Smart choices lead to healthy life

We’ve heard them all: college is a journey; the greatest lessons learned are those outside of the classroom; opportunity lingers around every corner.

But with all clichés aside, I digress. The real point is that college is a time of self-definition, where relationships are developed, career paths pursued and habits formed.

That is why, possibly more than any other time of life, it is critical to make health-conscious choices in college. Simply integrating routines into life now makes it easier to maintain a healthy body in the future.

Unfortunately, health takes a backseat all too often. This doesn’t have to be the case. Beneficial habits can fit into a schedule otherwise packed with studying, time with friends and occasional fast food.

Not convinced of the significance that decisions made now have on the rest of life? That isn’t surprising. College students are infamous for procrastination. I’ll even argue in favor of occasional deference — other than the freshness of the printer ink, what is the difference between a paper written today and one written tomorrow?

Yet — for the sake of the metaphor — postponing healthy choices is like waiting to complete a major assignment until the last minute, only to realize it was due yesterday. While professors may be sweet-talked into providing extra time, excuses do not apply to lifestyle choices. Sorry, but saying, “My dog ate my running shoes” is not particularly effective in warding off diabetes or lung cancer.

There are no magic pills or instant fixes in the pursuit of healthfulness. It requires awareness and self-accountability. But healthful habits don’t necessitate sacrifice.

In developing new routines, start small. Mindless changes, such as drinking more water throughout the day or turning off the TV earlier, quickly become automatic.

Once little habits are tackled, it is time to take on bigger obstacles. Issues vary from person to person, so self-reflection is necessary in determining what to address. From that point, break down larger goals into smaller, manageable habits.

Struggling with a diet? Attempt to eat a good breakfast and avoid processed foods. Exercise? Find an enjoyable activity, be it dance or rock-climbing. Mental health? Take time to slow down and think positively. Eventually, small successes add up to a healthier body, without ever having felt the burden of sacrifice.

On the path to a healthier life, you will face challenges. It is natural to fall off the wagon or realize that some goals aren’t realistic.

No denying it, “Sunrise Yoga” isn’t for everyone. Failing at one habit is no excuse to throw all positive routines aside. Count the completion of every goal —big or small — as an achievement.

Ultimately, healthy habits aren’t about being seen at the gym or impressing friends. They are about committing to the pursuit of a long, active and enjoyable life. Besides, being “the hottie” at the 20-year high school reunion won’t hurt.

Originally published in The University Daily Kansan on October 9, 2009.

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