Column: Nutrition and exercise in college


There are always days when I wake up early and have to rush out the door, unable to catch a break from class, club meetings or studying until late at night. By then, I’m absolutely ravenous, having had time for nothing but a few random snacks throughout the day. 

Every once in a while, letting a busy day disrupt your eating schedule is fine. But when it turns into a habit and you begin living off of two or even one real meal a day, it becomes unhealthy. 

Though finding time between your various activities to eat is not always convenient, and meal plans and food options on and off campus are expensive, skipping meals is harmful to both one’s physical and mental health. 

Eating consistently prevents your blood sugar from dropping. A drop in blood sugar can cause nervousness, irritability and other physical and cognitive problems. 

“Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel,” a Harvard Medical School health blog said. “Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the “waste” (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.”

For college students specifically, lack of proper nutrition can negatively impact academic performance. 

“Your brain needs a healthy supply of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, or it can’t perform functions that affect your mood and thinking,” according to Mental Health America .

An easy way to ensure you have enough energy to sustain your body and your mind throughout a busy day is by packing healthy snacks. Mental Health America recommends that you “try to keep some nuts, whole or dried fruit or other portable food in your bag or backpack.” 

Unfortunately, according to studies done at New York University,students tend to rely too heavily on calorie-dense and nutritionally empty foods, usually because they are fast, easy and inexpensive.

Reliance on fast food and other unhealthy options on a daily basis not only impacts mental health and brain function, but also physical health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that, though not a comprehensive list, the physical benefits of healthy eating for adults include: keeping skin, teeth and eyes healthy, as well as supporting muscles, boosting immunity, strengthening bones, lowering risk of certain diseases, supporting healthy pregnancies and helping the digestive system function.  

For on-campus resources related to maintaining a balanced diet, contact Lehigh’s newest dietician, Keri Lasky

Along with maintaining a balanced diet, college students often struggle with getting enough exercise, even though it can — and should — be incorporated into the busy schedule of a college student. 

In terms of physical health, the benefits of regular exercise coincide heavily with the benefits of a balanced diet. According to the CDC, regular physical activity can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some cancers, and can strengthen bones and muscles.

Moreover, the CDC states that people who are physically active for about 150 minutes a week have a 33 (percent) lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who are physically inactive.”

There are also numerous mental health benefits for taking time away from stressors to engage in some form of physical activity. 

Exercise releases “feel-good” endorphins and other chemicals in the brain that enhance your sense of well-being and can take your mind off worries and negative thoughts, according to the Mayo Clinic

The CDC says, “Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and anxiety and help you sleep better.”

Taylor Gym offers a wide array of fitness classes, including yoga, circuit training, BodyPump and spin. Students, faculty and staff can look at the fitness schedule and sign up for these classes on the IMLeagues app or at

Other ways to get active include, but are not limited to, working out in the Welch Fitness Center, playing basketball in Taylor Gym, joining a club sport, walking around campus or running along the Greenway. 

Though physical and mental fitness and wellness look different for everyone, nutrition and exercise are universally hugely impactful.

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