What I struggled with most during my first year at university was maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I couldn’t keep my eyes open during lectures, would never say no to a night out, and didn’t even enjoy half the nights anyway. If I weren’t snacking from the fridge, I’d be devouring a takeaway and giving little thought to what I was eating.
University can be manic, more so during your first year as you relish in your new-found freedom. You go from eating healthy meals and having your parents keeping an eye on you to fending for yourself without parental discipline. What’s more, it’s easy to get into the mindset that you need to be working all the time to achieve that desirable first class degree. On the other hand, there’s the FOMO as you don’t want to miss a single night out. As students, it’s simple to let our routines fall. However, by following small, simple steps, leading a healthy lifestyle while studying doesn’t have to be difficult.
A healthy body equals a healthy mind, so they say. Staying healthy sets you up for success as you go on to study for exams, boosting your energy levels, concentration and overall mood. As I progress into the latter half of my degree, I’m determined to stick to these five steps to ensure I lead a healthy lifestyle, both mentally and physically.
Drink more water
It’s no secret that most of us don’t drink enough water, especially as we go hours without moving from behind our desks. However, ever since I started drinking more, I’ve noticed that my health and concentration are revitalised. I no longer feel sluggish after a couple hours of reading essays on Shakespeare.
You’ve heard it a million times but drinking at least 2 litres of water a day works wonders for our health. When dehydrated, we can experience headaches, poor concentration and reduced short-term memory. Drinking water, therefore, has meant I don’t feel as heavy-eyed at the library and can maintain my focus. If it’s something you struggle with, there are plenty of apps which allow you to track how much water you’re drinking. Not a water fan? Mix it with squash or add a slice of lemon.
Invest in a reusable water bottle to bring to lectures, and keep it by your side during late night study sessions. It’s free, comes out of the tap and should be every student’s priority when it comes to keeping up a healthy lifestyle.
Learn basic recipes
For many, cooking is just another chore on the endless to-do list, and usually right at the bottom. Why cook when Domino’s is just a call away or when you have a ready meal prepped and ready inside the fridge?
There’s nothing wrong with the odd takeaway by any means. I mean, it is hard to down a buy one get one free pizza voucher from campus. However, as the pizza boxes mount by your front door, your bank account and health are surely suffering. Cooking from scratch may take longer than the microwavable lasagna you picked up whilst hungry in Tesco, but there won’t be any hidden ingredients and you’ll know exactly what’s going into your meal.
What’s more, you can batch cook a lot of meals and freeze them for another day, perfect for when you’re short on time or return home late from lectures.
Simple meals include:
- Pasta – the combinations are endless. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and mix it with whatever meat and veggies you have left in the fridge.
Cook a hearty pasta bake and there are four meals ready just like that.
- Stir fry – again, mix in whatever veggies you have sat around.
- Healthy tortilla pizza!
- Baked potato – microwave, 3 minutes, done.
You don’t need to have the skills of Gordon Ramsay to whiz up something delicious in the kitchen. Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring: you can still eat the meals you love by using healthier alternatives, the tortilla pizza being a prime example.
When it comes to buying food, opt for leaner meats such as chicken and turkey. I usually see what’s discounted and if the use-by date is short, freeze it. Also, let frozen veg become your new best friend: it’s pre-chopped, lasts forever and super cheap.
Side note: Fresher’s flu
Fresher’s flu is real. It stops for no one.
Eating well alongside upping your water intake will be more vital than ever when you catch the inevitable fresher’s flu. Even if you don’t go out during freshers, people will be coughing and sneezing in the lecture theatres for weeks and it’s likely that you’ll catch it one way or another.
A survival kit:
1. Netflix subscription
2. Orange strepsils
3. Cheap boxes of tissues
4. Lots of water
As a piece of advice, don’t do what I did and avoid seeing a doctor despite the fact that you have been dying for five months.
As discussed in my 6 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting University, you don’t have to go out every night. The epitome of uni-culture is drinking six nights in a row, each followed by a kebab or a tray of cold cheesy chips. It’s all fun and games until you can’t concentrate during lectures, become nocturnal and feel like crap 24/7.
If you don’t feel up to it, have a night in and say no the night out. It took me a year to realise that I don’t have to force myself in environments I don’t enjoy.
No matter how much FOMO you have, there will be more nights out and more opportunities to socialise. If you want to go out, enjoy yourself! However, if you’re starting to feel worse for wear, don’t worry about seeming boring or missing out.
Us students live pretty sedentary lifestyles sat behind desks all day.
There’s been plenty of times when I’ve been stuck in a rut or felt burnt out from hours of work. However, by getting up, going for a walk or doing another quick task on my to-do list, I return with a new bout of motivation. A brisk walk while listening to a podcast is a perfect solution to ease stress and anxiety.
Exercise isn’t isolated to solely breaking a sweat at the gym or going for a run. Even just stretching your legs by going for a walk every time you finish reading a chapter will help you focus and improve your fitness. Moreover, integrating exercise is made even easier by working out from the comfort of your own room. I’ve spoken about Integrating Fitness Into Everyday Life in a previous post, it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Don’t forget about the array of sports societies available. At my university there’s everything from your conventional football and rugby to the rather niche-kind such as quidditch. Seriously, they run around the park with broomsticks, rain wind or shine. Even better, if your university doesn’t offer a society for your ideal sport, you can create your own and meet like-minded people while you’re at it.
It’s also worth taking advantage of the free gym membership and student deals your uni offers. I think I went twice during my first year, convinced that the five-minute walk to lectures was enough exercise. But, if it’s free, you might as well make the most of it right?
Staying healthy doesn’t just come down to physical, but also mental health. As the works mounts, so does stress.
It may seem that everyone around you is swimming through their degree, effortlessly attaining firsts. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. University is hard and everyone is in the same stress-filled boat with coursework and to-do lists coming out of their ears.
However, working 24/7 and not setting time aside to socialise or have some ‘me-time’ will lead to loneliness, boredom and incessant headaches. While it’s never a good idea to be up at 3 am stringing together your bibliography, taking time away from work is just as important the work itself.
So, create a schedule. Ensure you include time for yourself to relax and forget about work for a short while. Be it a Nandos revision break or an hour reading a book; doing something other than work will ensure you don’t burn out and break down.
Having a good routine in which you have ‘me-time’ and plenty of sleep reduces stress. For more tips on avoiding stress, read 5 Habits for a Less Stressful Week.
Do you have any more tips for leading a healthy lifestyle as a student?
Thanks for reading!