by Wade Seifert
Healthy habits can be difficult to develop and maintain at the best of times. Attempting to do so while in the midst of a pandemic while balancing schoolwork through a mostly virtual format has only further increased this challenge. The Center for Health Education and Wellness has identified the following four main components of healthy habits.
Stress can play a large role in your life, and this has been a very stressful year for many people. A large amount of stress can negatively impact a student by influencing your physical and mental wellbeing. While small amounts of stress may be beneficial, large amounts lead to negative outcomes.
Sleep is important for you as a college student! There are many factors that impact how much sleep you are getting, but it is important to aim for around eight hours of sleep per night. A lack of sleep can cause you to be stressed, which can further impact how well you sleep since stress can cause insomnia for certain people. Try to develop a bedtime routine, and keep the same bedtime and wake-up time to help develop a healthy sleep pattern, which can decrease stress.
Caffeine can play a large role in how stressed you may feel. Caffeine also impacts how easily you may fall asleep and stay asleep, and has been found to increase levels of perceived stress and the levels of stress hormones according to Duke Medicine. Limiting yourself to a moderate amount of caffeine each day can help to reduce stress levels.
Involvement in activities outside of class can also help reduce stress. While this is difficult in the COVID-era of college life, many clubs and organizations on campus still have a virtual presence and love to welcome new members! Research has shown that students who are more involved on campus with activities outside the classroom experience lower stress levels, have higher grades, and graduate on-time more often. There is a point of diminishing return with involvement though; find a healthy balance of involvement but still have time for academics and your personal life.
Another way to reduce stress may include meeting with faculty members one-on-one. While most of these meetings will take place via Zoom, for the time being, having a meeting with a faculty member can really help lower stress. If you find yourself struggling in a class or simply want guidance on a certain topic, almost every faculty member will be more than happy to meet with you. The faculty here at UT are here to help you, and they want to see you succeed in your academic endeavors!
“You are what you eat” is a simple saying that, while not 100% accurate, does hold some value. Eating healthy is a very critical part of staying happy and healthy while here at UT.
It can be difficult to know how much food you should be eating each day and how many calories are in many of the foods you eat. Pay attention to nutrition labels to help you identify how many calories you are eating, as well as seeing what kind of macronutrients are in the items (such as fats, carbohydrates, and protein).
Healthy eating does not mean starving yourself. Finding a healthy range where you, as an individual, feel healthy, is the best way to identify how you should eat. Different people have different healthy weights. Find what feels best for yourself and what your doctor agrees with and aim for that.
Not all fats are created equally. Certain micronutrients may be more harmful than others. For example, trans fats are much more harmful to humans than other fats such as unsaturated fats, according to the American Heart Association. This is why it is important to know what is in your foods and try to have a healthy balance of what you are eating.
Moderation is key! Eating unhealthy foods every once in a while is not typically an issue. It becomes problematic when that unhealthy eating habit becomes the norm and you are eating unhealthily more often than not.
Food insecurity is a large issue that faces college students even here at UT. If you or someone you know needs assistance with getting food, do not be afraid to reach out for help. There are organizations on campus that are there to help you such as Smokey’s Pantry and the Student Basic Needs Coalition.
If you or someone you know has any dietary restrictions, many of the dining facilities on campus, such as the Fresh Food Company within Stokely Residence hall are more than happy to accommodate these restrictions.
Sleep is critical for wellness and impacts multiple aspects of your life. A lack of sleep can impact motivation, mood, stress level, and many other parts of your daily life.
Finish eating two to three hours before bedtime. If your body is still actively digesting food when you lay down for bed, it can impact how quickly you fall asleep as well as potentially cause issues such as acid reflux or indigestion.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol close to bedtime. All three of these things impact how easily your body is able to fall into a deep sleep and may cause you to wake up feeling tired even if you slept for a long period of time. These items may also cause you to have trouble falling asleep initially as well.
Establishing a bedtime routine is helpful to ensure a good night’s sleep. This routine helps your body become accustomed to going to sleep at a certain time and allows you to develop a circadian rhythm that your body will get used to.
Limiting screen time right before bed and avoiding playing on your phone or laptop while in bed. Getting blue light glasses or a blue light screen protector for your phone can help reduce the impact the screens have, but devices have been shown to still have an impact on how quickly people are able to fall asleep.
Physical activity is an important aspect of wellness. While there are many other factors that contribute to overall wellness such as mental wellbeing, physical wellness is typically what people automatically think of when they hear wellness. With the weather turning cold, it can be difficult to find ways to stay active.
The Knoxville area has miles of walking trails scattered throughout the city. UT also has trails around the campus that are great to walk on and are accessible to people who use wheelchairs. The UT gardens located on the Ag Campus are also a great spot to take a walk.
If you are feeling up for the drive, the Smoky Mountains National Park is roughly an hour away and provides lots of hiking trails for free. It is advisable to check that the trails are open before going. Some trails become icy during the winter months.
TREC is a great place for students to be physically active indoors during the winter. The machines are all cleaned every day, masks are required, and all machines are distanced from each other. The outdoor turf field at TREC is also open for use if you are willing to be in the cold to do so.
The physical activity guidelines for Americans recommends 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate physical activity, such as walking. A 30-minute walk each day, roughly 1.5 miles, would give you 210 minutes a week, well within the guidelines. These guidelines are a generalized recommendation and needs for physical activity may vary among individuals.
There are multiple clubs at the university that encourage physical activity. Joining some of these clubs is a great way to become more involved as well as getting your exercise for the week. Intramural sports are also a great way to do team activities and get your exercise in.
Each of these four components is critical to developing and maintaining healthy habits, but these are not the only aspects. It is important to include these components but also to be mindful of other areas that may require attention as well. If you are mindful of all the various aspects of healthy habits, you will be on the way to having a great spring semester!
Wade Seifert is a second-year graduate student pursuing Master’s degrees in Public Health and Nutrition. Wade also completed my undergrad here at UT in the College Scholars program. Wade currently works at the Center for Health Education and Wellness in the Student Health Center and works closely with the Vols 2 Vols Peer Health Educators to educate students on different health topics. Wade loves to work with people on different health topics and look forward to a career in this field.