Healthy Living on Campus: How
College Students Can Stay Fit
By Dr. Dee Morris and Dr. Pamela
Faith and Fitness Magazine
So…you’re packing your “stuff”
into the family car, and heading off to live, play and hopefully
study, on a campus with several hundred or perhaps thousand other
collegians. You’re off to college, the first “big
step” into independence, and a very significant step in
this journey of life! It’s a great new testing and proving
ground for your faith in action. For many, it is a time in life
that has more freedom and opportunity for growth than anything
experienced since birth!
Unless you’re bound for one of the military academies or
some other very unique institution, no one will tell you when
to go to bed, when to get up, or what you need to eat for breakfast.
No one even checks to see that you eat breakfast!! Mom will not
be there to be sure you have clean clothes, fix meals for you,
or remind you to do your homework….ah yes, all kinds of
freedom and independence!
It turns out that independence isn’t all it’s cracked-up
to be. With independence and freedom comes responsibility. Most
college-age men and women have a youthful vitality that causes
them to take good health for granted. Faced with the freedom to
structure their own lifestyles, sometimes college students slip
into habits that, if allowed to continue, “chip away”
at their basic good health. They become fatigued, stressed out,
and less resistant to the respiratory viruses encountered in any
environment where there are lots of people.
Can a college student structure and live a health-promoting
lifestyle? We think so, and here are some suggestions that may
help make sure these new freedoms and challenges inherent in the
college situation are handled as they should be handled, resulting
in your good and God’s glory!
Establish a routine for your daily life.
At first, you may really relish “freedom”
from the daily patterns (meal time, bedtime, rising time, etc.)
that your parents probably established and your home situation
reinforced. That freedom isn’t as cool when you oversleep
your first morning class and can’t find a clean shirt, much
less the assignment due in your next class. God made us to function
best with orderly “routines”: times for going to bed,
getting up, eating meals, caring for personal needs like doing
laundry, doing homework, etc. Patterns and cycles are inherent
components built into all of creation.
Establish patterns that make for an orderly day. Put things
you need to use every day, like keys, ID-cards, notebooks, in
a designated place. Keep materials for each course in its own
folder or notebook or scanned in to a file in your computer. These
are simple things, but they’ll bring a calming, “de-stressing”
effect on your busy days. They also give you “space”
in your days for surprises or extra opportunities that arise.
Get enough sleep.
God designed us to need sleep; it’s a phase of repair and
renewal for the entire body. Deprived of sufficient sleep (7-8
hours for most) we don’t think or learn well, and we’re
grouchy, both of which negatively affect relationships as well
as academics! Going several days without enough sleep lowers resistance,
and we’re “easy prey” for the next virus that
finds us. There may be times when an “all-nighter”
may be needed to finish a project or to sit up with a friend who
is going through a crisis, but as a general rule, little productive
effort occurs after midnight.
Eat properly… that means breakfast, too!
Three simple things that will improve the nutritional
wellbeing of everyone, including college students are: (1) eat
breakfast; (2) have at least five servings of vegetables and four
servings of fruit daily (a serving is ½ cup); and (3) drink
sweet, carbonated beverages (soda pop) in moderation, if at all;
drink water when you’re thirsty. (To learn more about the
valuable benefits of drinking water read Why
First, breakfast: If you aren’t in the habit of having
breakfast, get into it. If you’re getting enough sleep,
you’ve not had any food for 8-10 hours; you may
not think you’re hungry, but your body’s cells are!
Breakfast should be built around protein; scrambled eggs with
cheese, whole grain toast and juice make a good combination. A
whole grain cereal with milk, some fruit and some yogurt is another
good one; if you’re in a hurry, a whole grain bagel with
cheese and some fruit will work. If you skip breakfast, you’ll
be sluggish and not concentrating well by mid-morning. If breakfast
was a sugary doughnut or toaster pastry, your blood glucose level
will “bottom-out” mid-morning, and you’ll really
As to veggies and fruits: Mom was right!! They really are chock
full of vitamins and minerals, and are really good for you! You
don’t have to like all vegetables, but do try to expand
your list beyond corn and potatoes (and corn chips and potato
chips don’t count); have green ones, yellow ones and red
ones; have them raw as well as cooked. Fresh fruits make great
snacks, and keep well in dorm rooms too!
Now for the soda-pop: nutritionists have likened it to “liquid
candy”, because of its very high sugar content. The average
12-ounce soda contains about 18 teaspoons of sugar; that’s
a lot of calories that bring with them no other nutritive value.
There certainly is nothing harmful about enjoying an occasional
soda; you’ll have problems though when you drink two or
three a day! When you’re hot and thirsty, cold water really
hits the spot, and is better for your body.
Learn to avoid and/or manage the stressors of college
College life, wonderful and exciting as it is, has numerous
stress-inducing aspects. There are not only the expected academic
hurdles to clear, but relationships, and the business of figuring
out God’s plan for your life as well. In addition to those
unavoidable stressors, we manage to create many of our own stressors,
and those are the ones we need to work on avoiding. Those stressors
inherent to the college experience, we need to learn to manage.
Over time, stress that we don’t manage well produces fatigue,
lowers resistance, and results in a host of signs and symptoms
that signal an undermining of health and vitality. So….how
can a college student avoid or manage stress? Here are some suggestions
that we know work.
Due dates for papers and projects that seem far in the future
will be here before you know it! Time pressure is a major cause
of stress; lessen it by starting early and completing major projects
in a step-wise, organized fashion.
Don’t let small problems grow into big ones before
doing anything about them.
If you’re feeling “lost” in a class, see
your professor before you’ve accumulated a series
of failed quizzes. If you thought you wanted to be an engineer,
but realize you’re better suited to communications, see
your advisor and make a change. Problems ignored don’t go
away; they grow, and produce stress.
Don’t demand perfection of yourself.
Students who’ve been high achievers in high school sometimes
really become stressed over a lower-than-expected grade on a quiz
or exam. Our Creator knows we’re not perfect; what He expects
is our honest best effort. Even the best students rarely “ace”
every exam; keep it in perspective, and use your energy in understanding
those concepts on which you were foggy.
Don’t over-commit your time and energy.
There are a multitude of “extra-curricular” things
on which to spend time in college. Ministry activities, social
events, pre-professional organizations, intramural sports or varsity
athletics, or just hanging out with friends can totally consume
your time. You can’t do everything; if you try, you will
be “frazzled”. If this is your first college experience,
limit your extracurricular involvements to only one or two in
your first term; see how much discretionary time your studies
allow. Don’t misapply Philippians 4:13; we can’t do
all things, but rather all things God would have us to
do. Jesus himself did not heal everyone, feed everyone, nor disciple
Learn to live in today, rather than yesterday or tomorrow.
We can wear ourselves out worrying about mistakes we made yesterday,
or things that may happen tomorrow. That is an “exercise
in exhaustion”. Christ told His followers not to worry about
tomorrow. God gives us grace for one day at a time; live to the
utmost the day you’re in, and when tomorrow comes, we’ll
find that God’s grace has preceded us.
Don’t let the “busyness” of college life
crowd personal devotions and prayer out of your daily routine.
We need time to re-charge our spiritual batteries; to be
quiet and open to what God wants to tell us from His word; and
to give Him our thanks and worship, as well as turn over our burdens
to Him. Satan would be really pleased to help this get squeezed
out of our schedules, even by really good things. Be very jealous
of your time with God; you’ll be glad you are.
Learn to laugh.
Look for the humor in life; even a lot of the stressful situations
we get into have a funny side. Look for it, and let yourself laugh.
Be ready to laugh at yourself and with others.
Laughter relaxes tense muscles, causes deep breathing and lowers
the stress response. Obviously, not all of life’s difficult
situations have a “funny” side; if you must deal with
one of those for several days, look for a humorous book or article.
Build at least a half-hour of physical exercise into
your daily routine.
It doesn’t take a genius to look at our bodies
and see that they are designed for movement. They’re not
only designed to move, they’re designed to NEED to move.
However, very little of what most of us have to do each day at
college requires significant physical effort. The role computers
play in the responsibilities of college life doesn’t help
the situation, either. We can “go” to virtual libraries,
labs, and many other places and never get out of our seat! And
- that doesn’t even include our use of the computer for
communication and recreation.
Most schools have facilities and programming available to help
with this essential component of good stewardship of the body.
Plan how and when you will use them; then do it! Build variety
into what you do if that’s what you enjoy; build repetition
into what you do if that’s what you like. Either way, build
consistency for your activity program.
Intramural teams can be great opportunities for multi-tasking
…socializing, exercising, and competing. Fitness areas on
campus can provide opportunity for some much-needed alone time
as you listen to music or memorize scripture while walking on
the treadmill or working your way through the circuit. And it’s
not a bad place to meet others, either, if that’s what you
need to refresh and renew!
Bottom line…”off to college” and “healthy
lifestyle” are not mutually exclusive concepts. But it takes
care, planning, and intentionality to stay fit and live healthy.
The default setting for college life is not necessarily “healthy”.
We would do well to remember Paul’s directives to the Christians
in the church at Corinth regarding freedom. He wrote: “‘Everything
is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial.
‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything
is constructive.” After this directive in 1 Corinthians
10:23, he continued to say “So whether you eat or drink
or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Let
the banner flying over your “off to college” experience
be: For the glory of God!
L. Delyte Morris, Ph.D., P.A.-C. is the Adjunct Professor
for the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at Cedarville
University. She can be contacted at MORRISL@cedarville.edu.
Pamela D. Johnson, Ph.D. is the Dean for the School of Health
and Human Performance at Cedarville University in Cedarville,
Ohio. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2005 Faith & Fitness
Magazine and Lifestyle Media Group. Faith & Fitness
Magazine is on-line at faithandfitness.net.
It is published six times per year as a resource for building
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