Never-ending academic work with social life and even part-time work means making time for health and fitness is difficult —and the stats are here to prove it.

At a time when developing lifelong habits is key, students are struggling more than ever to take steps toward better health. A study of students from the University of Toronto conducted by Scarapicchia et al. sheds light on this widespread issue. The general public is questioning how university students can meet health guidelines and take control of their health and wellness.

Only 0.1% of Students Meeting Health Guidelines

The transition into post-secondary education is full of changes. Students often find themselves suddenly independent. For the first time, they are learning with minimal guidance, starting a social network from the ground up, and living on their own.

Given all these changes, it’s no surprise that exercise and diet can be brushed aside. However, the fact that only 0.1% of students in the study were reported to be meeting health guidelines illuminates a clear need for intervention. 

Studies show that during the university years, individuals develop dietary patterns that will likely be maintained into adulthood. So, how can university students take control of their futures?

You don’t have to get a personal trainer or follow a strict meal plan to get healthy.

By making some moderate changes that turn into habits, students can beat the stats and build healthy foundations for their futures. 

Check out our 5 tips to help you get started with your healthier lifestyle today.

Transitioning to an Independent Life

When transitioning into university, students often see declines in diet quality and physical activity. Both of these correlate with the heightened stress of the academic year. Although various diseases like diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerosis can begin to develop during these years, students can feel incapable of adopting healthy habits for fear of cost— both monetarily and in terms of time. 

To meet health guidelines, students should be engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, completing 8-10 strength training exercises on at least two days per week, and eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day. 

Filling the Gaps

Only 22% of students actually meet these physical activity guidelines. As for fruit and vegetable intake, the percentage falls down to 10% on average. Students know that poor health behaviours negatively impact mental well-being, sleep habits, and academic outcomes. Students know that all these factors are inseparable. But, there’s a widespread assumption that trying to be healthy is a losing battle.

“One of the barriers that I face is just lack of time. Between school and work, I don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to exercising or packing a healthy lunch.”

—Student from McMaster University

Having a healthy lifestyle doesn’t equate to hours at the gym or following a strict meal plan. Nor does it mean having no social life and spending hundreds of extra dollars on groceries. By making some moderate changes that can turn into habits, students can beat the stats and build healthy foundations for their futures. 

Here are five tips to help you get started!

  1. Prioritize sleep!
    Yes, even if you are targeting change in terms of diet and physical activity, making sure you’re fully rested is actually a great way to start. When we don’t get enough sleep, we feel more motivated to seek food as a reward. Those not meeting sleep requirements have also been found to have significantly higher BMI scores than those who do. On the other hand, when we sleep enough, we can see better regulation of hunger and less difficulty with exercise.
  2. Have some ready-to-eat healthy food on hand.
    We often think of healthy food and imagine spending hours cooking complex recipes and searching the grocery store for special ingredients. Simply seeking raw fruit and vegetables that are in season makes for quick and efficient snacks. Healthy eating is often far less difficult and expensive than we assume.
  3. Walk to class.
    One of the great things about student housing is that it’s typically close to campus. More of a commuter? Getting off the bus a few stops early or saving some money on on-campus parking can work to help you meet the activity guidelines. Small steps can literally make a big difference.
  4. Stand up and stretch between tasks.
    Have you ever been sitting at your computer for hours trying to complete readings and assignments? Your eyes get heavy, you start losing focus, and each task on your to-do list takes longer than the one before it. As much as we may want to push through, our productivity decreases if we don’t take some breaks. Stand up, do a quick yoga flow, or walk downstairs for a glass of water to break up sedentary time.
  5. Read the label.
    Now, the idea isn’t to count calories as if your life depends on it, but to be more aware of the nutrients (or lack thereof) entering your body. Take a few seconds to skim through the nutrition label and look at the fat, carbohydrate, and protein content of what you are purchasing. This can help you make more informed decisions about what leaves the shelf and enters your cart. Individuals who take this simple step tend to see reductions in fat intake, lowering their odds of developing various diseases later in life.

“I’ve started to go to the gym when I can go and just grab something quick on my way out. I do a bunch of small things and that seems to be working for me.”

Student from Western University 

Taking control of your health doesn’t necessarily entail endless hours at the gym, a restrictive diet, and lots of budget. Rather, taking simple steps and understanding the value in healthy habits can help shift the stats on student health.

Although research shows that university years mark a period of change for the worse, students can beat the odds and do better without giving up other vital aspects of their lives.

You May Also Like
metabolic syndrome
Read More

Metabolic Health: Moving from Band-Aid to Cause

In Canada, nearly 1 in 5  people have metabolic syndrome and don’t even know it. Feelings of sluggishness, fatigue, or inability to lose weight are often attributed to by-products of a long day or not having time for yourself.
Read More

Think You Have ADHD? Start With a Self-Assessment

The thought that you might be suffering from ADHD and have been for some time can be very unsettling without a clear direction of where you should go and what you can do about it. We explore the process of self-assessment and help for this troubling and growing neurodiverse condition.