Living a Healthy Graduate Life
As a Registered Dietitian and a doctoral candidate in nutrition, I am passionate about the impact of nutrition and lifestyle on health. Often as time becomes limited, one of the first priorities to drop off the map is our health. As a graduate student you likely wear multiple hats such as a research assistant, teaching assistant, undergraduate mentor and of course... graduate student :). Many hats requires time commitment, of which then reduces extra time for personal commitments. There are many components to a healthy lifestyle including physical activity, proper diet, stress management and adequate sleep.
So let’s begin with physical activity, since it is one of the first to go once we get busy. It is recommended for each adult to get 150 minutes of physical activity per week- how do you scale to that recommendation? If it is less than optimal, try getting more involved in sports clubs (https://recsports.tamu.edu/sport-clubs/), intramurals (https://recsports.tamu.edu/programs/intramurals/) or fitness classes (https://recsports.tamu.edu/fitness-classes/) at the recreation center to get started! Even if you don’t go to the gym for 30 minutes/day, try to get in a little extra exercise: park farther away in your parking lot, walk to campus, take the stairs or take a longer route to the building that you have to go to.
Next, proper diet. With the diversity of over 10,000 graduate students at Texas A&M University, there is no ideal “diet”. Personally, I hate the word “diet” because it sounds temporary, instead make subtle changes that can be long term dietary changes. For example, try to make simple changes such as substituting brown rice for white rice, adding in a vegetable at breakfast or lunch, exchange full fat ice cream and candy bars for chocolate chips with fruit (delicious). Healthy diet does not mean you have to only eat salads and become vegetarian, although that is great, it is not always ideal. I’ve included this simple “label reading” tips image that can help to choose better choices in the supermarket. Remember that it is difficult to be perfect when it comes to optimal nutrition, but each step to improvement makes a big difference.
"Food Labels," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov)
Third, let’s talk about stress management, another key component of healthy lifestyles. With high demand workload and aim to balance work/home life, stress often gets out of control. So what are the best tips to manage stress? Look at the first two bullet point’s first, physical activity and diet, both which play vital roles in controlling stress. Next, try to find a stress reducing strategy that you can implement each day such as: write a diary before bed, read, listen to music, stretch or talk with a friend. One strategy that I like to implement is “one minute vacation”, a simple tool to use during the day when my stress levels are peaked. I put in my headphones, turn on some calming sounds/classical music and close my eyes. For one minute, I imagine a vacation that I would like to be on (on the beach, visiting tourist spots, going skydiving) and I just let my emotions go and focus on my one minute vacation. This gives me a boost of confidence that I can enjoy my vacation in the future, with all the hard work being put in right now.
Lastly, as much as diet and physical activity go out the window when time becomes limited, so does our sleep. It is recommended to sleep 7-9 hours per night. You may wonder why, well let me tell you. Sleep is the time where your body rebuilds itself, repairing your heart and blood vessels to maintain blood pressure and heart health. It is also a time that your brain works to form new pathways to help you retain information and be at your peak for problem solving skills and learning (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation/health-effects). So think twice about eliminating sleep, you are not going to be on your A game the next day.
To sum, there are many components to living a healthy life and as a graduate student you do not want to eliminate those components that aid to your success in both current and future times. I recommend trying to improve one component in your life, remember that it is a slow and steady process.
Thanks and Gig’em,
Kristen Hicks MS, RD, LD, PhD Candidate | Nutrition and Food Science
Kristen Hicks is a PhD Candidate and Registered Dietitian in BCS who aspires to improve the health of all Americans.