How to Stay Fit as a Full Time Student
Early mornings, late nights, endless studying, stressful exams… Don’t you love the student life? All of this stress makes it easy for us to cave in and make unhealthy choices and eventually leads us into a very damaging lifestyle. To put it in perspective, 70% of college students gain between 15 and 20 lbs by the end of sophomore year. And guess what? This is 17x more weight than the average 17 and 18 year old will gain!
Why exactly does this happen? Well it’s simply the result of the many unhealthy choices we make as stressed out students.
In this article I’m going to tell you how school can actually be damaging to your health and better yet, I’m going to show you exactly what you can do to stay healthy and achieve your fitness goals as a full time student!
Here’s how school can damage your health and how you can fix it:
Let’s face it, when we’re overwhelmed with school we tend to place exercise at the least of our priorities. A gruelling and sweaty workout is probably the last thing you’d want to do after a long day at school – and I feel ya! But this can become a serious problem.
The majority of students simply aren’t getting enough exercise. 1 in 3 college freshman don’t even exercise at all and this takes a toll on your body!
Here are some negative effects of a lack of exercise on the body:
– basically your muscle wasting away
– your muscles tend to break down when they aren’t exercised to their full capacity
– fatty deposits can develop around your heart and in your arteries as a result of a lack of exercise and can eventually lead to heart failure or a heart attack!
Decrease in Bone Density
– exercise (particularly resistance training) helps reduce the rate at which your bone density lowers over time, thus a lack of proper exercise will lead to a more rapid loss in bone density and can eventually lead to osteoperosis (very weak bones)
– a lowered metabolism as a result of little exercise and muscle atrophy cause you to gain weight and develop fatty tissue around your muscles
Lack of exercise has even been described “as deadly as smoking”! Now that I have you convinced as to how desperately your body needs exercise, I’ll show you what kind of exercise you should be doing and how much of it.
The best way to go from no or very little exercise to daily exercise (especially while in school) is to establish a daily routine. Simply pick out a time during your day that you can commit to exercise – and a time that you know you will actually follow through with (6 a.m. workouts sound nice but are hard to keep consistent)! This way, you can plan your studies and other activities around this.
You may feel as though you don’t have time in your day to devote to devote to exercise, but all you really need is 20-30 minutes to get a great workout in! 45-60 minutes would be ideal, but if you push yourself hard then 20-30 minutes will be sufficient.
So what type of exercise should you be doing? Simply put, HIIT or circuit training combined with weight training is the probably best way to train your cardiovascular system, build muscle and lose fat all within a short workout. Many of these workouts don’t even require much room or any equipment, so you’d be perfectly fine doing them in your dorm room if you don’t have access to a gym.
If you do have access to a gym, then I would recommend starting will this 4 week beginner workout routine. You can also incorporate HIIT circuits or bodyweight circuits a couple days a week if you’re looking to speed up your fat loss as well.
Now I’m not saying that you have to do weight training and circuits as your daily exercise (although it is very effective), I’d much rather you do something that you enjoy and will be consistent with! Whether it’s soccer, running, swimming or any form of activity that brings up your heart rate, anything is better than doing nothing!
Try to commit to a daily exercise routine, or even 3-4 days a week, and your body will thank you for it. Many studies have even shown exercise to be linked with better grades!
Easy College Recipes
Another major problem in the student lifestyle is our diet. We tend to rely on snack foods, unhealthy junk from the cafeteria and loads of sugary beverages – lots of energy drinks & starbucks ;). To add to this, most of us tend to get hammered way too often during university/college which causes all kinds of problems to your body and is one of the main reasons behind the Freshman 15!
This, combined with little exercise, is a perfect recipe for the Freshman 15 and various other problems besides weight gain.
I’m going to show you some tips and recipes you can use to maintain a healthy diet while still being able to eat good tasting food and enjoy your time as a college student.
The first piece of advice I’d give is simply; eat breakfast! Compared to people who eat breakfast, those who skip are less likely to workout and they consume an average of 40% more sweets and 55% more soft drinks. Now you probably think that you don’t have enough time to make yourself a breakfast before class but you’d be surprised as to how quickly you can whip up a healthy and tasty breakfast!
Here are a few breakfast ideas that you can use:
Avocado Toast with Egg
Simple yet tasty! Use 2 toasted slices of whole-grain bread, top with smashed avocado and sprinkle with salt and pepper then finish by topping with two sunny-side-up eggs. This is a great well-rounded breakfast full of protein and healthy fats and will help keep you satiated.
Protein Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
You can never go wrong with smoothies for breakfast. Blend 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1 frozen banana, 1 cup almond milk and 1 scoop of protein powder.
Greek Yogurt Parfait
Healthy, tasty and filling! There are a variety of ways you can make this but here’s my favorite Greek Yogurt Parfait recipe already up on my blog.
Bring Healthy Snacks
To be honest I probably think more about food than to what’s actually going on in class, and you probably do too! Bringing healthy snacks to class will help you stay on track with your diet and satisfy any cravings you get.
Here are some healthy snacks you can bring:
– fruits (sliced apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, etc.)
– veggies (carrots, celery, grape tomatoes)
– nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts, etc.) , just watch out that you don’t overdo it with these as they are deceivingly high in calories
– protein shake or smoothie
– whole grain sandwich ( try to add a protein source such as chicken)
– chicken salad with balsamic dressing
Drink More Water
Us students tend to neglect staying hydrated throughout school. How many people do you see carry a water bottle to school? Probably not very many. Although they may stop by occasionally at the water fountain, chances are that they aren’t drinking enough water! This can actually contribute to weight gain as well as a high blood pressure, bloating, and several other problems. Simply bringing a water bottle to school will help you a lot with your water intake!
Replacing sugary beverages and energy drinks with plain water will drastically lower your calorie and sugar intake which will help you with weight loss improve several bodily functions!
Another major problem I’ve touched on is alcohol intake. It’s fine to keep your alcohol consumption in moderation (partying every now and then) but doing so repeatedly is really damaging to your health and contributes A LOT to weight gain. For more information and tips when it comes to drinking you can check out what I wrote about alcohol in my “10 Changes to Lose Stubborn Fat” article.
Focus on Healthy, Whole Foods
Your diet should consist of mainly whole, natural foods rather than processed foods. I know that it can be tempting to go for a bag of chips or ice cream during stressful exam periods but try to go for healthier snacks and alternatives instead! Also, if you haven’t packed any food and are forced to buy something from the caf then try to pick out a healthy meal. You may have a Subway or sandwich joint which are a far better choice than your typical McDonald’s or KFC – given that you don’t load your sandwich with fatty sauces and heaps of cheese!
Fixing Lower Back Pain
This problem is one of the more subtle ones, as it is hard to notice it becoming a problem until it starts to cause pain. A hunched posture is basically when your body is shaped like a lowercase “f” – your shoulders and upper back are rounded forward and your head may even stick outwards as well.
This posture imbalance has several possible causes. Too many hours spent hunched over in class, spending long hours writing by hand or on the computer, and not enough hours actually standing and using your body all contribute to this.
Now how exactly can this harm you? Well in addition to an increased chance of joint pain (particularly shoulder, neck, and lower back pain) there is an increased risk of injury and a decreased performance potential as well. Since your body is locked up in this “f” position, your range of motion becomes limited which increases your change for injury when you exceed this range during exercise or daily activities.
The root cause of this posture varies for everyone. The best thing to do is to make sure you have proper posture when sitting and standing.
Here are some great diagrams that show you how you should be sitting and standing throughout the day:
Fixing hunched posture
Correct standing posture – source: earnestholistichealth.com
If you currently have shoulder/upper back/lower back pain and can see that you have a hunched posture, then here are some great exercises you can do to fix it. The basic approach to fixing this is by stretching the overactive pectoral region while strengthening your back muscles to pull your chest and shoulders back.
Lot of Rows!
Rows will help strengthen your posterior chain and upper back muscles which will help tremendously with your posture.
Here are a couple rowing movements you can do:
You can use a TRX or a horizontal bar. Make sure when you pull up you squeeze your shoulder blades together as this will better activate your upper back. Keep your back straight throughout the movement and don’t stick your head out forward.
TRX Suspended Row
This is great for building upper back strength and a strong core! The key points in this movement is to keep a straight back and retract your shoulder blades (squeeze them together) as you pull the weight.
Here are some great exercises you can do without equipment:
You can do this on the edge of a door or any wall at home. Hold for 30 seconds on each and repeat 2-4x on each side.
These are great to strengthen your lower trapezius muscles which are most likely underactive. Lay face down on the ground with your arms extended straight out in a Y shape with your thumbs up. Lift your arms up and hold for 5 seconds then come down and repeat. You can do this for 4 sets of 5-10 reps with a 5 second hold. Don’t arch your lower back during the movement, instead focus on using your inner upper back muscles to raise your arms up.
To put it all together, here’s a sample routine you can do:
- Suspended TRX Rows – 4 sets x 10 reps
- Barbell Rows – 4 sets x 8-10 reps
- Prone Y’s – 4 sets x 8 reps w/ 5 second hold
- Pectoral Stretch – 3 sets x 30 second hold each side
Try this routine out but focus on contracting those upper and inner back muscles! You can do this routine 1-2 times a week to start, I’ll post a more in-depth article with some more exercises and sample routines to fix your posture.
The key points I want you to take away from this and try to slowly incorporate into your lifestyle are:
– get more active doing activities that you enjoy and will stay consistent with, but I still recommend you add resistance training and HIIT/circuit training into your workout routine
– focus on eating natural, whole foods rather than processed foods
– always keep your posture in mind when sitting/studying and use the routine and tips I’ve provided if you believe you have a hunched over posture
Now I want you to go and take action! Many of you will simply read this article, maybe get a little motivated but never actually take action. I know it’s a big change, but you can start by changing one or two of the things I’ve mentioned and gradually keep changing more. You will start feeling better and more energized, look better and it will drastically improve your health and fitness!
So take the first step and give it a shot! Let me know if you have any questions and like my Facebook page to keep yourself updated on new posts and motivation!