A Healthy Start to the Semester


It’s imperative for college students to start the semester on a high note health-wise and this can be achieved through proper dieting, exercise and stress management. (EMMA DIMARCO/THE OBSERVER)


It’s September, which means another academic year is officially underway. For the freshman, this means getting acclimated to not only the academics, but the college lifestyle in general. For the upperclassman, the start of the academic year can mean meeting up with friends again after a few months of summer break. After all, many students haven’t been on campus since the end of the finals period in the spring. Nonetheless, the desire to excel academically is a goal shared by every student. In setting this, the need to establish a healthy lifestyle is often sidelined.

Health is multi-faceted, it’s important to create a balance between one’s mental, physical and social health. There’s often a perception that simply lifting weights and eating healthy foods will lead to a perfect healthy-minded lifestyle. Some others are of the belief that an hour-long cardio session a few times each week will yield result in becoming healthier.

While there is some truth to the aforementioned cases, they don’t depict the entire picture. For this reason, college students, especially freshmen, should be reminded that one’s health is a holistic balance between the physical, mental and social aspects of one’s health.

Now, the following question arises: how can students begin to find this balance? One of the components to consider is daily food intake. For the freshman who lives in McKeon Hall, or for the upperclassman residing in McMahon or even the commuter, it’s important to make healthy food choices. Luckily for residents, there are a variety of campus dining choices which incorporate fruits and vegetables. The Community Dining Hall and Ram Café are two examples of such on-campus options.

If the on-campus dining options aren’t satisfying for some students, the Lincoln Center campus’ proximity to the Hell’s Kitchen opens up a plethora of other healthy dining options. For the student who enjoys cooking, the food guide pyramid can be used as an example of what a proper diet should consist of. The daily intake of foods that fall within the dairy category, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, should not exceed two to three servings. Regarding vegetables and fruits, an individual should eat three to five servings and two to four servings respectively each day. The next food group consists of meat products, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts. One should have two to three servings of food within this category each day. The largest recommended food group based off servings consists of bread, cereal, rice and pasta. It is suggested that one has six to eleven servings within this food group. The final group which consists of fats, oils and sweets, should be eaten sparingly.

It should be mentioned that the serving sizes mentioned above are simply estimates. Detailed amounts vary from one person to another. For this reason, it’s helpful to work with a registered dietitian or nutritionist for a personally-catered eating plan.

One’s diet is just a single dimension to starting the academic year on a healthy note. Focusing on one’s physical health and the importance of consistent exercise is also important. It’s recommended for adults to take part in at least an hour of physical activity every day. Most college students, because of their commutes, internships, jobs and their academics, can only dedicate so much time to exercise. Therefore, a collective 30 minutes of exercise each day for at least five days a week can make quite the difference.

During these 30 minutes, students should focus on physical activities that are moderately intensified and elevate heart rate. A few examples of cardiovascular exercises that do just this are jogging, playing a team sport, swimming a few laps in the pool or even using a jump rope. An on-campus luxury is having the McMahon gym, which adds a greater flexibility to students who may want to just use an elliptical machine or run on a treadmill. When the weather permits, taking a jog in Central Park or cycling throughout the boroughs can be a workout in itself.

When dieting and physical activity are both managed consistently, one can then focus on maintaining a healthy weight. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a method often used to determine if one is at a healthy weight. This is performed by taking one’s weight in pounds, and dividing it by one’s height in inches squared. The result should then be multiplied by 703, which yields one’s BMI. A normal weight is categorized by a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9, while a BMI greater than 25.0 places one in an overweight category. It should be noted, however, that the BMI indicator can sometimes be inaccurate if an individual is highly muscular.

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most vital components to living a healthy lifestyle, especially with a new academic year ahead. Taking care of the proper components which constitute a healthy lifestyle, such as dieting and exercise, can aid in preventing illness and disease. Muhammad Burney, Gabelli School of Business at Lincoln Center (GSBLC) ‘19 also believes in the importance of creating a balance between one’s diet and physical activity. He said, “Eating healthy foods and making sure some type of exercise routine is in place will not only keep us in shape but it’ll prevent many other problems such as lack of energy during the day and fatigue.”

Something else to consider in starting the academic year is stress management. With the semester being a rollercoaster of emotions inside the classroom, juggling between academics and an internship can be quite difficult. Burney shares this sentiment, saying, “Coping with stress as a college student all comes down to planning well and having specific goals in mind to work on.”

Letting stress magnify early on in the semester without addressing it, can be dangerous to one’s emotional and physical health. Studies have even indicated that it can raise blood pressure and one’s resting heart rate. If untreated, long-term stress can lead to medical problems, such as cardiovascular disease. As a result, it’s crucial to learn how to manage one’s stress levels. “Planning out how to balance your workload can reduce the stress of staying up late the night before to write a paper,” Burney added.

One method of controlling stress is exercise. A publication in the journal, Front Psychiatry, published in 2013, highlighted the correlation between regular exercise and physical activity lowering the prevalence of chronic disease(s). The article states, “Adults who engage in regular physical activity experience fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms, thus supporting the notion that exercise offers a protective effect against the development of mental disorders (van Minnen et al., 2010).”

It’s no secret that living a healthier lifestyle is a goal of every college student. Focusing on one’s mental, physical and social health by dieting, exercising and managing one’s stress levels is a crucial first step toward achieving this goal.