs.
As you adjust to adulthood and potentially live independently for the first time, these seven healthy habits for college students can help you stay healthy both on campus and beyond.
1. Clean Your Living Space Often
Cleaning may be something other than your favorite thing or a source of tension with your parents and caregivers. But even without a top-to-bottom scrub down, small habits can help make your space more inhabitable and prevent illness.
You can start small with keeping your things organized - always put your laundry back into the drawers and closet once it's clean. Pay attention to washing items touched often, like doorknobs and your computer mouse. And, of course, regularly changing your bedsheets and towels is crucial.
Dorm rooms often have poor circulation, especially in the colder months when windows and doors are shut. This means more dust and dander will likely build up, causing you to sneeze or breathe in germs.
It may feel hard to spend your hard-earned money on something like cleaning supplies, but these habits will keep you in good health, both physically and mentally. Plus, more people will want to hang out in your well-kept dorm room than a messy one!
2. Get Eight Hours of Sleep Every Night
The occasional all-nighter is inevitable in college but focus on creating good sleep patterns and habits as much as possible. The quality of our sleep impacts our lives. From blood pressure and stress levels to immunity and mental clarity, rest is one of the most important aspects of staying healthy, especially in college.
One of the keys to getting a good night's rest is what you do before crawling into bed. For example, you're more likely to fall asleep quickly and sleep well if you are active during the day. It's also best to turn off all screens (yes, even your phone) about an hour before bedtime to give your brain a chance to wind down.
Many students find limiting caffeine in the afternoon and evening helpful and even set an alarm when it's time to get ready for bed. You can incorporate something relaxing into your routine, like meditation, reading a book outside of your coursework, or reflection.
Your schedule allows for naps during the day, which can significantly compensate for lost sleep during a busy semester!
3. Exercise & Keep Active
This will be easy for some students because participating in college sports or living on a large and hilly campus requires lots of movement. But if this is different for you and you still need to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, this is a great time to start.
Movement, deep breathing, muscular exertion, sweating, and all the other beautiful things that come with exercise can profoundly enhance your life in many ways. Activity and keeping active, whether in strength training or cardio, positively influences sleep quality and cognitive performance. Most colleges will have some kind of gym or fitness center available that you can use if you find it helpful.
Exercise can also be motivating to lead healthier lifestyles in aspects of diet, water intake, and being more in tune with your body. Regular exercise can also help strengthen your immunity, helping you ward off the common cold and other bugs that may travel around campus.
4. Eat Whole Food Meals & Snacks
Have you ever heard of the dreaded "freshman 15?" It's not uncommon for new students to gain some weight when they start college, between the access to dining halls and lack of parental guidance on healthy meals. And while it's okay to indulge sometimes, the importance of diet and nutrition cannot be overstated in maintaining optimal health. Like sleep and exercise, diet and nutrition ultimately dictate cognitive performance, physical well-being, and overall immunity.
Adopting healthy eating habits requires mindful decision-making, commitment, and being creative. The salad bar might not sound as delicious as the pizza, but it offers more variety and creativity and adds color to your meal. Limiting processed foods like pizza, burgers, and fries will leave you feeling cleaner, lighter, and more energized.
Incorporating more whole foods in your diet extends beyond what’s available at the university cafe. Students, in particular, should embrace grocery shopping and the experience of proactive meal planning. Having healthy, nutritious, and protein-rich snacks goes a long way when you leave for a long day of class. Not only will you keep your brain and body optimized, but you’ll also minimize the stress that comes with hunger and low energy.
5. Have a Party Strategy
Social gatherings, sporting events, dance parties, and other forms of nightlife make up much of the joy of being a college student. Going out on the weekends can be fun, but there’s often a turning point when it can become unhealthy.
The impact of staying out late in itself can have negative repercussions on sleep, immunity, mental clarity, and overall energy. Combining other party-going behaviors can be even more physically and emotionally consuming. While you don’t have to forgo attending parties and social gatherings, balancing and listening to your body is essential.
Making better choices may mean calling it a night at 11 PM instead of 1 AM, drinking more water to stay hydrated, being smart about who you socialize with, or using your intuition to avoid unfit or unsafe situations. What's important is to make these decisions ahead of time so that you don't get swept up in the fun and overlook your health.
6. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is just as important as diet and nutrition. Water cleanses the body and transports vitamins and nutrients to give you energy. It's also crucial for your mental and physical health, particularly your muscles, skin, and joints.
If you're not adequately hydrated, your body will not be able to perform at its optimal level. You may feel hungry, tired, or dizzy or experience muscle cramps, dry skin, and other symptoms. Staying hydrated is especially important after exercise and nourishes your body for a good night’s sleep.
A good habit to get into now as a college student is to bring water with you everywhere you go - invest in a quality water bottle and make it your best friend. Unless you’re attending a function with water on hand, bringing your own will naturally prompt you to drink more often.
7. Listen To Your Body
Our final tip for how to stay healthy in college is the most important - listen to your body.
Acknowledging when something doesn’t feel right, whether physical, mental, or emotional, is the critical first step to overcoming it.
If you’re feeling a cold, sleep and take vitamin C. You may want to avoid rigorous exercise if you feel neck or lower back pain. That also means that if someone feels dangerous, you can take steps to prevent them, and if a friendship isn't serving you, it's okay to cut ties. Always ensure you are checking in with yourself and making the right choices.
College is a fun and exciting time in your life that comes with a lot of growth. This means taking on decision-making for yourself, building habits, and starting to shape who you will be for the rest of your life. Adopting good practices and using these simple tips to stay healthy in college will serve you well now and soon.