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    Take Care of You

    Here's how to be your own personal trainer.

    by Tara Ryan Walker

    It's finally here, I thought to myself as my parents drove away from my dorm. I'm finally on my own! No one will tell me what to do—I can sleep till noon, eat out all the time and have pizza for breakfast!

    OK, so I quickly learned I couldn't quite do everything I wanted to. My 8 a.m. class didn't allow me to sleep in, but I could stay up as late as I wanted. And although I couldn't afford to eat out all the time (or buy all that pizza for breakfast), I could eat whatever I wanted in the cafeteria. I started thinking, No one can tell me when to go to bed! Or not to eat Frosted Flakes and ice cream for dinner. And no gym teacher will make me run laps every day!

    A few weeks into the semester I realized I wasn't taking care of myself. Even though no one was forcing me to do things like exercise or eat right, I still needed to. I quickly realized I had to find ways to keep myself healthy. It wasn't always easy, but I learned a lot that I can now share with you about taking care of yourself at college.

    Recharge Your Body

    tips, ways to stay in shape in collegeOne night, I put off studying way too long. Before I knew it, my final was just hours away. I pulled an all-nighter to study, and the next day I was basically a walking zombie. I couldn't concentrate, I was very irritable, and everything I had worked so hard to learn the night before seemed to have left me. I'd stayed up all night for this test, but as I sat there taking it, I was falling asleep. Even worse, it took days to get my body back on a normal sleep schedule. Lesson learned.

    Our bodies just weren't designed to go without sleep for 24-hour periods. Like cell phones, we need to be recharged. Then our minds function better and we're not as likely to get sick.

    College is a lot more fun if you feel well enough to enjoy it!

    So, how much sleep should you get? Health professionals recommend around seven to eight hours a night for normal, healthy adults. But in my scientific research (well, I asked some friends), it seems like it really depends on the individual. Some of my friends in college could sleep six hours and be fine. But I've always needed eight hours minimum to feel good and function well. Don't feel weird if you need more sleep than your night-owl roommate who seems to be perfectly fine after sleeping in his chair for a few minutes. The key is to be tuned in to your own body. When do you feel the best? Be honest about how much sleep you need and adjust your schedule around it.

    That doesn't mean always missing out on late-night fun. Just be aware of how much sleep you can get. You'll just have to make choices. Sure, go out with friends, but don't feel like you have to be out every night after midnight. Seek a balance. Don't skip every trip to the all-night diner, but don't make it a nightly habit. Oh, and there's a big secret in college: Naps are cool. Take a quick nap to make up for the sleep you didn't get last night because your friend from home called. Or schedule them just like you would study times. It's amazing how much an hour-long nap can help.

    Eat to Your Health

    Junk food is a college student's best friend. Or at least, it was this college student's best friend. But the key is moderation. Some ice cream or potato chips every once in a while aren't a big deal. Just don't make those kinds of food your main source of nutrition.

    I made this mistake. After a few weeks of high-fat, high-calorie foods, I couldn't understand why I was always feeling so sluggish and run-down. When I started to eat more from the salad bar and grabbed fruit for snacks, I felt better physically and had more energy.

    What if you just don't like salads and fruit? College cafeterias try to cater to everyone's likes and dislikes, so chances are you'll find something healthy you can eat. My college was great about having some kind of specialty bar—like a make-your-own waffle station, a build-your-own sandwich bar and a pasta bar.

    If once in a while, you just can't find anything healthy and appealing in the cafeteria, you can get creative in your dorm. Some dorms have a communal kitchen so you can cook for yourself. But if there's no kitchen, you can still microwave packaged foods such as rice and frozen dinners. Just check out the nutritional info on the back. But if you paid for a meal plan, then use it as much as possible. Spending extra money on food is wasteful and can be a major budget buster. Besides, cafeteria food is usually far healthier for you than anything you could cook up in the dorm microwave.

    Get Moving!

    Even though I seemed to be darting around campus 15 times a day, I still wasn't getting the exercise I needed to stay in shape. When I made sure to exercise regularly, I actually found all kinds of benefits. It relieved stress and I found that I slept better, too.

    The problem: Even though I knew exercise was good for me, I dreaded doing it. I found it boring and I simply wasn't self-motivated. The solution: A workout partner. I discovered that working out with a friend was fun and gave me the accountability I needed to keep going. If you have a similar attitude toward exercise, then don't try to go it alone. Work out with a friend or two. Set up a weekly exercise schedule. If you've already penciled it into your day planner, you'll be more likely to follow through.

    It also helped to be creative. Jog around campus one day and play a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee the next. Or, you can hit the weight room and ride a stationary bike while watching your favorite sitcom. You can even stay in your own room and work out to an aerobics tape.

    Still not sure you're disciplined enough to stick to a regular exercise routine? Then sign up for a physical fitness class, which gets you moving for credit. And if the first class doesn't work out, don't give up. I didn't. My sophomore year, I thought a weightlifting class was a good idea. But because of an old back injury, it didn't work. Next, I tried aerobics. I'm not very coordinated, so that one didn't work either. Finally, I thought about taking a swimming course. The warm water and low-impact movement were actually good for my back condition, and the exercise was very relaxing.

    Making the effort to look after my health wasn't easy. I didn't always like scheduling time for exercise, and there were plenty of times I would've liked to grab a couple of slices of pizza instead of veggies and a chicken breast. And yes, I stayed up too late more than once. But in the long run, it was worth it. After all, college is a lot more fun if you feel well enough to enjoy it!

    Tara Ryan Walker is a graduate of Hannibal-LaGrange College in Hannibal, Missouri.
    Good Food, Great Choices
    By LaTonya Taylor

    healthy food options for college studentsDuring your first semester on campus, it can be easy to grab whatever's in the cafeteria line. That can work for a while, but it can also lead to boredom—and the sluggish feeling that comes from eating one too many slices of pizza or cake. When it comes to cafeteria meals, a little creativity can go a long way toward helping you eat healthy meals and avoid boredom. So don't be afraid to experiment with cafeteria food to come up with your own recipes. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:

    • For breakfast, skip the watery eggs and greasy hash browns in favor of a piece of fruit and a bagel, or a cup of yogurt mixed with sliced fruit from the salad bar. Spread some mashed bananas on a toasted English muffin for a sweet breakfast without extra sugar. Or just have a serving of healthy cold cereal with skim milk.
    • For the perfect blend of protein, sugar and carbohydrates, have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Tired of grape jelly? Try apple butter or half a banana, thinly sliced. Speaking of bananas, why not slice the other half of that banana over a serving of frozen yogurt?
    • Steam some veggies by nabbing some broccoli, carrots or other salad bar favorites and nuking them in a small amount of water in a soup bowl. They'll make a good side dish—and think of how proud your Mom would be if she knew.
    • So it's chicken nugget day again? Instead of eating a whole plateful, why not grab a few, put them on top of a salad and top with a low-fat dressing? You can do this with almost any protein source—chicken breasts, fish fillets, or even kidney or garbanzo beans.
    • Make a pizza with a whole-wheat pita or a whole-wheat tortilla. Add a small amount of cheese and sliced olives, onions, mushrooms and peppers from the salad bar. A few seconds in the microwave, and you've got a mini-pizza that's fresher and healthier than the ones you could get in the cafeteria line.
    • Soup, salad and bread are a great combination for rainy days—or any other days, for that matter. Make a salad, then choose a broth-based soup like chicken noodle over a cream-based soup like cream of asparagus. Enjoy a roll, half a bagel or a couple of slices of wheat bread.
    • Even when you eat healthy, keep portion size in mind. For example, did you know a serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand? A baseball is about the size of a good serving of fruit or vegetables, and a rounded handful is a good gauge for snack foods like pretzels or potato chips. Speaking of snack foods, think about keeping low-fat microwave popcorn or granola bars in your room to enjoy between meals.
    • Finally, don't obsess! Eating healthy doesn't have to mean counting calories or never eating dessert. Think moderation—just making good choices most of the time is enough to help you stay healthy and have energy for life on campus.