September 10, 2021  |  Purdue Global  |  Updated September 29, 2023

College is a demanding time. You’re facing the challenges of school, work, family obligations, and a social life. Health and wellness for college students is a top concern.

If you don’t have them already, now is the time to establish solid health and wellness practices that will carry on well after graduation. Proper nutrition, physical fitness, stress relief, and quality sleep are essential to thrive.

Use these health and wellness tips for college students to keep your mind and body healthy now, with wellness practices that can offer a lifetime of value.

1. Nutrition

According to multiple studies, the transition to college leads to weight gain in many students, although it’s most likely not the “Freshman 15” that has previously been touted. Regardless, it’s helpful to keep an eye on nutrition and activity level during the transition to college.

The following can contribute to weight gain:

  • Eating on the go
  • Not looking at ingredients and serving sizes
  • Choosing eating out over cooking
  • Nibbling during late-night study sessions

Use these tips to stay properly fueled without overdoing your calorie intake.

Avoid Liquid Calories

Just a few caloric culprits of weight gain include:

  • Sodas
  • Sweetened iced teas
  • Fruit juices
  • Alcohol

Substituting calorie-laden drinks with water or even diet sodas is one of the easiest ways to cut calories. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list easy ways to slash calories on your favorite drinks and still stay satisfied.

Use Portion Control

Did you know that most meals you order at a restaurant will exceed average calorie requirements? A study reported in Science Daily found 92% of both large-chain and non-chain restaurants serve meals that exceed recommended calorie requirements for a single meal.

To avoid this pitfall, try:

  • Cooking at home more often
  • Using the serving sizes recommended by the American Heart Association
  • Avoiding appetizers and desserts at restaurants
  • Splitting an entree with a dining companion

If you know you'll be eating out, strategize beforehand. Look at the menu and have an idea of what you'll order. If you are going to have an appetizer, only have a small portion, and take part of your main meal to go.

Focus on Fruits and Veggies recommends that at least half of your plate at every meal should be filled with fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables are beneficial because they:

  • Contain filling fiber
  • Have heart-boosting and cancer-fighting antioxidants
  • Have fewer calories than other food groups

The rest of your meal should be one-quarter healthy protein and up to one-quarter whole grains.

Document Your Diet

Mindless eating, without tracking how much you're eating or how often, can lead to unexpected weight gain. A snack while studying and a couple sodas at night all add up. To gain a clear perspective on your eating habits:

  • Track everything you eat for a week. You can do this by hand in a journal or with an app like MyFitnessPal or Fitbit®.
  • Look for unhealthy patterns and opportunities for easy changes. For example, starting a meal with a salad can make you fuller quicker so you don't overdo it with seconds on the entrée and side dishes.
  • Swap soda for water a few times a week and note the results. Doing so could eliminate a couple of pounds every month.

2. Exercise and Fitness

Sedentary behavior is linked to health problems including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. According to the CDC, you should aim to:

  • Get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week.
  • Participate in muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.

Typically, vigorous exercise leads to more health benefits.

In addition to carving out regular fitness time into your schedule, here are some easy ways to incorporate exercise into your routine.

Commute by Walking or Biking

If you live close enough to school or work, ride your bike or walk. As you navigate your daily schedule, walk if you can. Exercise has mood-boosting benefits like the release of endorphins, which is a great way to begin your day.

Make Study Breaks Your Exercise Breaks

Taking breaks as you're studying or doing schoolwork actually helps you be more productive. Numerous studies suggest that the most productive people focus on their task at hand for around 50 to 60 minutes, then take a break for about 15 minutes. Use this type of guideline whenever you're working on a project. Use your break to do healthy activities like:

  • Take a walk.
  • Do some quick exercises like lifting free weights.
  • Climb a few flights of stairs.

You'll be energized to get back to work and have burned some calories in the process.

Find a Fun Workout

Not everyone loves running, and some people dislike the weight room. But that doesn't mean you should completely neglect aerobic and anaerobic exercises. The key to creating a sustainable healthy habit is to choose something you enjoy. Maybe it's:

  • Playing disc golf or frisbee
  • Taking a dance or yoga class
  • Riding a bike

Choosing activities you enjoy makes it easier to add them to your regular routine.

Track Your Progress

Just like tracking what you eat can help you create healthier behaviors, tracking your fitness can alert you to just how much — or how little — you exercise. Phones and other wearable fitness trackers can help you stay on top of your daily activity levels.

Trackers and various health apps give you plenty of additional information, such as:

  • How many calories you're burning with the exercises you're doing
  • Home and gym workouts for all levels (live classes included with some apps)
  • Personalized strength metrics to track your progress
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • Fitness challenges based on your goals

If you’re not sure which one to pick, check out Healthline’s list of the nine best fitness and exercise apps for 2023.

3. Stress Management

Chronic stress can lead to a whole host of negative effects, including illness, headaches, insomnia, and decreased productivity. Over the long term, stress can contribute to several health problems, including:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

Stress is normal, but living with it constantly should not be. Here’s how to help combat it:

Acknowledge the Warning Signs

Stress may start in your head, but it quickly spills into your body. Just a few of the physical warning signs that you are stressed include:

  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite or craving for certain foods
  • Irritability

Look at the American Psychological Association's (APA) list of stress indicators for a full list and pay attention to the warning signs. As you learn to be aware of what it feels like to be stressed, you can take the next step to cope.

Practice Stress-Relieving Techniques

Attempting to power through tasks while in a state of stress will make you less productive. Not dealing with your stress will require more time to finish what you're doing, and the results are more likely to be filled with errors or not as high quality. Even taking a 5-minute break to alleviate stress is wise. This infographic from Purdue Global has some excellent tips for coping with stress, including:

  • Take a quick, brisk walk.
  • Do deep breathing exercises or close your eyes and meditate.
  • Talk with a friend.
  • Engage in an activity you enjoy.

Taking any of these actions gives your brain a break from whatever is stressing you out and recharges you. You can go back to what you were doing in a more relaxed state of mind.

Prioritize Your Gratitude

Gratitude levels have a direct effect on overall health and help decrease the effects of stressful situations. According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, grateful people may sleep better, have healthier hearts, and complain of fewer aches and pains. Visit to learn how to practice gratitude.

Talk It Out

Expressing feelings of stress is an effective way to release them. Conversing with friends and family can be beneficial, but talking with a professional therapist can also help in the following ways:

  • You get to talk with an unbiased party.
  • A therapist has professional, research-based coping skills to recommend.
  • Therapy involves monitoring progress for constant improvement.

According to the APA, most people get some benefit from psychotherapy after a few sessions.

4. Sleep and Rest

Adults need proper rest for their minds and bodies to function optimally. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says adults need at least 7 to 8 hours of continuous sleep per night.

In addition to a good pillow, proper nutrition, and regular exercise — all of which improve sleep — these tips may help:

Relax Before Bedtime

Avoid being kept up by the busyness of your waking life. About an hour before bedtime, aim to:

  • Shut off all electronic devices.
  • Make a to-do list for tomorrow so you have a plan and don't need to worry as you sleep.
  • Take deep breaths.
  • Inhale a relaxing scent like lavender.
  • Do gentle yoga poses or stretches.
  • Take a bath.

Invest in Comfortable Bedding

A pillow that is too stiff or a mattress that is too soft may not seem like a big deal, but it can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. The Better Sleep Council recommends replacing bedding if:

  • You wake up with aches and pains.
  • You've had better sleep elsewhere.
  • Your mattress is more than 7 years old.
  • Your bed is too small or squeaks when you move.

A quiet, comfortable bed enables sound sleep. Considering how important sleep is to overall energy levels, investing in a mattress you love is a smart idea.

Cool It Down

The temperature of your room can also affect how you sleep. It's better to turn it down a couple notches than to keep it toasty; the ideal room temperature for sleeping is between 66 and 70 degrees, according to That's why a warm bath before bedtime is so effective — your body cools off after bathing.

In addition, be sure to:

  • Remove extra blankets and sheets when you're ready to sleep.
  • Use a fan for air circulation (and ambient noise if that's helpful).
  • Take off clothing layers to help stay cooler.

If your roommate or family doesn’t like it as cool as you do, use a fan and sheets made from a material like silk to get more comfortable.

Make Bed a Sleep-Only Zone

If you have a small living area, it's inevitable that you're going to study in the same room where you sleep. However, designate your bed for sleeping only. Here’s why:

  • When you work in bed, you associate that area with work instead of sleep.
  • Working before bed and looking at a screen reduces melatonin, which is essential in creating a sound night's sleep.
  • Having a mental association between work and a bed can increase anxiety or stress that prevents sleep.

Aim to do schoolwork as far away from your bed as possible. If that requires heading to another location like the library, do so — it can be helpful in making your sleep more restful.

Support Your Body, Support Your Mind

Proper nutrition, exercise, stress management, and sleep are just four essential components of optimal college student wellness. Here are additional ways to stay safe and healthy:

Avoid Excessive Alcohol and Drug Use

Eliminate intake of these substances if they are interfering with daily functioning or achieving your goals. can help you find local assistance.

Get Regular Health Screenings

Health screenings help address various wellness concerns, and they're also important to detect other ailments.

Consider Taking a Digital Detox

Many of us are glued to our smartphones. We check our texts and social apps almost constantly, binge-watch TV shows, obsessively follow the news, and spend hours playing video games.

That constant connection can take a toll on your mental health. Cleveland Clinic reports that negative digital experiences can trigger anxiety and depression and affect self-esteem. You may benefit from a digital detox, which is when you intentionally reduce or eliminate the amount of time you spend on your devices. Benefits of taking a digital detox include:

  • Sharper focus
  • Less stress
  • Better social interactions
  • More control of your time

Protect Yourself

Take vitamins or immune system boosters to help ward off colds. Wash your hands regularly.

Do What Makes You Happy

A strong support circle can help you be healthier mentally and physically, the Mayo Clinic reports. Build self-confidence by joining clubs or study groups where you can connect with peers. Participate in hobbies and social activities that let you have fun and meet new people.

College Health and Wellness Resources


Exercise and Fitness

Stress Management

Sleep and Rest

About the Author

Purdue Global

Purdue Global delivers a fully personalized, world-class education online that's tailored for adults. We offer 175 programs, including associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees as well as certificates, in areas such as business, IT, education, health sciences, nursing, criminal justice, and more.

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