Health Food/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

How can students prioritise having a healthy lifestyle with their studies?

Up to 60% of university students suffer from poor sleep quality. 50 to 80% of students either drastically gain or lose weight in their first year of university and the majority of students only exercise once or twice a week. There is no doubt university students experience a severe decline in their physical and mental well-being when they leave home to study elsewhere.

Some students have never cooked a meal themselves before going to university, resulting in their diet going out the window. This, coupled with the huge onset of consuming alcohol and late-night partying, does not scream healthy. Additionally, the time spent studying heavily influences time available to eat, sleep and exercise. These three aspects are key to a healthy lifestyle for students, and prioritisation of these is essential for long-term physical and mental well-being.

Students who get enough sleep will notice an increase in their cognitive ability to store information

The recommended amount of sleep for adults aged 18 and over is seven-nine hours to be classed as healthy according to the NHS. A consistent failure to reach this will result in symptoms such as: feeling irritable or sad, reduced physical performance, decreased appetite, and the main one affecting students: a lack of focus. 31% of students suffer from morning tiredness which affects their ability to learn during their lessons. The irony of this, is students will work deep into the night to make up for their lack of focus during the day, which is caused by a lack of sleep. This deadly cycle is nearly impossible to escape from. A good night’s sleep should be a priority. The top tips for a good night’s sleep, according to Harvard University, are: limit caffeine close to bed, limit overall alcohol intake, and avoid electronics and exercise before sleep. Honourable and underrated mentions would be reading before bed, and planning your schedule around sleeping.

Reading, even for 15 minutes before bed, can: relax a racing mind, improve focus, reduce heart rate and stress levels, and improve the likelihood of dreaming, which is evidence of a deep sleep. For a student lifestyle, it may be unrealistic to get enough sleep, so napping may be a useful tool to rest during the day. Limiting the amount of times you go out partying or clubbing a week, especially on weekdays, will also help a great deal. Students who get enough sleep will notice an increase in their cognitive ability to store information which, in turn, improves the quality of learning, as well as overall mood.

A student survey conducted at a university in Lebanon on 100 students found the majority do not exercise daily and gain weight during their freshman year. This can be applied to students in the UK, who show a very similar trend. The main reasons for this are lack of time and intimidation. Upon coming to university and witnessing how serious competitive sports are, first timers can be deterred from giving them a go. Watching someone the same age as you lift the weight of a small car can scare people away.

A Mayo Chicken sandwich from McDonald’s is the same price as a pack of four avocados from Asda

My advice would be to find a sport or activity that feels more like fun than exercise. Given the wide variety of sports offered at university, it is almost impossible not to find one you will like. Block out a time in the day to exercise, whether that’s running 10 miles or just a 15-minute walk, as it will improve mental clarity and provide a sense of euphoria on completion. A beneficial by-product of joining a sports team is also the social aspect. Meeting new people and seeing them consistently each training session will increase the enjoyment of playing. Additionally, exercising during the day can improve sleep due to increased fatigue.

Eating healthily is one of the greatest challenges university students face in their time away from home. Not being able to rely on your parent’s cooking is a frightening thought. A study taken at the University of Palma in Italy aimed to obtain information on the difficulties in maintaining a healthy diet among 39 students. The main answers were: social pressures, lack of time, and lack of knowledge. The most popular answer was a lack of finances.

Students spend on average £66 a month on outside food, which totals over £500 per academic year

Healthy food is expensive nowadays. A big reason is the cost relative to unhealthy alternatives. For example, a Mayo Chicken sandwich from McDonald’s is the same price as a pack of four avocados from Asda. Asking the average university student which one sounds more appealing for £1.40 will provide a straightforward answer to their questionable dietary habits. Shopping at cheaper supermarkets, such as Aldi, can help, but is difficult if not located nearby. Looking in the reduced section can be the first calling, as well as buying own brands which are considerably cheaper.

Planning meals will assist in allocating funds to specific food items. Being able to buy food in bulk will save a lot of money and ensure there is enough food for the week. A large reason students are unable to reserve funds for grocery shopping is due to excessive spending on takeaways and eating out. Students spend on average £66 a month on outside food, which totals over £500 per academic year. Allocating these funds to healthier foods will limit their need to eat out at unhealthy places.

In terms of cooking knowledge, browsing the internet for cheap healthy meal recipes is a must. Getting inspiration from flatmates and friends can also help. As cooking takes time, those with busy schedules won’t be able to spend endless hours cooking every day. The solution would be to meal-prep on the weekend or the night before. This way, meals can be reheated in the microwave or on the stove, giving more time for other ventures.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.