5 Tips for Staying Healthy While Living in a Dorm

Take a look at our tips for keeping (or starting) a healthy dorm lifestyle.
Take a look at our tips for keeping (or starting) a healthy dorm lifestyle.
James Woodson/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Pop quiz, hot shot: Where can you find excessive loans, crazy professors, all-night studying and cumulative weight gain? College! And you thought it was an investment in your future...

So maybe we're being a little too harsh on higher education, but that last part about weight gain is no joke. About 25-percent of college students gain at least 5 pounds in the first two months of stepping on campus, which adds a whole new definition to the term bell-shaped curve [source: Jampolis]. And we don't even have to mention (but we will) that the infamous "Freshman 15" can turn into even more, if you're not careful.

With bottomless ice-cream dispensers and endless greasy pizza, college is like a dream come true for nine-year-old you but it's a serious uphill battle if you're trying to stay healthy. But unlike getting that "A" in biology, it's not statistically impossible to stay healthy while living in your dorm. Take a look at our tips for keeping (or starting) that healthy dorm lifestyle. Thirty-five year old you will thank you later.

5
Keep Healthy Snacks in the Room
That apple looks like a healthy snack, doesn't it?
That apple looks like a healthy snack, doesn't it?
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The college life doesn't lend itself to traditional meal times, proper portions or basically anything that will benefit a healthy eating lifestyle. Classes can be held at breakfast, lunch and dinner times, which means snacking in between is highly probable. So if you can't avoid eating a few snacks before you head off to class, then choose snacks that will actually help fill you up and keep you healthy at the same time.

Instead of snacking on things like cookies or potato chips try replacing them with some baby carrots or non-fat yogurt. Nutrition Specialist, Dr. Melina Jampolis, recommends college students snack on apples, string cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or even mini cans of tuna as alternatives to unhealthy choices. The idea isn't to give up having a quick snack option, because that's probably not realistic, but to replace the bad choice with something much better for you [source: Jampolis].

Some people suggest applying the 35/10/35 rule to your snack habits. This means your snack should be comprised of less than 35-percent fat, 10-percent saturated fat and less than 35-percent sugar per 100 calories. You can apply the same rule to picking your classes: An instructor should require reading less than 35-pages of each book assigned, the final should only be about 10-percent of your grade and there should be a 35-point curve added to every exam. But maybe that's just wishful thinking.

4
Exercise in the Dorm

Most cramped dorm room spaces don't lend themselves well to gym equipment. Heck, most of them don't even lend themselves well to chairs. But even in tight spaces there are exercises you can do in the dorm to stay in shape.

A few free weights or a resistance band won't take up too much valuable space, but can give you a good workout. If you ride your bike around campus, you're obviously getting a good workout from that, but you can also hook that bike up to an indoor bike trainer. With the back wheel off the ground you can get in a great cardio workout without ever leaving the (ahem) comfort of your dorm room.

If you don't have weights or a bike, you can also kick-it old-school and break out some pushups, sit-ups, crunches and lunges. There are lots of YouTube videos that give step-by-step instructions for exercising in the dorm. Just be sure to follow workout instructions carefully, because doing an exercise the wrong way can actually do more harm than good.

The important part is to add some physical activity to your daily routine. Sure, you're walking to class but you're also sitting down a lot and possibly eating a lot of unhealthy food. Integrate a 20 to 30 minute workout in addition to your other healthy choices.

3
Drink Less Alcohol

No, we're not kidding. We're going to make the assumption here that most college students reading this article drink alcohol. We know, we know...we're stereotyping. While we're at it, we're going to assume that said college students are also drinking more than a healthy amount. So first off, knock off the underage drinking. Totally not cool. Second, all that beer you're downing isn't doing anything good for your health.

According to the Mayo Clinic, one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men is a healthy amount. One drink -- meaning 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine. At those recommended amounts you can reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attacks, lower the risk of gallstones and possible reduce the risk of strokes and diabetes. But when you consume more than that you take away all the health benefits and add a lot of drawbacks.

Swiss researchers have found that drinking too much alcohol causes the body to burn fat much more slowly. Instead of burning off the fat your body wants to get rid of, it stores it in the paunch, thighs and other parts of the body. So, not only are you consuming additional calories, but your body is having a harder time getting rid of the fat as well [source: The New York Times].

One obvious way to cut back is to keep the alcohol out of your dorm room. Your school may already keep a close eye on this anyway, but keeping it far away will make it easier for you not to over indulge. Aside from that, consider how much you're drinking and know that drinking too much is going to wreak havoc on your new healthy lifestyle.

2
Sleep
College students are one of the most sleep-deprived segments of the population.
College students are one of the most sleep-deprived segments of the population.
Clerkenwell/the Agency Collection/Getty Images

Dorm rooms aren't always the best places to get a little shuteye. Between loud roommates, late-night study sessions and countless opportunities to just get out, it can be hard to find time to sleep. According to Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine, college students are one of the most sleep-deprived segments of the population. Only 11-percent of college students report that they sleep well consistently [source: Harvard].

But college kids can handle it, right? It doesn't impact their young minds and bodies, right? You know where this is going. Those all-nighters you're pulling in order to get some extra studying in may be doing more harm than good. Studies show that sleeping directly after hearing a lesson is the best way to retain the information you've just heard. So make sure you fall asleep in the classroom directly after listening to a lecture. Well, maybe you shouldn't do that, but do sleep. Not only will you improve your mental capability, but it could keep you healthier as well.

Lack of sleep produces chemicals and hormones that can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Getting regular sleep may not make you healthier by itself, but it will give you more mental alertness and keep your body from developing harmful chemicals that could negatively impact your health in the future.

So if your dorm is a little (or a lot) too loud, try some noise cancelling headphones or earplugs to drown out the sound. If that doesn't work, then get out and find a quiet place where you can get the rest you need. And yes, the basement of the library might be an option.

1
Cook Some Meals Yourself

I know what you're thinking, but yes, you can cook in your dorm. All you need is the Swiss Army Knife of dorm room essentials: The George Foreman Grill. Nothing may be easier than operating a George Foreman Grill. Seriously, walking is probably harder. George Foreman has sold over 100 million of the grills -- and for good reason. They're easier to operate than an elevator and they can help you stay healthy, too.

Sure, you can still cook bad stuff in your dorm if you want, but having the option to cook your own food, as opposed to eating out or going to the dining hall, gives you a much healthier option. If your dorm offers a communal kitchen then use it. Making even a few meals yourself could drastically increase your healthy eating options.

If you don't have access to a communal kitchen and the George Foreman Grill is out of the question, then your last option is the microwave. There are plenty of cookbooks out there specifically for microwave chefs, and some of the recipes are much healthier than your on-campus options. Just be sure that none of your microwave recipes start with the word "Hot" and end in "Pockets."

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Author's Note: 5 Tips for Staying Healthy While Living in a Dorm

I wish I had read (or written) something like this while I was in college. I probably could have kick-started some healthy habits back then that would still be paying off now. Hindsight, I suppose. I ate out constantly and then hit the dining hall when I ran out of money. Come to think of it, I could have increased my health and my bank account at the same time if I ate out less in college! Maybe I should read the HowStuffWorks article on How Time Travel Works?

Even though this article was about healthy living in the dorms, it really follows the ideas of healthy living in general. Exercise, eat right and get plenty of sleep. That basically sums it up. It's the whole doing it part that makes it so difficult.

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Sources

  • BBC. "Warwick Scientists Say Lack of Sleep 'Bad for Health.'" Feb. 8, 2011. (July 26, 2012) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-12398114
  • Cracked.com. "Can I Grill It? Yes!" (July 26, 2012) http://www.cracked.com/funny-1702-george-foreman-grill/
  • Frost, Shelley. "How to Exercise at a Dorm." Livestrong.com. Aug. 18, 2011. (July 26, 2012) http://www.livestrong.com/article/516417-how-to-exercise-at-a-dorm/
  • Harvard Medical School - Division of Sleep Medicine. "Sleep and Memory." Dec. 16, 2008. (July 26, 2012) http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/memory
  • Huffington Post. "How to Sleep in a Dorm: Shut-Eye Tips for College Students." May 25, 2011. (July 26, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/26/how-to-sleep-in-a-dorm_n_694756.html#s131132&title=NoiseCancelling_Headphones
  • Jampolis, Melina. "What Are Some Healthy Snacks to Keep in the Dorm?" CNN.com. Oct. 9, 2009. (July 25, 2012) http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/expert.q.a/10/08/healthy.snacks.dorm.jampolis/index.html
  • Mayo Clinic. "Alcohol Use: If You Drink, Keep it Moderate." (July 26, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alcohol/SC00024
  • The New York Times. "Why a Beer Belly is Precisely That." April 9, 1992. (July 26, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/1992/04/09/us/why-a-beer-belly-is-precisely-that.html