Staying healthy—which isn’t always easy—can be especially challenging during the holiday season. You’ve just settled into a soothing routine: go to class, study, exercise, eat. Suddenly, the end of the semester is rushing toward you. Your routine is disrupted. You might feel like you no longer have the leisure to peruse all the healthy choices available at campus dining halls or the time to eat a balanced diet. Exercise can easiliy fall by the wayside, and it definitely can be hard to get enough sleep as you study for those exams. What can you do, before and during the holidays, to stay healthy?
One thing you can do is eat a balanced diet. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends filling one-half of your plate with fruits and vegetables; one-quarter with grains; and one-quarter with protein, which includes nuts and beans as well as lean meat and fish. Consume healthy oils—olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower and peanut—in moderation.
In addition, you can practice portion control. But how much is enough? A handy—no pun intended—way of estimating portions is to use the Hand Method. Your palm equals a serving of protein; your fist, a serving of grains as well as of fruits and vegetables; and a thumb equals a serving of fat, healthy oil or margarine.
Limit foods that contain empty calories and can negatively affect your mood and cognition. Enriched, highly processed foods are converted to sugar, causing you to crash after eating—which is why you feel so tired after a huge breakfast of pancakes, for example. Enriched foods include, of course, some that taste the best: pizza, pasta, white bread, cookies, cakes, crackers, breaded chicken nuggets, donuts and pretzels. Ironically, the word “enriched” means “to add greater value to,” when in fact most of the natural vitamins and minerals have been extracted from so-called enriched foods. If you need a snack, forego those cookies and eat naturally enriched foods, such as a piece of fruit—according to the American College Health Association, only 7.8 percent of students surveyed eat the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables every day.
While you might not have access to the gym during the holidays, you can find other ways to keep fit and active. Schedule a time to get that recommended minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week: it’s as easy as talking a brisk, ½-hour walk each day.
Finally, be sure to get adequate sleep: the average college student needs 7–9 hours per night, although the number of hours varies with the individual. Remember to turn off devices a couple of hours before bedtime: studies have shown that the blue light they emit interrupts the production of melatonin, which promotes sleep.
In short, the recipe for staying healthy during the holidays is simple: eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. And enjoy your break!