Staying fit can be hard in college… exams, socializing and stress can lead even the most well-intentioned co-eds to stray from their carefully crafted plan to avoid the freshman 15. And, even if weight gain is not your concern, it’s important to try to fit in some activity and good eating habits to help keep you healthy and sane. Here are answers to some burning questions you may have about a healthy college lifestyle.
Q: When it is very cold out and I don’t want to walk to the gym, what are some things I can do in my dorm room to stay in shape?
A: When it is cold outside and gets dark so early, it is easy to use the weather as an excuse not to work out. But even if you don’t want to walk all the way to SPAC, you can still get in a workout to lower stress and help keep you fit.
For aerobic exercise, exercise physiologist Marla Richmond suggests getting in half of a workout in the dorm by jumping rope for 5 minutes and running up and down the stairs for 5 minutes, and to get the other half in by jogging or walking briskly to get to class.
For muscular skeletal conditioning, Wayne Westcott, PhD, the fitness and research director of the South Shore YMCA, recommends the plan he used in college; “You can always do calisthenics, push ups, chair dips… get a chinning bar in your doorway, and invest in some dumbbells or bands for strength training.” He says that you only need 5 or 6 basic exercises if you use large muscle, multi-group exercises that target bigger muscles and work more than one muscle group at a time.
It may be 10 degrees out now, but spring is around the corner. So do your shorts-loving self a favor and work out throughout the winter. If you don’t have to even leave the dorm, you’ve got no excuse.
Q; If I only have a half hour or 20 minutes to exercise, what is the best way to use that short time?
A: Between schoolwork, social activities and campus involvement, Northwestern students are so busy they can sometimes barely fit in time to sleep. When this is the case, devoting hours to exercise may seem impossible, so they give up altogether. But, Richmond and Westcott agree that a good workout regimen does not need to eat up all of your time.
According to Richmond, a “total prescription plan” includes 3 to 5 days a week of cardiovascular exercise and 2 days a week of strength training. She says that you can break it up, doing as little as 20 minutes at a time.
“There is no big boss inside your body that says you have to do it all at once or else it doesn’t work,” she said. “Accumulate it over the course of the day.”
Another trick you can use to shorten your workouts, says Westcott, is circuit training, which involves doing strength exercises one after another for a set number of repetitions, and repeating the workout for a set number of times. Many fitness books provide good examples of circuit programs, and personal trainers can help you design one to help you meet your fitness goals.
Q: Do you have any tips for eating healthy in the dining halls?
A: Dietician Merle Levy, LD/N said the top thing to remember about eating healthy is to always be aware of your heart. Avoid high fat and junky food, and stay away from saturated fats, fried, creamy or cheesy foods.
“We think of cheese as healthy because it has protein and calcium, but it is also a concentrated source of saturated fat and I know it is always available in the dining hall,” she said.
She warns that restaurants and dining halls make food creamy with full fat milk, and advises that students think about how a food is prepared before choosing it.
To avoid gaining the “freshman 15” Levy says to think about your late-night snacks.
“Make snacks mimic meals,” she said. “If you are hungry at 1 a.m., instead of pizza, make a peanut butter sandwich and fruit or yogurt and it will make you just as full and you will come out a winner in terms of calories.”
Eating healthy can be tricky when grilled cheese and french fries are always available in the dining halls, but by thinking about what you are eating and choosing healthy snacks you can eat well and maintain good health.
Marla Richmond is the author of the The Physiology Storybook : An Owner’s Manual for the Human Body. Merle Levy is a licensed dietitian nutritionist. Wayne Westcott is fitness research director at south shore YMCA.