Exercise and Nutrition for College Students

Navigating through various educational programs can be mentally strenuous for college students. Balancing academic responsibilities, potential work commitments, and personal interests can quickly become overwhelming. This is especially true for nontraditional students who may have full-time jobs, family responsibilities, and academic pursuits like undergraduate, master’s, or doctoral programs. Unfortunately, amidst these priorities, health often takes a backseat. Neglecting mental and physical well-being can impact academic performance as stress accumulates. It’s crucial for students to proactively find ways to balance their lives, prioritizing nutrition, exercise, and wellness alongside their academic duties.

Importance of Nutrition and Exercise During College

While college students may often prioritize comfort over exercise and nutrition, choosing health as a priority can significantly enhance their overall well-being and positively impact academic performance.

Nutrition for College Students

The impact of students’ dietary choices on brain function is significant. While indulging in favorite junk foods might be a tempting stress-reliever, substituting overly sweet or salty snacks with healthier alternatives can surprisingly benefit students. Consuming nutrient-dense foods is essential for maintaining attentiveness and productivity, crucial elements for focusing in lectures and retaining information. Opting for a healthy diet also contributes to preventing student illnesses, reducing the need for sick days off from class. Overall, prioritizing good nutrition serves as a valuable tool for college students to navigate the stressors of their academic lives.

According to the Huffington Post, various ways demonstrate how food affects the human brain. For instance, heavy, greasy foods, if consumed before bedtime, can take longer to digest, potentially disrupting sleep patterns and negatively impacting academic performance during crucial times, such as before tests or presentations.

Similarly, the presence of trans fats in fried and highly-processed baked goods can be detrimental to students. The consumption of trans fats has been linked to reduced memory function and, in some cases, even a smaller brain size.

Furthermore, the types of food students eat can influence their mood and overall well-being. Foods that cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, such as white bread and desserts, can lead to a decrease in attention span and mood. Opting for complex carbs like legumes and whole grains, which provide a steady release of sugar to the brain, proves to be a better choice, assisting students in maintaining focus on their academic tasks.

Exercise in College

Incorporating physical activity into a student’s routine is crucial alongside maintaining a healthy diet. Substituting an hour of TV with a gym session at the end of the day can yield more benefits than anticipated. A study focusing on exercise’s impact on cognition reveals that even a single exercise session can enhance cognitive function.

Despite time constraints, students may perceive adding another task to their schedule as overwhelming. This challenge is particularly pronounced for nontraditional students juggling work and family responsibilities. Nevertheless, as highlighted by the Anxiety and Depressive Society of America, engaging in physical activity can be a potent stress-reduction strategy for students. The time dedicated to personal well-being through gym workouts or runs is not squandered; rather, it is an investment in self-care.

Foods That Might Help Make You Smarter

Enhancing brain function and boosting nutrition can be achieved by incorporating brain-boosting foods into your diet, in addition to maintaining a well-rounded eating plan. This approach ensures students receive optimal nutrition to support overall cognitive health.

Whole Grains

Incorporating whole grains like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice into your diet is beneficial for brain health. These grains not only lower the risk of heart disease but also improve blood flow to the brain. It is advisable for students to aim for at least half of their grain intake to consist of whole grains.

Leafy Greens

Elevate your iron intake for better brain function by incorporating leafy greens like spinach and kale, along with green vegetables such as broccoli. Research indicates that sustained higher iron intake leads to improved brain function over time. To proactively prevent cognitive decline, students can kickstart this process by including ample servings of leafy greens and vegetables in their diet.

Vitamin E

Switching to diets rich in Vitamin E has been linked to improved brain function. Research indicates that such dietary choices can enhance cognitive performance, potentially preventing or slowing cognitive decline as individuals age. For a healthier alternative, students can replace processed snacks like chips and sweets with nuts and seeds, as well as incorporate Vitamin E-rich leafy greens into their diets.

Omega 3

Healthline highlights over 15 science-backed benefits of consuming a diet abundant in omega-3s, with a significant focus on enhancing brain function. These benefits encompass combating anxiety and depression, reducing the risk of age-related mental decline, and promoting better sleep. For students grappling with mental health issues and sleep deprivation, incorporating omega-3-rich foods into their diets can contribute to overall health improvement, in conjunction with consulting their healthcare provider.

Omega-3-rich foods comprise fish, such as salmon, as well as walnuts, chia seeds, and soybeans.


Being an unsaturated fat, avocados are deemed a healthy source of fat. These potassium-rich fruits, along with other foods containing potassium, play a role in reducing blood pressure and supporting optimal blood flow, ultimately benefiting brain function. It is advisable for students to consider including avocados in their diet, but in moderation due to their high-calorie content.

Healthy Meals for College Students

When striving to enhance their eating habits, students often face challenges related to planning meals for convenience. For instance, opting for a sugar-packed muffin or a syrup-laden coffee at a coffee shop for breakfast, or choosing chicken nuggets and fries from a fast-food chain’s dollar menu for lunch can become common practices.

While it might appear that adopting a healthier diet is inconvenient, making a few adjustments to habits and schedules can make a significant difference. One approach is to modify choices when dining at fast-food restaurants. Even if it may not be the optimal choice, selecting the healthiest meal options available can contribute to a positive change.

Moreover, students can transform their snacking habits by making healthier choices. Instead of indulging in chips while watching TV, they can opt for fruits or vegetables, incorporating essential fiber that supports optimal brain function. Making these small changes can pave the way for a healthier and more balanced dietary routine.

How to Eat Healthy in College: Meal Planning 101

Initiating a positive dietary change involves more than just ordering wisely at restaurants or selecting better snacks; it necessitates effective meal planning. Meal planning offers students the opportunity to proactively think about their eating choices, rather than succumbing to impulsive decisions when hunger strikes. According to Choose MyPlate, this approach not only saves time but also provides better control over one’s diet.

With meal planning, students can anticipate their weekly meals, allowing them to compile a comprehensive shopping list and prepare food in bulk. This streamlined process not only reduces the time spent on grocery shopping but also minimizes cooking duration. Choose MyPlate suggests several tips to simplify meal planning, including utilizing existing ingredients, documenting the meal plan using a worksheet, curating a list of healthy recipes, aligning plans with their schedule, and incorporating leftovers whenever possible.

This strategic approach to meal planning is beneficial for both traditional and nontraditional students, offering a practical means to allocate time in their schedules for preparing nutritious meals.

Exercise and Mental Health: Psychological Benefits of Working Out

Maintaining mental health is as crucial for college students as diet and exercise. Fortunately, mental health is closely linked to physical well-being. According to Psychology Today, exercise has a direct impact on the brain, increasing blood flow and improving oxygen and nutrient levels in specific areas. Many professionals believe that exercise has positive effects on treating mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, especially in enhancing neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

The New York Times suggests that individuals should aim for at least two and a half hours of exercise per week to keep their brains healthy. This practice not only contributes to mental well-being but can potentially improve academic success and overall mood for students.

There are three primary types of exercises that students can choose from or combine for an ideal workout:

  1. Aerobic Exercises: Involving body movement, faster breathing, and increased heart rate, examples include running and biking.
  2. Anaerobic Exercises: Short and intense activities such as weightlifting or sprinting.
  3. Flexibility: Involves stretching the body to enhance bending, increase range of motion, and improve balance. This can be achieved through simple stretches, yoga, and pilates.

Workouts for College Students

While regular exercise is a crucial aspect of a healthy lifestyle, joining a gym can become a costly commitment. Luckily, students have numerous resources at their disposal to ensure they meet their fitness needs affordably.

For traditional students, access to an on-campus recreational center is often included in their university fees. Those unable to utilize the on-campus facility, such as nontraditional students, can explore student discounts at external gyms. Additionally, students who prefer home workouts can make use of free weights or household items like water bottles and laundry detergent containers.