Okay, no one really prioritizes health while they’re in college. College is a time for noodle bowls and mozzarella sticks, not planks and quinoa. If you’re a college student, you probably feel invincible — and they’re enabled by your equally unhealthy peers.
But you’re not actually invincible, despite how young and vivacious you might feel. The health drawbacks of some of your regular activities are festering under the surface now, but could easily turn up later in life with undesirable visible consequences.
Some of the effects are happening in the now, too — maybe without your realizing it. Have you ever felt anxious? Are you always tired? All of these symptoms could be mitigated with a little habit-checking.
Of course, don’t let trying to be healthy detract from the experiences of these pivotal years. Skipping a dorm room bonding event for fear of the pizza calories is a decision you’re bound to regret. However, there are some health habits you should steer clear of, because the consequences can be very real.
It’s kind of crazy, but in college, binge drinking is the societal norm. Drinking games, spiked communal drinks like Jungle Juice, and weeklong opportunities to party all perpetuate the detrimental habit of drinking often and a lot. Over time, chronically drinking way too much can lead to brain damage, a dragging metabolism
Part of what’s so tricky about drinking is that it’s not all that healthy to cut it out entirely, either — if you avoid places where the alcohol flows freely, you could miss out on all the crucial social interactions that happen in college and help you develop relationships that can be lifelong.
Though you might not want to quit drinking, you can start to keep track a little better — and hydrate while you do. Slowing down and alternating an alcoholic drink with a tall glass of water is a good way to be mindful of how many drinks you’re downing while still being a part of the social experience.
We understand. You’re lazy, busy, and poor. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat only processed and premade garbage. Relying on snack foods and buying already-cooked foods puts a whole ton of additives into your body without adding a lot of nutrition. When you want your brain and body to be working their best, that’s not a good idea.
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Learn a few basic recipes — even scrambled eggs are a more nutritious choice than a bag of chips or ramen. With easy-to-cook, inexpensive foods like pasta, beans, canned or frozen vegetables, and more, you can learn how to turn basic staple foods into tasty meals. All it takes is a little research — and, of course, practice.
College is a time when your health insurance is reliable and the doctors are literally on campus. Health care is never going to be that easy again. Additionally, your early adult years are a pivotal time for creating doctor relationships and learning how to advocate for your health. Communicating your symptoms and needs to a doctor are important skills, and now is the time to develop them.
The only way to get out of this bad habit is to show up for an appointment. The first one is the hardest, but once you get into the habit of rescheduling every year or so, it will seem like second nature — and if and when you do encounter a real health problem, you’ll be grateful to be able to see someone who already knows you.
Even just five minutes of TLC for your face can make a world of a difference. You don’t need fancy products and you don’t need to spend your entire financial aid refund on a facial. Just wipe off your makeup, wash your face, and wear sunscreen every day (yes, even in the winter). Prioritizing these things gets easier once you can visually see the benefits, we promise.
This is actually so gross. But all too real. Sweat, dirt, and oils from your skin just cake onto the cloth you’re lying on night after night. Washing your face is basically useless if you haven’t done your laundry — because you’ll just wipe all those toxins from your pillow onto your cheeks again immediately.
You should probably wash your sheets once every other week. Set a recurring reminder on your phone or laptop. Every 14 days, it’ll light up and warn you that your sheets are getting stinky.
Big exams, late-night pizza invites, and other sleep obstructions happen almost every day in college. There’s always a temptation to slip past bedtime — and often a procrastinated-on paper that you find yourself still writing at 2 a.m.
But a poor sleep cycle is a seriously vicious cycle. Not only is it really hard to break, but it also has some very real health drawbacks. Your hormone levels can fall out of line, your blood sugar can fluctuate, and your stress can feel so much worse.
Prioritize getting some shut-eye. Luckily, technology makes it a little more difficult to ignore the bedtime you really should be adhering to. With one of these apps, you can plug in the time you have to wake up alongside the number of hours you’re looking to sleep. The app will send you insistent reminders an hour before, thirty minutes before, and right at your needed bedtime.
In today’s culture of achievement, young people are influenced more and more to sign up for everything they possibly can. In college, when there are dozens of extracurricular activities at your disposal, this is all too tempting. However, this often results in a neglect for self-care. Taking time to be alone and regroup is crucial for your mental health, and living without it can increase anxiety and decrease levels of happiness and fulfillment.
Treat self-care like an appointment. If you use a calendar or a planner, pencil in a weekly (or daily) session of alone time. Don’t use this time for homework, job applications, or catching up on things you’ve fallen behind with — instead, just do nothing. Productivity can wait. And you might even find your productivity increases after you’ve taken that time for you.
It’s an expensive vice — pouring that birthday check your aunt sent you into a mug from Starbucks happens all the time. It’s also especially tempting in college, when you feel like the only way you would really get the caffeine you need is by taking it in through an IV. Your brain conjures excuses to buy another cup way faster than it can recall the notes scrawled on your flashcards… Well, I have been in the library since 9…
But this habit is costly. Mostly to your budget — since coffee, it turns out, is actually great for you in excess amounts. Energy drinks, however, are a terrible idea. The heart palpitations and chemical ingredients alone should be enough to scare you off — but if that doesn’t do the trick, they’re also loaded with sugar.
Instead of caffeine, try giving yourself another reward. This can be a cup of tea, a five-minute study break, or a phone call to a friend. Those things take about as long as the line at Starbucks, and they’re far more beneficial. Whatever distracts you from the need for jitters is probably a good idea.
If it’s energy you’re lacking without the stuff, it can be useful to try to derive natural energy from other sources. Exercise, meditation, and good food are all appealing options for your health.
Studies show that most Americans skip breakfast and that most millennials replace meals with snacks at least once each week. Whatever happened to breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Skipping a meal has a ton of health consequences ranging from a blood sugar crash to hormonal changes. Plus, your metabolism will go haywire.
Mornings are busy. We get it. Even if you set your alarm for ten minutes earlier for breakfast, sleep is bound to coerce you into prioritizing an extra few minutes of snooze once the morning hits. Prepare your breakfast the night before. Some good options are overnight oats, smoothies, and breakfast sandwiches. There are tons of options you can even keep in your freezer for busy mornings.
For lunch and dinner, just make sure they happen. Take your lunch break — it’s good for productivity, anyway — and sit down for dinner. The more you adhere to the ritual, the more natural eating three square meals a day will become. If you’re really stuck, try a college-friendly recipe or two.
The gym is just not your main priority at school. Your grades, figuring out your interests and career, and making lasting relationships with others are far more important. But there’s no denying that regular movement has a huge impact on your mood, hormones, and overall health. And once you graduate, you’re no longer walking to class and dancing the night away. Instead, you’re probably sitting at a desk for eight hours and commuting to work. It’s important to get into the habit of incorporating exercise, no matter what kind.
If you’re having trouble making it to the gym, just remember — you don’t have to go to the gym to work out. Walking, dancing, or trying a new, trendy workout like barre or beer yoga could be the answer to your fitness rut. Just make sure that when you do try a new routine, you refuel with a nutritious post-workout snack.