Develop Lifelong Healthy Habits

Looking back, I can honestly say college was when I was at my healthiest. Reading recently about the Freshman 15, the condition so named when students gain up to 15 pounds their first semester in college, I wondered why I did not fit the norm. The Freshman 15 is not a disease or virus, but due to a drastic change in eating habits. That’s when I realized I made a drastic change, but for the better.

I entered college about 20 pounds overweight and lost most of that my first semester. I attribute the loss to being far, far away from anything and everything familiar and not having a car to run to the closest fast-food restaurant. I ate in the college cafeteria, and while that’s not typically the best food in town, it kept me from eating between meals. As I got acquainted with others, especially a friend with a car, we still limited how many times we ate out. My classes also were a good walking distance away, which meant I was exercising every day.

By the time I was in my junior year, classes were even farther away, and while I enjoyed pizza every now and then, I remember one friend teaching me to eat apples with peanut butter, a healthy snack I still enjoy today. Our school cafeteria also offered make-your-own-sack lunch. To this day, I remember making half a sandwich and adding two graham crackers and an apple for my daily lunch.

In the evenings, I ate at the cafeteria, but tended to enjoy the social time too much to ever return for seconds. When I moved off-campus for the summer, I was three miles from campus and rode my bike to class daily. I don’t remember struggling with a weight problem, and I enjoyed a high level of energy.

I wish I could say all these years later I’ve maintained that healthy lifestyle. That’s why I’m writing about it today. Now is the time to form lifelong habits that will stand you well over the years. Here are a few habits I wish I had adhered to or continued after college:

  • Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet. It’s amazing how hard it is to fit in 4-5 helpings when one is eating unhealthy carbs and fast foods.
  • Drink plenty of water. I remember friends who always ordered water to drink at restaurants instead of soft drinks or alcohol. Back then, I thought that rather strange, but later realized they were much healthier than many of us.
  • Get enough sleep. I failed in this area. Sleep was a very, very low priority. My sleep deprivation then, according to studies today, probably has contributed to my being obese and a Type 2 diabetic. I traded my health for being social and then studying way into the night. This would definitely be a DO OVER for me, though I still enjoy my late nights.
  • Make exercise part of your daily routine. Choose something you enjoy. Park in “the back 40” of the parking lot and hike into the store. Go on hikes instead of to the movies. Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Your body will thank you. I was very athletic as a young girl, but found I participated less and less as the years went by. Today, I know a man in his 80s who wheels his chair out and swims laps every day.
  • Don’t forget to breathe. I visited a co-worker once in the hospital. She had suffered from polio as a child and was wheelchair-bound her entire adult life. “Breathe deeply and often,” she advised. “I didn’t.” She died a few months later in her mid-60s. Deep-breathing exercises also help alleviate stress.
  • Laugh. Find people you enjoy being around and savor the laughter. I watched two women laughing the other day, and I couldn’t help smiling. It’s contagious and good medicine. A few years ago, I started the dreaded chore of cleaning our above-ground pool liner. I then threw it over the kids’ trampoline and found the frame helped stretch it out better for me to clean. Armed with Dawn dishwashing detergent and wearing a swimsuit, I climbed onto the trampoline to scrub the liner. Soon, I was slip-sliding all over that trampoline, and laughing like I had not laughed in years. I couldn’t stop laughing. My husband stopped mowing just to find out what I found so funny. I still remember that good feeling of laughter.

Thanks for indulging me on a trip down memory lane, and I wish you well as you begin your own journey into college and down the road of life.