The average American sits between 4.5 and 6.5 hours a day. I can only imagine that with all of us actively engaged in remote work and study, that number is trending on the higher end these days. But sitting is a known stress maker, impacting our resting heart rate and blood pressure, and creating tension and tightness in our muscles from sedentary activity.
Yet, stress is only bad when we fail to listen to what its presence is trying to tell us! Stress often happens because we don’t set a goal to deal with it in very specific ways. Our first reaction to stress might be, “I have too much on my plate.” But what stress might actually be telling us is, “I’m not prioritizing the right things in life because I am failing to make specific, concrete actions part of my daily routine.” Stress reduction takes practice!
Here are ten healthy habits for students who are taking most of their classes online to help deal with stress.
1) Limit your sitting periods to 50 minutes, give or take.
Set a timer that forces you to get up once an hour. Set a timer on your phone or computer every time you sit down. (Sure, an expensive, fancy fitness tracker or smart watch is nice but unnecessary.) When you hear the alarm, get up and move!
2) Move your shoulders and neck actively.
3) Leave the indoor room you are working in and find space outside.
Get out of the room you are sitting in and go outside. When you are outside, get into the sun to feel refreshed and take a couple minutes to breathe in and out, deeply and slowly. Stress and tension can often be quickly lowered by raising your oxygen intake levels. You might even find yourself clearing your mind a bit!
4) Increase your range of motion with lunges and squats.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, get some blood into your legs. Take a few moments to squat or lunge forward/back with one leg. Both are basic movements. For some extra work, instead of bending over to pick anything on the floor, always squat or lunge to get it. Yes, you’ll look funny, but you might also keep from spontaneously pulling a muscle in your back.
5) Take up a household chore to break the monotony of school.
Movement is more than just exercise: basic home chores can be a great break. Get up, take a minute, and make your bed. Pull out the vacuum or broom and help clean up a bit. Take a few moments and wipe down the bathroom or fold that pile of clothes. You’ll get some movement and your home will feel a bit better to you and everyone you live with.
6) Sit on funky items, like a yoga ball.
Change up your sitting routine when you get back to your desk. If you have one, sit on a yoga or exercise ball. If you want to get one, you can find affordable ones on Amazon.
7) Stand up while reading, or when attending class.
Guess what! You don’t need to be sitting down all the time. The nice thing about online learning is that you can turn your speakers up or put in some wireless headphones and walk around the room as you participate in class. Even when you are doing your reading, pace around your room and read out loud. This practice could even help your focus. Double win!
8) Plan your breakfast and lunch each day.
Healthy, nutritious eating pays off all day long. Make sure to have quality options for breakfast foods that include plenty of protein, not a lot of sugar, and a balanced amount of carbohydrates. Try to have at least one vegetable and maybe some fruit at lunch. Drink lots of water with each meal. You might need to do some meal preparation on the weekends. It is totally worth it!
9) Set up a routine of healthy snacks, especially avoiding high sugars.
Keep whole food snacks on hand, especially ones that are low in sugars (ahem…avoid the candy!). Sugar gives you a quick boost of energy, but it wears off fast; your hunger comes back, and you can crash. Choose something like nuts, fruit, and cheese in any combination. Again, keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water during the day. As an extra bonus, you know you’ll have to get up and move more to go to use the bathroom!
10) Keep to a schedule of regular exercise and quiet time of reflection.
Finally, carve out time in your week for regular exercise (even if it’s a simple 20-minute walk) and quiet time for reflection (anything from reading a book you love, to meditation, prayer, or journaling). Try to exercise and have your period of reflection at the same time each day. Don’t skip because you have work to do. Make sure to take the time for yourself so that you can keep your mental balance.
Healthy Habits for Students: Small Changes, Big Results
If you make reducing the stress that comes from sedentary life a goal every day, you will feel so much better and as a result, you’ll have a more successful time with your studies. Set a small, attainable goal each day — one that you know you can keep. Big change always comes first from small steps. You can do it!
By Mattias Caro, Kinesiology Instructor
Teaching is not just my passion but my vocation. I want to pass on what was given to me, and more importantly, I want to plant, water, and nurture the seeds of life-long learning in my students. I believe in providing the virtues and tools necessary for every student to make learning a life-long endeavor.