Body Blog: Back to School Health Roundup

During the school year, eating well and exercising can feel like a real challenge. Going out with friends or sleeping in late is often so much more appealing than dragging yourself to the gym, and at 2:00 a.m. after hours of reading, that bag of chocolate chip cookies is just…so…tempting!

We’ve all heard that we should try to avoid the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen” (which is actually more like the “Freshman Seven”), but there are other important benefits to maintaining a good nutrition and exercise routine. The better you treat your body, the better you will feel. The better you feel, the more successful you’ll be in school and the more energy you’ll have for the really fun stuff. Read on to learn how you can use the latest discoveries in health and fitness to stay healthy, happy, and motivated this school year.

1.     Cut down on time at the gym with interval workouts.

Intervals have long been an important part of many exercise routines. But a new study has shown that intense interval workouts may be just as effective as time-consuming endurance training. The study divided its subjects, healthy college students, into two groups. One group rode a stationary bike at a sustained pace for 90 to 120 minutes three times per week. The other group pedaled as hard as they could for 20 to 30 seconds, with short breaks in between, for a total of about six minutes of intense riding per day. The result? The students who rode intervals showed just a much of an increase in their endurance as the students who did sustained training, and showed the same molecular indicators of increased fitness in their muscles.

So if you don’t hours to spend at the gym, you can still get a great workout with a series of short, intense intervals. In order for this to work, you really have to push yourself, so give those intervals all you’ve got.

2.     Exercise to reduce stress and feel more focused.

In the unforgettable words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” While you probably don’t have a husband, a good workout may keep you from freaking out on your roommate. It will also help you pay more attention and concentrate in class. So don’t say you’re too stressed to go to the gym! Working out or even just taking a walk will help you feel better and complete that mountain of homework more efficiently.

3.     Stock up on healthy snacks.

Busy schedules and late nights can lead to lots of snacking, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A recently published study, the most comprehensive look so far at the causes of weight gain, showed that what you eat makes a big difference. Some results were expected – the participants who gained the most weight over a 20-year period ate large amounts of french fries, potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, red meats and desserts. Most people who maintained their weight or lost weight ate lots of standard healthy foods – fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But, surprisingly, consumption of dairy had a neutral effect on weight gain and weight loss was greatest among the subjects who ate lots of peanut butter and yogurt.

So, you can replace fried and processed snacks with food that tastes good, but is still healthy. Try some peanut butter on a whole grain cracker, or naturally sweet fruit yogurt instead of potato chips and soda from the vending machine. Fueling your body properly will give you more energy and prevent weight gain.

4.     Fidget!

In my favorite study of the summer, researchers found that performing more “incidental movement” each day – from tapping a toe while sitting to walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator – helps improve cardiovascular fitness. This is great news for college students, since we spend so much time sitting. The study also found that some people are naturally more inclined to fidget throughout the day. If you’re one of those people (I definitely am), then keep it up! If not, start fidgeting! It’s possible to improve your health with the simplest, smallest movements, as well as larger changes like walking short distances instead of driving. Just try not to annoy your classmates by making noise or kicking their desks.

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