By Gaby Galvin
Most people know exercising and eating healthy can change more than just appearance.
Physical well-being has a serious effect on lives mentally, socially, and even academically.
College students who are physically healthy are happier and more efficient in school and other areas of their lives, said Jane Jakubczak, the UMD Health Center dietitian. Good nutrition helps students maximize their energy and accomplish all that is in a college student’s jam-packed schedule.
“I don’t feel students make that connection, by looking at one area of their life, like diet or exercise, that it’s going improve the other areas of their life,” Jakubczak said. “Students need to know it because they can do better in life and in school if they’re healthier and taking care of themselves.”
Physical wellness is not all about losing weight. Getting in shape can help people reduce their depression, anxiety and stress. It also decreases the chance for physical problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.
Senior Abby Barley decided she wanted to start eating healthy in January because she felt sluggish after the holiday season. She also knew she could be going away for spring break and wanted to shed some weight in preparation. She began the Paleo diet, which cuts out foods such as grains, dairy and processed foods.
“I am able to stay more alert,” Barley said. “Doing schoolwork became easier. I feel happier because I noticed my clothes fitting better and people noticing I looked different. I definitely feel more comfortable.”
Others focus primarily on exercise. Healthy adults should get about four hours a week of exercise, but most only exercise for two, according to researchers at UMD and Penn State. An increased value for exercise along with a healthy diet can help people not only shed extra weight but become happier, fuller versions of themselves.
Junior Kelly Rugel began running regularly seven months ago. She runs at least three miles several times a week because she missed being outside and being active.
“I think I’m truly addicted to running now,” Rugel said. “I will say it made me more lively and more confident with myself. It helps keep my schedule tight so I get assignments done earlier.”
Many college students found themselves active in high school playing sports, but neglect their exercise and nutrition once they get to college. They used to be able to just go to practice after school, but now they find it harder to make time to go to the gym. Sophomore Anna Biddle played volleyball in high school but stopped when she came to college.
“I got back into exercising regularly this year,” Biddle said. “It was hard at first because with volleyball, you just go to practice. You don’t have to plan to go to the gym. But now that I go more, it’s definitely made it easier to balance everything.”
Jakubczak said that lifestyle changes do not have to be drastic in order to improve health, despite what college students think. Even increasing fruit and vegetable intake or walking for 30 extra minutes a day can have a big effect on mental and physical health.
“Your health encompasses all those different aspects,” Jakubczak said. “So it’s necessary to have a healthy body physically in order to have good mental health and emotional health, because there’s such a close connection between the mind and body.”