Whether the “Freshman Fifteen” is myth or fact, there’s no doubt that eating, sleeping and exercise habits change during college. But there are things you can do to avoid some of the most common pitfalls. Learn from my mistakes and follow these tips for a healthy college experience.
- Schedule your time at the gym. Although you often have easy access to a gym in college, finding the time and motivation to get there might not be as easy. Once you know your class schedule, plan your workouts ahead of time and set reminders for yourself until it becomes a part of your routine. Better yet, find an exercise class you enjoy and invite a friend! Joining an intramural sport is another great way to stay active and meet new people.
- Don’t overdo it at the cafeteria. For me, the biggest adjustment to the college diet was the buffet-style cafeteria and no parents around to tell me to eat my green vegetables. Ice cream at every meal! Pizza with ranch dressing! Avoid these temptations and fill up half your plate with vegetables first; then choose your protein and a small serving of a healthy carb, like brown rice or beans. Don’t go back for seconds—you’ll be eating this same food for a few years, so no need to overindulge your first semester. Limit your desserts or try healthier options, like fruit and yogurt.
- Stock your dorm room with healthy snacks. Whenever our parents came to town, my roommate and I would drag them to the grocery store. Anytime you have access to a car, head to the grocery store to stock up on nuts, fruit, whole grain bars, yogurt, bottled water and other healthy snacks; when those late-night study sessions happen, you won’t be as tempted to call for pizza delivery if you have better options on-hand.
- Don’t drink or smoke. College is often when these unhealthy vices become habits. Among other negative effects to your health, consuming alcohol in excess can lead to liver cancer and smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. If you do drink, do so in moderation.
- Get at least seven hours of sleep a night. For many college students, four to five hours a night might be common, but experts recommend adults receive at least seven hours of sleep for general health and well-being. Getting adequate sleep may help your academic performance as well.
If you’re heading to college for your freshman year, or just headed back to campus after a summer at home, adjusting to a new schedule can take a toll on your health. Between going to class, studying, working internships and more, it’s easy for college students to slide into unhealthy habits. But a healthy diet and regular physical activity are key steps to reducing your cancer risk. College is the perfect time to set new health goals and it’s definitely possible to balance it all if you plan ahead. Good luck this year!