The THREE SECRETS of a healthy student lifestyle

The THREE SECRETS of a healthy student lifestyle

There are many areas of your life that you can work on improving, but the one that underpins just about everything else is your health. Fortunately, maintaining a healthy student lifestyle isn’t too hard if you know what to focus on.

When you move away to university, it’s easy to slip into bad habits like drinking too much, having a poor diet, or an irregular sleeping pattern. Plus you don’t necessarily have a close support network to keep you in check. That means you need to rely on your own self-discipline to stay in good shape.

The three ingredients of a healthy student lifestyle

Not sure what a healthy lifestyle looks like? Keep it simple and concentrate on the three pillars of good health:

  • Healthy eating
  • Regular exercise
  • Quality sleep

Let’s look at each one in turn.

1. Healthy eating

Diet and nutrition play a big part in maintaining your health. But at university, it is easy to get lazy when it comes to your eating habits. The problem is, not all food is created equal. Food science can be dizzyingly complicated, but the simple, easy-to-remember version can be boiled down to this:

The typical Western diet is rich in carbohydrates and low-quality fats – foods that are calorie-dense but offer little nutritional value (e.g. pizza and chips).  It is best to keep junk food to a minimum and focus instead on foods that are rich in protein, fibre, vitamins, and healthy fats, such as eggs, meat, fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.

The main things to consider for a balanced, healthy diet are:

  • Eating the right amount of calories for your body type and lifestyle
  • Avoiding too many processed or sugary foods, including soft drinks.
  • Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables along with lean protein

A poor diet can lead to weight gain, mood swings, energy crashes, headaches, and difficulty concentrating in the short term. If your diet is lacking in good nutrition for a long time, it may lead to more serious health complications. You can learn more about a balanced, student-friendly diet here.

Many people who regularly say they “feel shit” without knowing why often find that it is due to poor diet. By cutting out junk food and replacing it with fresh whole foods they can quickly transform the way they feel. Learn how to cook and make sure healthy eating is a part of your lifestyle as a student.

2. Exercise

Humans have evolved over thousands of years to be physically active on a regular basis. Our modern lifestyle of sitting around plugged into the internet is sedentary compared to that of our ancestors. To combat this, we must carry out some form of deliberate physical activity to keep our bodies fit and healthy. Regular physical activity has many benefits, including:

  • Regulating body weight
  • Reducing the risk of illness and disease
  • Boosting serotonin levels and elevating your mood
  • Stress relief
  • Promoting good quality sleep
  • Increasing your life expectancy

Playing sports a couple of times a week is the easiest way to get regular exercise. If you don’t play a sport already, you might want to consider taking one up at university.

It doesn’t have to be serious or competitive — you can just play for fun with some friends or do solo activities such as running, cycling or weightlifting. All that matters is that you do it regularly. Two thirty-minute sessions per week is the minimum dose to aim for. Three one-hour sessions per week is ideal.

It doesn’t have to be a sport

If sport isn’t your thing, find some other physical activity that you enjoy and can take part in at least once or twice per week as part of a healthy student lifestyle. Some ideas for non-sporting physical activities include dancing, hiking, yoga, and drumming, but there are many more to choose from. Even walking to your classes every day instead of relying on transport can make all the difference (assuming you don’t live just around the corner).

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which activity you choose as long as you enjoy it and do it regularly. You don’t have to do anything particularly extreme or intense to get the benefits of exercise (though the greater the intensity the greater the reward). If your body is not used to physical activity, start small and take it easy before building up the intensity or duration.

To avoid injury or soreness, do some light stretching for a few minutes before and after your exercise sessions. When lifting weights or carrying out other technical activities, get someone more experienced to talk you through it, observe your technique, and help you if you get into difficulty.

With weights, don’t let your ego get the better of you. Start out light and focus on good form rather than how heavy you can lift — it will reduce your risk of injury and give you better gains in the long run.

If you already know what works for you, great, keep at it. If not, most universities offer taster sessions so you can try different activities in your first few weeks without having to make a long-term commitment to anything. That means there are lots of ways for you to develop a healthy student lifestyle that suits you.

Take advantage of this.

Try lots of things until you find something that you enjoy enough to do regularly, then stick with it — you won’t regret it. As well as keeping you fit and healthy, it will become part of your social life and help you make new friends.

3. Sweet dreams

Good sleeping habits are essential for maintaining your health and wellbeing. Try going without sleep for any length of time and things will quickly begin to unravel. As a student, it’s easy for your sleeping habits to get out of whack, which isn’t ideal.

Sleep has many benefits, including:

Physical repair and recovery. Your body uses sleep to repair itself. Lack of sleep deprives your body of the opportunity to recover from the stresses of daily activity. This can lower your immune system and leads to illness.

Combatting fatigue. It’s amazing how, no matter how exhausted you are at the end of the day, a good night’s sleep is usually all it takes to feel fresh again. On the flipside, miss a couple of hours’ sleep and you can feel wiped out, lacking energy and the ability to function as normal.

Improved mental performance. New things you have learned get committed to your long-term memory while your head is on the pillow. Lack of sleep will drastically reduce your ability to concentrate, problem-solve, and remember things — not great when you are studying for a degree.

Improved physical performance. If you are deprived of sleep, you will be groggy, uncoordinated, and more prone to making mistakes or getting injured. In extreme cases, you may even struggle with basic tasks such as holding a conversation.

Stress reduction. When you are well-rested, you are more relaxed. When you are tired you become more irritable, which elevates your stress levels.

Mood regulation.  On average, people who get enough sleep will be happier than those who don’t. If you are not sleeping well it can adversely affect your mental health and general wellbeing.

Given how so many aspects of your life are influenced by your quality of sleep, you should not underestimate the importance of developing good sleeping habits. Be mindful of your sleeping pattern and keep it regular.

Learn to manage your time so you don’t have to pull all-nighters for your assignments. Try to avoid partying all night if you have early classes the next day. Save it for when you are able to lie in the next day.

For most people, the optimum amount of sleep is between six and eight hours per night. The exact amount will vary from person to person.

More sleep is not necessarily better and too much sleep can have adverse effects too. If you have ever woken up feeling fine but gone back to sleep and woke up later feeling sluggish and then struggled to get going for the day, you have felt the effects of too much sleep.

Find what works for you and stick to it as closely as you can. It will make everything else in your life so much easier to deal with.

Tips to help you get a good night’s sleep

Stop looking at electronic screens at least an hour before you go to bed. Yes, that includes your phone. Sorry, not sorry.  The blue light emitted from electronic screens tricks our brain into thinking it is still daytime, which inhibits sleep. Read a book instead, or put a podcast on and close your eyes.

Do some form of regular physical activity. It will help you get rid of excess energy and promote a state that allows you to sleep well. I sleep noticeably better on days when I have worked out.

Switch off your problem-solving brain before going to bed. Absorb yourself in a simple, stress-free activity with no real-life consequences for 30 minutes or so before bedtime. It will help your brain switch off so you can relax before going to sleep. Reading fiction, doing puzzles, or playing simple games are all effective pre-bed activities.

Avoid noisy disturbances. This might be difficult in shared student accommodation but listening to some quiet music or white noise can help to drown out background noise. If you happen to have particularly noisy flatmates or neighbours, get some earplugs to tune them out and maybe have a polite word with them about late-night noise levels.

Make sure your room is dark. Any light emitting from electrical equipment in your room, shining under the door or through the window will make it harder for you to get a good night’s sleep. The easiest way to remedy this is to wear a sleep mask. If you don’t like wearing a sleep mask, minimise the light sources in your room and, in the case of light that comes through the window, invest in some heavy black curtains.

Self-care is the core of a healthy student lifestyle

Moving away to university is fun and exciting but it can be stressful at times, especially when you don’t have your family and long-standing friends around to support you. It involves a lot of life changes that can impact your wellbeing.

But, if you pay attention to the three key ingredients of a healthy student lifestyle — food, exercise, and sleep — you have a good chance of keeping your stress levels low and your physical and mental health in good shape while you are at university.