Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Healthy Habits to Adopt Before You Go To College (Or Once You're Already There)

Whether they're good or bad for us, we all have habits that we've built into our routine and are unwilling or unmotivated to break.  After some research, I've compiled a list below of habits that could help improve your health, your athletic and/or academic performance, and your quality of life.  These are habits that you can greatly benefit from in your college years, but also long after.

  1. Learn to Love Vegetables:  My dad has recently been on this health kick where over half of his diet is coming from produce, and less than 30% is animal products (meat/egg/dairy).  I was kind of upset/in withdrawal the first week (though I do not consider myself a huge meat eater), but now, seven weeks later, I've been sticking with it, and my mind is clearer and I have more energy and stamina throughout my day.  Veggies are chock full of essential vitamins and minerals, and you can get most of your daily values if you eat a variety, especially from different color groups.  Also, if you are opposed to the taste of any particular vegetable, you can actually change your palette after 21 days of introducing new foods (i.e. you can learn to love brussel sprouts, hard to believe, I know).
  2.  Make sure you layer on the SPF.  I know there is a temptation to tan, but there are ways to get color without exposing yourself to cancer.  Plus, skin looses elastin when exposed to the UV rays.  Getting a spray tan now is much easier than having plastic surgery later.
  3. Kick the soda habit.  I know, I know, you need the caffeine.  Me too, but consider switching to coffee or tea, which are much easier on your system because the caffeine is not chemically engineered.  Your body turns the excess sugar in soda into stored fat, and when the sugar is gone from your bloodstream, you crash, which is why you always need just a little bit more.  Kick it now, you will feel better always. 
  4.  Get serious about your sleep schedule.  I know I keep talking about this one, but it's important.  Your body is built to run on its own clock, but it can't do that if you are always changing up your routine.  Pick a bedtime and stick to it.  Also, wake up at the same time every day.  Make up for lost sleep with short naps, and keep in mind that a one hour nap is worth 2-3 hours of REM sleep at night, and don't over do it.  I know this seems impossible to do in college, and once in a while, it probably will be, but it is worth trying to do.  You will feel and look better if you're getting regular sleep.
  5. Eat breakfast.  For some reason, this appears to be difficult one for many, but a good breakfast (with fruit and grains) kick starts your metabolism and gives you energy to start your day.
  6.  Snack throughout the day.  I don't mean grab that can of pringles, I mean when you leave to start your day, set out prepared to keep your energy up.  If I know I'm not going to be able to get back home during my day, I like to take whole grain granola, baby carrot or grapes, or some kind nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc.)with me to keep my stomach from growling audibly in class and my mind on the subject being taught and not on my hunger.  Small meals several (5-6) times a day are better than trying to eat three big meals; its easier on your stomach, better for your metabolism, and the best way to ensure that you can focus on your work and not your next meal.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Conventional Fitness; Keeping Up in College

And, it's finally here, the post I've been dreading.  I knew when I decided to write a balanced living blog, at some point I would have to write about cardiovascular fitness at some point, but quite frankly, I feel a little bit hypocritical doing so.  I hate running.  I hate sweating.  I get really, really annoyed at overly-excited fitness instructors.  Unfortunately, it's really imperative to your extended health and well being to incorporate some kind of cardiovascular exercise into your routine.

Cardiovascular exercise improves your endurance and stamina, raises your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and helps you sweat out the toxins in your body.  It also helps circulate oxygenated blood quickly throughout your body, and boosts your production of feel good chemicals serotonin and oxytocin, as well as endorphins in your brain.

So, here's more good news: walking can be cardiovascular exercise!  Now, I'm not talking about a meandering stroll.  You do need to keep a steady pace, and a cardio walk does take up more time than a jog, obviously, but studies have shown and physicians confirm that an hour long, brisk walk 3-4 times a week can be just as beneficial as a jog or run.  Plus, a walk is much easier on muscles and joints.

However, if you are pressed for time, or do actually enjoy working up a sweat, check out your campus fitness facilities.  My tiny college has two facilities with fitness equipment and Healthtrek classes every weekday.  If classes hold you accountable, by all means, take a class.  If you can be trusted to work out on your own, find something fun that will feel less like work.  I endorse Zumba and kickboxing classes, they change a little bit from time to time so it's hard to get bored, but often integrate the same moves so they're easy to pick up after a few classes.  Spin classes, step classes, and dance classes are also great ways to get your blood flowing.

Also, don't forget about strength training from time to time, even if you don't want to bulk up.  Muscle burns fat, so keeping your muscles toned is key to keeping a lean frame!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Yoga; The Mind-Body Connection

How could I write a balanced living blog and not write a post on Yoga?  I couldn't, so here it is.

Whether you're a tried and true believer in Yoga practice, or an anxious skeptic, I would urge everyone to try it at least once.  I know I felt pretty silly during my first few classes, but my flexibility absolutely improved, my posture is better, and I have grown to love that one hour that I set aside to focus completely on myself and my well being and no one else's.

There are quite a few options if you'd like to begin a yoga practice.  I would always encourage novices to look up a yoga class.  Every gym I have ever entered offers yoga classes, usually at a few different times during the week to accommodate different schedules.  Also, many campus activity centers now offer yoga classes, and some campuses even offer it as a phys ed credit!  (Mine does!)  The nice thing about classes is that you have a real, live instructor that can help you adjust to the poses.  After a while, most people pick them up, but its nice to have someone that can help you maximize the benefits of each pose and make sure you're not doing it completely wrong (and possibly prevent you from pulling something).

If you have a little experience, or are really opposed to a class, there are dozens of yoga routine DVDs.  These are cool because there are some with workouts to wake your body up in the morning, wind your body down at the end of the night, and even cardio yoga workouts.  These are good for people who absolutely have to make their own schedule, but keep in mind that there's no one to make sure your doing it right or to help you get into the poses.

Here is a link to some beginner pose tutorials: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-682/Yoga-Poses-for-Beginners-Howto-Tips-Benefits-Images-Videos.html

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Keeping the Faith: Spirituality in College

        In light of yesterday's events in Boston, the stormy weather we're experiencing in mid-MO right now seems very fitting, and has driven me into my introvert mode.  Which brings me to the next aspect of well-being; your soul.  How do you nurture your soul?  The past few days, I've spent my free time curled up in my biggest, softest sweaters with a warm beverage and some good music.  I listen to music, write some, think some, pray some.  It's not traditional, but these are some of the moments that I feel closest to God.
        I believe in the Christian God, and share in most Christian values and beliefs, but I identify as more spiritual than necessarily religious, which has given me an interesting perspective on faith and how you can live it.  College can be a strange time in faith for many students.  Without anyone (parents) to hold you accountable, many avid churchgoers drop the practice rather quickly during their college experience, and many others who have always gone along with their family's beliefs may begin questioning during this time of freedom, and decide to follow a faith completely separate from what they were raised in.
        Everyone has to make their own path and their own decisions concerning faith and religion, but today I would like to share with you a few resources I found on my campus, some practices I've picked up to fill in the gaps, and some practices of one of my secularly spiritual friends for those of you who are not inclined to organized religion.
  • Check out your campus organizations.  I go to a college with only 1100 students and we have an Interfaith Council, Christian Leadership Council, Catholic Student Group, Christian athletes group, and many more.  These groups welcome people from all backgrounds and come together to share their values with others and learn more about other faiths.  There are also local bible studies and youth groups if you know how you want to practice your faith and are just looking for some camaraderie and support.
  • Check out your campus programming.  Again, I go to a tiny private college with a history connected to the Presbyterian sect, so our campus offers a chapel service every Thursday morning for all those that wish to attend.  This is also welcome to all faiths and backgrounds, and many services are lead by different community leaders to broaden how we worship.  Also, our campus just hosted a Seder dinner over this past Passover to allow our students to learn more about the Jewish faith, so these opportunities are not limited to Christian students. 
  • Last, but certainly not least, is to hold your own service.  This may not be right for everyone, and if you are completely opposed to this idea, I refer you to the above suggestions, but I believe that my relationship with God is between me and God.  Do I like going to a service and being able to worship with a group of my peers?  Yes, in fact, I do.  I find comfort in the ritual of a church service and I inherently feel the presence of God when I walk into a church.  But I also feel God with me in other moments of my day, and all I need is that connection to take a moment and pay worship and reflect on how I've lived the values of His teachings throughout my day.  Or perhaps, how I've failed to do that, but it's important for me to take a moment to recognize my mistakes and resolve to do better tomorrow.  I like to play a few songs that help me reflect on the day, on my feelings, on God's role in my life.  Here are a few of my favorites:
        If this last option intrigued you at all, you should check out this post on the blog "Hahn and Ahn and On" by my friend Anna.  She is spiritual rather than religious, and she's got a great take on secular spirituality and how to take care of that part of your well-being with her posts on "Soul Sunday" and "Mood Music Monday".  She has some great ideas on really making the experience and taking the time to be in tune with your thoughts and feelings.  Check out her post on "Soul Sunday" here: http://ahnhahn.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/soul-sunday/

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Quick and Lean: Recipes for the College Budget (Pt. II)

The second recipes is a version of a stir fry my mom makes in the transitional months, it's warm, but heavy on the fruits and veggies so it's not too heavy on your stomach.

It's called Chicken Apple Stir-Fry.  For this you will need: (serves 1-2)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 Fuji apple (gala and Jonathon also work well, depending on your preference)
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 TBSP cinnamon
  • slivered almonds (optional)
For this recipe, you should thaw the chicken breast ahead of time, or use the microwave to defrost it.  Once thawed, cube the chicken into bite sized pieces (about 3/4 in-1 in. cubes).  The next prep step is to slice up the apple, and then slice up both of the peppers julienne style (long, thin slices).

Then add the 1/2 cup of orange juice to a large skillet, sprinkle with 1 TBSP of cinnamon and brown the chicken in the mixture.  Be sure to turn the pieces of chicken over from time to time to make sure it doesn't stick.  Once the chicken is browned, add the peppers and apple slices and sprinkle the remaining TBSP of cinnamon over all of the contents of the skillet.  Stir occasionally and cook on medium heat until the peppers and apple slices have softened (if there is ever a point where all of your OJ evaporates, add a little more to the bottom of the skillet).  Optional:  Add 1/4 cup a slivered almonds to the meal just before taking it off of the heat.

This is great served over a bed of basmati white, or brown rice, quinoa, or orzo pasta, or just on it's own!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Quick and Lean: Recipes for the College Budget (Pt. I)

Each of these recipes are variations of things my mom makes at home, but I made simpler to save time and use ingredients that I happened to have around at the time.  Compromise on cost and time, but definitely not on taste! 

The first is a Chicken Caprese Stuffed Bell Pepper.  For this you will need: (Serves 1-2)

  1.  1 whole green pepper
  2. 1 single serving cup of cottage cheese
  3. 1 Roma tomato (or a few grape or cherub tomatoes could work too)
  4. 1 chicken breast (boiled and shredded)
  5. 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  6. Optional: Shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese to taste (Italian blend or any other white cheese could be good too, this is just what I happened to have at the time)
  7. Optional: Basil (could be fresh and finely chopped, or dried in the spice cabinet)
 Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).  This is a good one on a time crunch, and there are a few things you can prep ahead of time, such as boiling the chicken breast; you can thaw it first, or boil frozen (thawed it takes <10 minutes to cook, frozen it can take 15-20).  Once the chicken breast is cooked all the way through, I use two forks to shred it.

Then cut your washed bell pepper in half, and scoop the seeds and such out of both halves.  One half you're going to set aside to stuff, and the other, slice up and cut cubes about 1/4 in. in size.  Also, slice up the tomato into pieces about1/4 in. in size, and combine both in a mixing bowl with the cottage cheese, breadcrumbs, a pinch of the shredded cheese (or more, if you so choose), and a pinch of the basil.  Add the shredded chicken to this mixture and combine everything thoroughly.  Then spoon the mixture into the other half of the bell pepper (it should be pretty full, but not spilling out) and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.  Pop into the oven for approximately 15 minutes until the cheese is melted.  Enjoy!

***Next Up: Chicken Apple Stir Fry

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Fast Food: Quick Snacks and Meals for Dorm Living

One of the hardest parts of dorm living for me was not having a kitchen, or regular access to one.  This is why so many of us succumb to the Easy Mac and Ramen noodles, but these quick, cheap, accessible snacks don't really do much to nourish our bodies.  However, most students living in a dorm are on a meal plan or have a punch card for their campus sponsored or run dining establishments.  This ensures accessibility to a real meal that they don't have to prepare themselves, but often includes a lot of fried and processed food that can leave you feeling sluggish. 

If one of your campus establishments has a deli and/or salad bar, I would try to eat most of your meals here because most of the food is prepared fresh, or you can prepare it yourself.  Also, this allows you an opportunity to include a variety of vegetables and proteins, the most nutrient rich food group that will keep you feeling good, and the foods that will stick with you the longest.  Try to make sure your plate is colorful.  I know a lot of people have aversions to certain foods, but a pretty simple way to make sure you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs is to eat a variety of vegetables; colorful ones like tomatoes, carrots, and peppers and leafy greens such as spring mix and spinach are a few of the best foods for you and can be found just about anywhere.  Remember that a burger every now and then isn't going to kill you, just make sure it doesn't become every meal.

Also, here are a few go-to snacks that are good to keep on hand.  They're quick, easy to store, and will satiate your during those long afternoons in the library or hold you over until breakfast during a late night study session.
  • nuts (peanuts, walnuts, and almonds are easy to find and full of protein and omega 3 fats that support healthy brain function; plus they come in a variety of seasonings curbing the sweet or salty craving)
  • Greek yogurt (chock full of protein and also comes in a variety of flavors; easy to store in any mini-fridge)
  • baby carrots, grapes, apples, bananas, and citrus fruits are all dorm-friendly produce
  • Amy's Organic; Amy's makes a variety of soups, frozen dinners, and even the college classic--burritos.  They are made from all organic products and preservatives, store easily in the tiny freezer section of mini-fridges, and are actually really delicious
 ***Next Time: Quick In the Kitchen- a few quick and easy recipes for those with kitchen access

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Take A Minute: De-Stressing In College

College is an exciting, overwhelming, wonderful, miserable, enriching, and overall stressful time.  The first few semesters, there are so many new things to try, and so many new people to meet, many of us begin sacrificing things that are good for us to make time for all of it.  The first things to go are regular eating habits, exercise, and sleep.  It may be all good the first few busy nights, but after a while, the term papers, discussion forums, blog assignments, and 200 pages of reading a night may start to catch up with you.  Stress is inevitable when you are trying to keep up with all of your professors' assignments/expectations for your classes, in addition to any clubs or sports you may be involved in, and your friends and family back home and on campus.  It's important to make sure you enjoy yourself from time to time in order to stay motivated.  Here are a few things you can try:
  •  Keep a schedule.  I know I already talked about this, but I can't stress how much easier your life will get if you make a schedule for yourself and keep to it! 
  • If you keep a schedule, you can make time to do things you want to do instead of always focusing on that growing list of things that have to get done.  Set aside an hour each week to watch your favorite t.v. show.  Get your homework done during the week so that you can go out with your friends Friday night.
  • Yoga- I know this one may seem cliche, but don't knock it until you try it.  Practicing yoga helps you stretch all of the muscles in your body and conditions you to focus on relaxing muscles so you can avoiding pulling and straining in your day to day activities.  It also improves your breathing techniques and encourages you to take time out of your week to purposely put aside all of your stressors so that you can clear your mind and get yourself back to neutral.  Many college campuses offer free fitness classes during the week, and/or are offering a yoga class as a phys. ed. credit.  Check it out!
  • Cardio Exercise-this can be a tricky one to build into a college schedule.  Biologically, one of the best times to exercise would be first thing in the morning, before you get ready for your day because a good cardio workout boosts your endorphins and gets your blood flowing, effectively waking you up and getting your body moving to start your day.  However, if you're anything like me, even if you decide to try this in good conscience, when the alarm goes off in the morning, the extra hour of sleep is too enticing to pass up.  In this case, I would suggest this next strategy: late afternoon.  The next peak time to exercise in your body's natural circadian rhythm is around 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  Depending on the way you schedule your classes each semester, this could be a better strategy for those who dislike mornings (or like/need sleep).  If you have classes in the afternoons, go ahead and wear your gym clothes to your classes and go right after. Just be aware that  any vigorous exercise 3-4 hours before bed can disrupt your sleep, so avoid evening workouts!
  • Get regular sleep!  If your sleep patterns are messed up, you will feel disoriented and will not be able to be as productive as you would be if you were rested.  Most students are sleep deprived and this can hurt your performance in your classes, and also hurts your immune system so you might be more susceptible to getting sick, missing classes, and getting even further behind....see how it snowballs.
***Next time: Food Facts: Balanced Eating in a Dorm

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Getting Started: Assess What's Working and What's Not

         Any time you want to make a change like this, you have to take note of what you are already doing, so that you can start making small changes that fit with your lifestyle rather than trying to make radical changes.  Trying to overhaul your routine is a nice idea, but I don't know many people that can stick with it for more than a couple of days, myself included.  

         So to begin, my first suggestion is to take a minute and get organized.  Look at your schedule, do you have it written out somewhere?  When you take the time to write out where you have to be each day, its easier to know when you have free time--you know that time you spend procrastinating your homework with Youtube videos, catching up on your favorite tv shows, and looking up gifs from the Oscars...or maybe that's just me.

         The important thing is to know where you have to be, and keep track of your deadlines, due dates, and reading for classes.  The unfortunate reality of it, is that if you don't keep track of everything in one place, you're likely to forget something.  If it hasn't happened to you yet, praise the gods, because just about every student I know has suffered from a selective memory and has pulled the all too notorious all-nighter to make up for it, which is really terrible for your body and your mind!  

         When I was a freshmen, sleep was the first thing to go whenever I found myself in a time crunch, but the reality of it is that you absolutely wreck yourself when you don't let yourself rest.  Your brain needs that downtime each night to be fresh for the next day, your body needs the time to regenerate.  If you don't sleep, you are more likely to get sick because you are compromising your immune system, and really, who has time to take a real sick day?  And you are prone to eating more when you don't get enough sleep because your trying to provide your body energy in the form extra calories it doesn't necessarily need.

          So, the first task in effort to better balance your life is this: make yourself a schedule.  I have friends that use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to schedule their classes and extra curriculars into hourly slots throughout their day to keep track of their free time.  I myself keep a similar schedule with my classes and work shifts blocked off each day throughout the week.  I hang it on my door each semester, partly so I can keep track of where I'm going each time I leave, and partly so my roommates know when to expect me to be around and can find me if I'm not.  A day planner is also very practical for students, but I like to keep mine in addition to a dry/erase calender above my desk so that I can easily see what's due and what's coming up.  Just some ideas--when you plan ahead, you don't have to sacrifice as much to keep up with school.  Happy Planning!

***Coming next: Take a Minute: De-stressing in College

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Challenge

I was inspired to write this blog when I stumbled across the MindBodySoul challenge on Twitter--a 90 day challenge that evaluates the good things you do for your mind, body, and soul each day, and encourages you to improve your health in each of these three areas to maintain a healthy balance in life.  This challenge includes activities to improve fitness, recipes that promote balanced nutrition, ideas on how to get organized, new takes on meditation, and much much more!  My mission, as a college student is to seek out and develop strategies that students can incorporate into their routine to help re-establish a new balance for this new phase of life..