For those of you who never took latin or just don‘t waste time memorizing latin proverbs to impress people around you, the quote above means “A sound mind rests in a healthy body”.
Some students might disregard physical health. After all we‘re young and we’ll still have time for that stuff once we’re old and have to worry about all those ailments anyway. And we are students, not athletes, meaning we have to focus on school. We have to worry about deadlines, grades, scholarships and the like, and when it comes to the varying amounts of spare time we might or might not have, we remember that we‘re young and thus want to party and have some fun while we can. But I find there is a lot of truth in this proverb, even just from my own humble experience. For many though, the primary tasks of student life seem to prevail over such considerations. Plus we have to make do with what is available on campus and fits into our schedule. Sadly all those factors contribute to students often ending up with fast foods of all kinds and rather sedentary lifestyles.
Even more sadly (I‘m not talking about some of the great achievements of modern medicine here) we educated, civilized, modern people have grown somewhat disconnected from what being healthy really means. Frequently being sick – like suffering from colds – seems to be accepted as normal and is attributed to the weather, the seasons and other factors outside of our control. Same is true for feeling tired, suffering from a lack of focus, or being hungry a lot throughout the day. And when these things happen, modern medicine often uses prescription drugs to treat symptoms, not causes, sometimes leaving us with undesirable side effects or just as sick once we lay off the drugs.
I hold the opinion that taking better care of your nutrition and exercising a bit more might make you healthier and happier – and therefore improve all aspects of your life (including your student life), even though you might not aspire to become a professional athlete, and physical appearance and performance might not be important to you in general.
I guess up to this point most people would agree, but it gets more difficult from here. Everybody somehow knows that “good nutrition” and “some physical activity” is good for you, but what does that really mean? Does milk make you healthy, like the dairy industry has been drilling into our heads for decades now? Do you need fancy supplements, or “an apple a day”? Do you have to be able to run a marathon, or put on tons of muscle mass? What IS good nutrition? What IS healthy physical activity? Maybe you’ve tried all kinds of diets and health fads and results have been temporary of nature at best. Also you might have been struggling to keep up discipline and stay committed. Because of this, I personally believe that health starts with staying motivated. For the average person that often means keeping things simple. If you have to worry about elaborate training plans, counting calories and macro nutrients, you end up spending more time worrying about all this stuff than you can spare at all. You will find it stressful and you won‘t see it through. It‘s easier to stay motivated when you can see results without having to obsess about these things and when you’re still able to enjoy life. This is not to say that results come overnight or without any effort. We live in a world where all kinds of companies offer us quick fixes and completely hassle-free solutions to practically everything. Truth being told, when it comes to your body and health it won‘t work without patience and at least some commitment and willpower.
A viable solution to this challenge is to keep things fun. Someone might tell you that it would be good for you to spend 45min on the treadmill 4 times a week. But maybe you loathe running on a treadmill, don‘t like crowded gyms, or just find it plain boring. In this case you might be able to pull it off for some weeks, but certainly not in the long haul. Thing is, we are all different! You wouldn‘t pick a field of study you find to be boring as hell, just because someone told you that there‘s good money to be earned once you got your degree, would you? Why would you pick up a tiresome exercise routine then? That‘s a huge waste of time in my opinion. Find something you are passionate about, something you enjoy doing. This way you will stick with it. If you‘ve been lazy for some time, ease your way into it and don‘t rush the process, trying to make up for weeks or months of sitting around. The body doesn‘t work that way and if you end up putting yourself through torture you won‘t enjoy exercising at all and, believe me, sooner or later you‘ll end up on the couch again.
If you‘re not into sports at all, or you think you don‘t have time for it, just make some minor adjustments in your everyday life. Take the stairs more often instead of the elevator, park your car further away from where you wanna go. Take a twenty or thirty minute walk in the nice afternoon sun every other day and breathe some fresh air. Maybe use a bicycle more often, even if it‘s only in fair weather. Take a Yoga class once a week. There‘s plenty of options, find something you enjoy and feel good about. You don‘t have to train like a pro-athlete or a Navy SEAL to improve your physical well-being. Just take it up a notch from where you are and find a way of doing things that makes it fun.
Motivation is hard. You might feel really motivated, ready to put in all the effort needed, but a few weeks later you catch yourself falling back into old habits. Motivation has to be renewed constantly. If you grow tired of something, mix it up every couple of weeks. Try different sports, find different things to focus on. Do not just work out for the sake of working out. What could be more boring than to do something over and over again, without any clear understanding of where you‘re at, where you wanna go and how to measure progress? Set goals that are realistic according to your capabilities and which can be reached within a reasonable and foreseeable timeframe (say 8 weeks for example). Try to beat a certain time on that five kilometer run within this timeframe, try to reach a certain number of pull-ups or try to aquire a new skill like handstand-walking or one-armed push-ups. Maybe you are a passionate skier and then become lazy in the summer months. Set goals for your favourite sport and pursue some functional training during the off-season, specific to your activity of choice. You will probably end up being amazed how big a difference the underlying fitness makes and how much more fun you will have on the slopes. If you find something you can actually enjoy, and thus stick with it, you will see results sooner or later. Don‘t get caught up in the notion that results come overnight. You won‘t become a world class runner in 6 weeks and you won‘t put on ten kilograms of lean muscle mass in ten weeks. You don‘t get a degree in history in three months either, right?
Take your time, don‘t step on the scale every day. Don‘t just worry about the destination, but make your journey there a good experience too. You know from academia that for good results you have to put in some work.
Eventually you will reach a point where this kind of activity becomes quality-time in itself. You will enjoy it. You‘ll enjoy the way it takes your mind off all the worries, appointments, and deadlines student life sometimes brings about. You‘ll be able to get better sleep, feel more rested, energized, and balanced. Your immune system will get a boost. You’ll feel more confident. These improvements will definitely come in handy too when you‘re behind your desk, trying to crank out a few more pages for that essay you‘re working on. Even that pint of beer with your friends after a long day of work will be a lot more satisfying. You‘ve earned it in more than just one way.