What does it mean to be healthy, and what does it look like?
Column by Andy Milligan, UF senior Strength and Conditioning student
As college students, it’s easy to lead a lifestyle of imbalance. Late nights spent studying create sleep imbalances. Anxiety and stress create mental imbalance. The delicious food in the dining hall makes it hard to stay nutritionally balanced. These are just a few of the struggles of growing up and adapting to college life.
Health is important because it represents balance. If we as students prioritize our health- whether it be mental, social, or physical, we naturally create a more balanced life, and we are more capable to defend ourselves against the struggles of being a university student. Being healthy doesn’t always look like clear skin, a perfect six pack, or a dazzling smile. Being healthy looks like balance- and it’s easier to achieve than you may think.
So, this is the simple guide to being healthy as a college student– featuring a candid interview with Assistant Professor in Health and Human Performance and Director of the Exercise Science Program Stephanie Born, Ph.D.
Tip #1- PRIORITIZE SLEEP
This may seem obvious, but so many of us do not actually understand what our sleep is doing to us. Aside from all the effects on body composition (yes, sleeping less makes you store more bodyfat) and overall sense of wellbeing, sleep benefits literally every single aspect of our waking lives.
In case you needed more convincing, here are a few fast facts that may make you consider your 2 a.m. video game streaming sessions. Dr. Matthew Walker is the author of the International Bestseller, Why We Sleep and offers these facts via his website.
- Sleeping less than six hours a night increases the risk of heart disease by 300%.
- Limiting sleep to five hours a night for a week decreases testosterone in men by a staggering amount and “ages you 10-15 years” on a hormonal level. Sleep loss reduces sperm quality and quantity.
- For women, insufficient sleep increases the chance of irregular menstrual cycles, sub-fertility, and first trimester miscarriages.
- Studies show that sleeping less than six hours per night caused 40% increase in cancers.
If you don’t believe this… give sleeping longer a try. You have nothing to lose.
Tip #2- FUEL YOUR BODY
“Food is about physical function,” Born said. “The whole body, brain included, thrives on good food, and struggles with bad food, to explain it in an overly simplistic way. If we give our bodies food that is easier to digest and absorb, we don’t have to waste energy or ‘brain power’ if you will on be dealing with more complicated digestion and absorption processes. If we give our bodies food that is satisfying, that is also important. Being hungry makes it hard to concentrate and retain information.”
When it comes to nutrition and health, it’s important to recognize that balance and health looks different for everyone.
It’s also important to be honest with yourself. Nobody is asking you to be vegan, nobody is asking you to eat nothing but broccoli, and nobody is asking you to eat carnivore or keto. We all love different foods, and the value we attach to nutrition is everyone’s choice.
I think all of us know what balance looks like in a diet, and those who don’t simply do not want to be reminded of what they don’t like hearing. Adopting a mindset of balance when it comes to your food choices isn’t about restricting yourself from good grub- it’s about recognizing the food for what it is and eating in a way that benefits you the most outside of short-term pleasure.
“The best advice I can offer students is to avoid imbalance,” Born said. “This means finding a balance between lesser processed foods and ultra-processed foods. For instance, instead of two slices of pizza, maybe it’s a slice of pizza and a salad from the salad bar or a serving from the Simple Servings station in Henderson Dining Hall,” Born said.
Eat with a mindset of balance, and health will naturally follow.
Tip #3- TREAT YOURSELF WITH LOVE
Imagine you have a pet. You care for this little guy and want nothing but the best for it. You are tasked with keeping this figurative pet as HEALTHY as possible for a class, and your grade depends on it. You really don’t want to mess this up.
What would you do?
Well, you would probably take it on walks. You would get it groomed. You would make sure it has medication. You would feed it quality foods. And most importantly… you would love it.
Why would you treat yourself any other way?
As stated before, being healthy does not look like a six pack, perfect smile, toned muscles, etc. Being healthy (in college, or anywhere else) looks like someone who loves themselves. Being healthy, and making healthy choices, is nothing more than a side effect of prioritizing self-love.
“Good quality sleep (even with less quantity), good food that is nourishing and reflects balance (good sources of carbs, fats, and protein), and managing your stress in a healthy way (through exercise, meditation, talking to friends, etc.) can all lead to less effort in learning and increased performance – both physically and mentally,” Dr. Born said.
Don’t overcomplicate what health is. Choose to care for yourself, and both health and balance will follow close behind.