September has begun with earnest, which heralds the start of new terms at university. Whether you are starting as a fresher or coming back with a healthier mindset, I have some top tips for you. In terms of health, university can kind of suck. Between becoming responsible for yourself, having to budget to accommodate realistic food shops against social activities and being introduced to what feels like a cycle of nights out, late mornings and Netflix binges, health doesn’t really seem to fit in.
It can often feel like supermarket-own brand ready meals are significantly cheaper than vegetables and other “real foods”. And okay, if you’re buying steak and off-season asparagus and fresh berries, that may be the case. But if you make simpler vegetables, seasonal fruit and whole foods your staples, you will be able to make balanced, nutritious meals for pennies. Try grains such as bulgar wheat, which have a better protein content than couscous but are much cheaper than quinoa. I always have tinned tomatoes and a variety of beans/pulses in my cupboard. These provide the backbone for so many meals, from chilli’s and Moroccan-inspired tagines to hummus and dips.
Although my number one recommendation for saving money (and staying healthily if you increase your veggie content over convenience foods) is to reduce meat, if and when you do eat it, be savvy about buying it. Always aim to buy better welfare meat -if you can afford to spend £20 on alcohol, you can spare an extra couple of pounds on meat that has come from an animal given a better life quality -and consider looking to your local butcher. Swap chicken breast fillets for thighs (butchers can remove bones if present) and be open to trying different fish (check the Good Fish Guide to see what is sustainable). Alternatively, buy your meat in bulk from websites such as Muscle Food or Field and Flower. You can also often get discounts for these websites –Zanna Van Dijk and Hazel Wallace often have Muscle Food discount codes that you can utilise.
On the one hand, weekend-long movie marathons and avoiding exercise is very tempting. On the other hand, you are unlikely to ever again get such a huge variety of classes and sports offered to you for the low prices that you will at university, so embrace it! Be open to give anything a try, but don’t force yourself into a gym membership if you want to be outside, or into the surf club if you hate being cold. Sports societies and gyms should offer a free trial, so give a few different things a go. At Bangor I am very lucky to be in a situation where all clubs are free to join so I can try a huge variety of sports with zero financial commitment. Rope in a course mate if you don’t want to go it alone, and have fun! When I started university I was very new to the gym and had a casual yoga practice. By the end of last year I was going to the gym and practicing yoga (often both) nearly every day, going to spinning, boxing, pilates and yoga classes, whilst also being able to join the climbing society and pole dance for something different. All for £150 year-long gym membership. That’s maybe one month’s membership of a London studio?
Don’t force yourself into a daily gym habit, but give everything a go, do what you love and you’ll want to go and exercise. Just make sure that you know your lecture timetable so that you can schedule your gym or exercise sessions in and keep a good balance with your academic time demands.
Alcohol is a huge part of university life, and if you enjoy it please do not feel guilty for going out on a Friday night! I personally found that clubbing isn’t really for me, but that I do really enjoy going to a nice bar or pub where I can sit with friends and enjoy a few drinks without feeling pants in the morning. Without stressing too much, be mindful of the kind of drinks you’re having -sugary alcohol drinks can see a lot of calories being consumed. Drink plenty of water before, during and after a night out. It will keep you hydrated and also slow you down on how much alcohol you can drink.
University is a lot of fun, but can also be really stressful, confusing and overwhelming at times. Mindfulness is a technique that asks you to be aware of yourself and your surroundings in the present moment. If you feel negative emotions, try and step back from that and be aware of how you are feeling (and why) rather than be completely consumed by it. It takes a little practice, so remember that sometime a little quiet time to yourself, or doing something that you enjoy is just as good a tonic. If physical activity busts stress, go for a run or try boxing. If you are an emotional eater, go for a walk or make a delicious batch of baked goods (healthy or not, it doesn’t matter!). By the time you’ve finished baking, you’ll hopefully be calmer and less prone to binge eating, so you can enjoy your treat as well as taking pleasure in the process of making it rather than just grabbing and inhaling a box of doughnuts from the shop.
It seems like more students wake up in the afternoon than the morning at university. Try to set a vaguely sensible bed time and morning alarm and for the most part, keep to these times within a thirty minute window to keep your body in a routine. You’ll feel much more refreshed without having to increase your hours of shut eye and will recover faster from the odd late night out.
I hope that these tips make you feel more confident in starting the new academic year. Staying healthy should help you to feel happier, energised and in control, but remember that health at the expense of fun is not health! Enjoy the year ahead!