Attending a college or university is a major change in experience for any individual who undergoes the challenge. Campus life can be intimidating, classes will push even the best students to new limits, and perspectives can be exchanged more freely than ever before. However, in all of that newness, we find that students physical and mental health at college and university goes unsupported.
At TRUE, we believe in fostering health and wellness in all aspects of life, including in pursuit of higher education. To help assist college administrators, parents, and students alike, we’ve compiled a variety of strategies, ideas, and information to support students’ physical and mental health throughout their college life.
Fact: the “Freshman 15” isn’t just a myth. Not only does it exist, but that number can rise to 20 or 50 pounds throughout a student’s college experience. In addition, student fitness is now a college ranking factor and partially determines students’ academic achievements and general self-esteem.
As a result, the health of your students affects them and your college’s overall reputation and success. Keeping your university at the top means encouraging student fitness early on in their academic career.
Habits are hard to break. While this truth can lead to countless unfulfilled New Years Resolutions, it also means that building good habits early on will lead to a more successful future. As newcomers to your university, freshmen are the most prone to creating good or bad habits in their new lifestyle. Therefore, freshmen are a university’s number one concern when it comes to student fitness.
Encouraging fitness is also important because it helps universities retain the strongest student body possible—both physically and mentally:
Making a variety of exercise options available to freshmen can encourage them to seek out whatever option helps them the most. Focus on providing options that encourage strength building and cardiovascular endurance. These health areas help promote energy and productivity in day-to-day life, something college students are usually in desperate need of. Consider adding an array of cardio equipment or strength machines to any of your fitness facilities.
The average freshman’s age combined with their drastically new lifestyle can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. These mental health issues can cause students to drop out before their college careers have taken hold. Fortunately, exercise is a great way to relieve stress, making students healthier and happier in their day-to-day lives. In addition to providing adequate counseling services, universities that encourage student fitness often have fewer students drop out for mental health reasons.
A student’s overall health affects how efficiently their mind performs. In other words, the less you take care of your body physically, the less efficient your mind will perform when it comes to your schoolwork. In extreme cases, low performance can cause students to drop out due to failing grades. This connection means universities need to take an active interest in all sides of student success.
Being on your own for the first time can be difficult when it comes to preparing meals. New college students no longer have anyone telling them not to eat that piece of cake before dinner. Too much junk food can lead to sluggish students.
Therefore, it’s important to supply your freshmen dining facilities with plenty of healthy and appealing choices at all mealtimes. Healthy food will give them the energy they need to perform well at your university. In addition, many freshmen are more likely to stay on campus when their dining halls provide quality food. The happier they are living in your college dorms, the easier it is to meet university income standards.
Managing your own time is often a new responsibility for many students. It is essential to provide freshmen with advisors who are prepared to help students manage their time effectively, including:
There are countless other ways to encourage student fitness on your campus. Investing in a first-year outreach initiative like this is one sure way to make your university a place students want to be.
Do good grades come at the expense of good health? As finals week rolls around, students find themselves knee-deep in study materials and stress, which can harm their overall health.
Students who over-stress about final exams and projects often do not get the recommended amount of sleep due to pulling all-night study sessions. In addition, increased stress can cause students to get sick, which can affect their overall health and success. Students also tend to skip or forget to eat meals during finals. When the time comes that they do remember to eat, they tend to grab something quick, easy, and often unhealthy to maximize study time. Students seek comfort in sweets and start these long days with energy drinks, which have been linked to heart and neurological problems.
Here’s how your university can help students maintain their physical, mental, and emotional health through finals week.
Many health concerns are the result of improper study habits before tests and paper due dates. Cramming a ten-page paper or staying up until 4:00 am the day before the test can have truly detrimental health effects and decrease the likelihood that students will retain information long-term.
Encourage professors to make study groups and office hours available throughout the semester so students have the chance to absorb information at a regular rate. In addition, university writing centers can offer peer review opportunities for students so they have time to revise their papers.
College and university nurses can offer flu shots to students, often at a reasonable price. If students are already ill, sometimes the staff nurse can treat these students or recommend a nearby doctor. Campuses can also keep students healthy by providing healthy meal options in the dining hall and encouraging the use of the university athletic facility.
Sleep is essential to a healthy mind and body, but a loud environment can make a good night’s sleep near to impossible. Since students finish their finals at different times of the week, early finishers may get rowdy and keep students with finals later in the week from sleeping. Quiet hours ensure that all students have equal opportunities to get the sleep—and grades—they need.
Professors and other staff members can provide organized study sessions as well as study breaks to help students schedule and prioritize tasks. In doing so, students will feel supported and organized, which will reduce stress and help their mental health.
It’s also a good idea to emphasize your university’s mental health services during finals week. That way, students know that they can have a reliable support network to help them through any anxiety or depression they may be experiencing.
To help the emotional health of your students, consider providing student involvement programs that will alleviate stress from the lives of students. Some colleges offer massages to students while others bring in therapy dogs for students to pet as a form of stress relief.
For many students, part of alleviating stress during finals week is keeping a consistent schedule. That way, they know their plans for the day and can prioritize tasks. Athletic activities, fitness classes, and other clubs should still stick to their “normal” schedule to maintain daily routines and create a diversion from stressful times.
It has become common knowledge across the university setting that caring for the mental health of your college students is just as important as catering to their physical fitness needs. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are the top reason why many students drop out of college. You can help prevent that and other drastic actions by taking action at your university.
Consider teaming up with college mental health programs like the Jed Foundation. Seeking additional aid from professional programs can make your efforts more effective in the long term. These series of programs:
Thanks to the misrepresentation of mental illness in the media and the lack of education on the subject, students often fear that getting help for mental health issues like anxiety or depression will upset their college plans and cause them to be stigmatized by their community.
You can break harmful stereotypes and build community empathy by hosting events that bring awareness to mental illnesses and educate the community. Emphasize that those who are suffering from mental illness are not:
Hosting a guest speaker who struggles with mental health issues will give the community a first-hand account of what mental illness is really like by someone who has experienced it. These guest speakers encourage students to seek help and let them know that they aren’t alone. It also helps families better understand what their loved one is going through.
Teach students and your college community how to recognize mental illness. While the symptoms can be similar, teaching students the difference between everyday anxiety and anxiety disorders can help them discern what they’re feeling and when to get help. Also, teach them coping strategies for life events like a big exam that can negatively affect their overall health.
Mental health affects everyone. That’s why universities need to have a reliable support system for students and their families. Students who have a reliable support network are more likely to seek out help than those students who do not.
Families may not know how to cope with their loved ones with a mental illness, so be sure to have a support and education network for them as well. That way, they can better understand their child or friend and take steps to help them. We hope this helps with students physical and mental health.