& Alan Titchenal Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Proper diet, rest and exercise enhance college experience
The transition from high school to college presents new challenges to students. Certainly, college is a time to explore new horizons and possibilities as students seek ways to find success and fulfillment. A successful college career includes doing well academically, developing a fulfilling social life and maintaining good health to support an active college lifestyle.
However, the perception of what is "healthy" can vary from one student to another and can greatly affect student success.
One of the greatest fears of college freshmen is the dreaded weight gain commonly called the "Freshman 15."
This fear can become the driving force behind health-related decisions for many students. Dealing with this weight-gain fear in the wrong way can damage both health and the capacity to succeed academically.
Three key factors can support a fit and healthy body weight and the active mind needed to get the most out of a college education and social life.
These include adequate nutrients and calories, getting enough sound sleep and maintaining physical fitness with moderate regular exercise.
Good nutrition means consuming an adequate diet that provides all the essential nutrients needed to form the foundation for good health.
This diet contains both an adequate amount and variety of foods in their proper proportions.
When individuals attempt to achieve or maintain an attractive body weight by restricting calories too severely, they can trigger a starve/binge condition that is the body's natural survival response when calories are too low.
One way to avoid this starve/binge trap is to always consume a healthful breakfast. Research indicates those who eat breakfast are likely to have a better body weight. Skipping meals creates the natural binge response that leads to overeating later in the day.
In general, consuming inadequate calories and not meeting protein needs decreases the ability to maintain a healthy proportion of muscle to fat. This can compromise immune function, increase the risk of illness and impair the brain function needed for academic success.
The second big factor, getting adequate sound sleep, is essential for optimal brain function as well as emotional stability. Sleep research shows that an ongoing sleep deficiency can compromise memory, decrease alertness and attention, lead to poor decision-making and is now even considered to be a risk factor for obesity. At the other extreme, excessive sleep can be a symptom of both physical and mental health problems.
The third factor, maintaining a consistent and moderate exercise routine, promotes good physical and mental health because of several factors. Getting adequate physical activity increases calorie needs, which assists in weight control. The building and maintenance of muscle tissue also increases calorie needs even when at rest.
Research indicates a consistent exercise habit helps to promote good brain function along with mental and emotional stability. Many types of physical activity also incorporate social interaction that contributes greatly to building a social network that can be an important outcome of the college experience.
In the long run, establishing good eating, sleeping and exercise habits in college can contribute to a lifelong routine that benefits health, mental productivity and social richness that continues throughout life.
Joannie Dobbs, PhD, CNS and Alan Titchenal, PhD, CNS
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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