January 15, 2013

5 Daily Things to Stay Healthy

As part of the eCollegeFinder Awards program this post offers a few tips to specifically help students stay healthy and fit. Even though they're geared towards student life, they're easily applicable to everyone.

Certain stages in our lives sometimes make it harder to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I'm looking at you, Going to College and Becoming a Parent. Even when you know you need to eat healthy and work out sometimes, well, you don't. It's usually because you either don't have time or all those stressors ramp up cravings and zap energy levels.

The good news is that little things do add up to make a difference. Here are five things to do everyday to maintain health and fitness even if you're a college student, a new mom, or just find yourself struggling to stay on track.

1. Bring water everywhere. (And drink it.) It seems like such a no brainer, right? Water flushes toxins out of your body, helps regulate body temperature, and makes your (hydrated) skin look good. It also prevents "false hunger", when you think you're hungry but you're actually thirsty. If you feel thirsty then you're already dehydrated. I have refillable water bottles all over the house - next to the bed, in my office, on the kitchen table. I make sure where ever I am I take a few gulps.

2. Get enough sleep, even if you have to choose it over exercising. That doesn't mean justifying an excuse like, "I don't want to get out of my warm bed so I'm going to sleep in instead of working out." But if you're truly sleep-deprived because you've been cramming for exams (certainly not because you've been partying too much, right?) or if you've been up all night with a newborn (or, let's say, a nine month old) then you're better off getting the sleep you need than dragging your butt off to the gym. Mark Sisson explains the reason to choose sleep over exercise much better than I ever could.

3. Walk / Take the stairs. I try to get out every day to get in even a short walk. It's definitely harder this time of year, especially with a baby, but I still make an effort. When I was in college I used to walk all the time - I made sure to take the hilly routes to class and in the afternoons I'd pop a tape into my yellow Sony Walkman and head out for a couple miles. Did I just lose you? Today that means grabbing the iPod, loading up the Runkeeper app and going for a walk. In the evenings my roommate and I would literally walk the stairs of the dorm. We'd go down to the end of a hall, up the stairs to the next floor, walk to the other end, up the stairs and so on and so forth until we got to the top floor. Then we'd do the same thing all the way down. You can do it for time, for distance, or for speed. We did it for gossiping.

4. Don't eat out. I don't mean never eat out, obviously, but the majority of your meals should be made by you. Even in a tiny dorm room there's space for a little fridge and a microwave. If you live in an apartment, either on or off campus, there's definitely no excuse! Eating healthy doesn't have to be expensive: salad fixings, baby carrots, cheese sticks, nuts and nut butter, apples and bananas, and add the proteins of your choice. I used to carry yogurt and fruit in my bag and eat in class because I don't care about people looking at me weird. If you eat in the dining hall make smart choices - skip the pasta line and load up on meat and veggies. Only have dessert once per week.

5. Ditch the junk. You're probably not going to avoid junk food forever, but you're way more likely to eat it if it's just sitting there being all sexy and easily accessible. If you really can't make it through one more chapter of Physics without chocolate (and I don't blame you one little bit) at least force yourself to get out (walk!) and go get one, reasonable serving (don't bring back a bagful to your dorm). Also, pick something like a decent dark chocolate rather than a nasty chocolate snack cake or something.

In an ideal world we'd all have a spare hour during the day to get in a good sweat session and the farmer's markets would just give away healthy, local produce. In reality there are some days we feel lucky if we have time to grab coffee before getting out the door. Make the best choices you can every day and stick to the little things, like these five, that can add up and help you stay healthy!

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