The Freshman 15. Is it real life or an urban legend? With graduations aplenty both from high school and college, staying healthy needs to be a major part of post-grad life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a disproportionate amount of the weight we gain in life is in our 20s (Yikes!). An average 19-year-old man weighs 175 pounds, but by the time he hits 29 he is 9 pounds heavier, weighing in at 184 pounds. The average woman in the United States weighs about 150 when she’s 19, but by the time she’s 29, she weighs 162 pounds – that’s a gain of 12 pounds.
During your 20s and most of your 30s, the average person can exercise through injuries. The body has the capability to recover (somewhat magically). However, with your 40s comes some challenges. I can remember my father telling me he woke up on his 40th birthday and couldn’t read the clock. He used to say, “It’s all downhill from here.” I know for graduating seniors, this seems like a lifetime from now, however the earlier you get in the habit of taking care of yourself, the better. You don’t want to run the risk of developing a lifestyle that won’t set you up for success down the road.
How can this be possible without required PE classes and no free wellness center on campus?
Here are five tips to stay healthy after the graduation cap flies in the air.
1. Plan to party: Find the balance between going out on the weekends and taking care of your body. There is a clear line when it can become unhealthy. This may include making the tough choice of calling it a night at 11 p.m. instead of 1 a.m., skipping the after-dinner pizza sesh, drinking more water to stay hydrated, and being smart about who you socialize with.
The National Society of High School Scholars says the impact of staying out late in itself can have negative repercussions on sleep, immunity, mental clarity and overall energy. The combination of other party-going behaviors can be even more physically and emotionally consuming. While you don’t have to completely forgo attending parties and social gatherings, it’s important to listen to your body.
2. Water, water and more water: Carry a water bottle with you everywhere you go (filled with water, of course). Bringing a reusable water bottle will prompt you to drink more often. Hydration is equally as important as what you eat. Water literally acts a transportation system and brings nutrients and vitamins to your entire body. It is responsible for providing you with energy to study for your upcoming test or prepare for your presentation at your new job. It’s also essential for your mental and physical health, especially your muscles, skin and joints. Your body can not perform at its best without enough water. You may feel hungry, fatigued, dizzy, experience muscle cramps, or dry skin. Staying hydrated is important after exercise and sets your body for up for a good night’s sleep.
3. Make fitness F-U-N: Join any club that interests you. Most schools offer intramural, club and recreational sports teams in addition to their varsity teams. Don’t worry if you’ve never played before, most club sports will teach you how to play. University of Maryland’s Boxing Club allows anyone to join. You simply show up wearing comfortable clothing and all equipment – gloves, mitts, bags, etc. – are provided in the gym where practice is held. They split up experienced club members so that they can properly accommodate anyone who is new to the sport. Just got a new full-time job? Check with your human resources representative about fitness reimbursements if you don’t have an onsite facility.
4. Practice the 50/50 rule: Spend 50% of your time focusing on the present. What can I do now to stay healthy and active? Spend the other 50% of your time thinking about the future. Kiang Liu, a professor and the associate chair for research in preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said, “The problem is few adults can maintain ideal cardiovascular health factors as they age. Many middle-aged adults develop unhealthy diets, gain weight and aren’t as physically active. Such lifestyles, of course, lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and elevated cardiovascular risk.” Think about the potential ramifications of what you are doing now to your body later.
5. Move your joints: One of the biggest mistakes people make in their 20s and 30s is skipping stretching. We sit for hours on end at a desk, and then expect our bodies to handle a night of dancing, a pick-up game of football or a quick 5K. The No. 1 regret I hear from the majority of my clients is that they wish they didn’t neglect mobility for so long.
Realistically, the freshman 15 is more like the freshman 5 to 8. Unlimited dining plan, access to energy drinks and no mom telling you to eat your vegetables. The bad habits that can cause weight gain during freshman year don’t stop when you arrive safely back at home. Have an awareness of what habits you are creating and establish habits you need to stay healthy years from now. Your future self will thank you.
(Crystal Reynolds is an owner at 43 Degrees North Athletic Club.)