04/25/2013 02:58 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2013

Making Health a Habit in College

The struggle of healthy living is one of our greatest epidemics. Obesity is one of the leading causes of preventable death in America, second to tobacco, according to NIH. What many people do not understand is that being healthy does not mean you have to be a fitness addict. There are small tweaks you can make to your everyday routine that will not only make you feel better now, but will add years to your life.

My roommate Amanda, an Exercise Science major, has motivated me with her positive attitude towards health and fitness and continues to encourage others to focus on turning wellness into a lifestyle and not just a 90 day weight loss program.

Sitting in the living room wearing a purple DriFit T-shirt and mint green running shorts, Amanda toes off her Mizuno sneakers as she prepares for our Q and A session:

Q: How would you recommend people shop for food in a store like Publix?

A: It's always better to shop on the outside of the aisles. The further in to the store you go the more processed the food gets, whereas most of your fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are going to be along the perimeter of the store. Luckily for college students, produce is quite cheap. Some items are even cents per pound like bananas ($0.69/lb.) and apples; and you can grab a bag of carrots ($1) for less than a bag of chips in a vending machine.

Living in dorms you want to think about the kinds of food you can buy that are going to last longer, so frozen fruits and vegetables are also a really good choice as long as you pay attention to what they're packaged in. The sodium (salt) content is always something you want to check before throwing the item into your shopping cart.

Q: Why does it matter if you buy fresh food versus processed foods?

A: Any processed foods are going to contain extra preservatives and unnecessary fats in order to preserve the shelf life of the food. When it comes to fueling your body, you want to put good things into it so that you get good things out of it. Your body doesn't need all the extra ingredients that companies use for flavoring. The fewer ingredients you see on a container the better. You don't want to put toxins into your body that have to be fought off in order to extract any nutrients.

You also want to be careful with the advertised health foods out there. There are many products that people think are good for them, such as Raisin Bran, that actually contain more grams of sugar than protein or fiber. Natural granola with cut up fruit is always a good substitute and you don't have to sacrifice taste in order to get the nutrients your body needs. Yogurts, nuts, and low-fat cheeses are also great snack choices that are easy to grab and inspire the taste for refined and processed snack foods.

Q: How would you recommend people cook their food when they're used to buying pre-prepared meals?

A: Cooking healthy is actually really fun. Any natural spices like sea salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, cinnamon, or nutmeg are great to have around the house to add some flavor to your food, and they're actually good for you. EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) is great to cook with because it's a healthy fat. You can coat a chicken breast with some olive oil, rub some seasonings into it, and bake it in the oven with some potatoes and vegetables. Change up what seasonings you use or the sides with your dish so that you don't feel like you're eating the same thing all the time. I like marinating my chicken in a Ziploc bag with a vinaigrette dressing during the day and then baking it in the oven for a really flavorful meal.

Just make sure you try to stay away from frying your food, especially in fatty oil.

Q: How many times a day would you recommend someone eat?

A: You should be eating three wholesome meals a day with snacks in between, so eat about every 2 to 3 hours. Your main meals should consist of a protein (to keep you full) and a carbohydrate. You should never skip a meal.

Q: When is the best time to work out?

A: Working out releases endorphins and invigorates you, so I like to start my day off in the gym, but every person has their own preference. Exercise is also a great stress reliever, so many people like to go in the middle of the afternoon or at the end of classes/work in order to detox from a rigorous day.

I would not recommend that you work out after 9pm because your heart rate rises and your blood pressure increases, making it harder for you to fall asleep at night as your body is trying to recover. For some people this doesn't effect them, but that's one of the reasons that I like to run in the morning.

The important thing is that you're taking the time to engage your body in some kind of physical activity.

Q: What would you recommend for people that have a difficult time going to the gym?

A: Getting a work out buddy to go with you can turn the gym into a social event instead of just another item on the checklist. Having someone to talk to about your goals and struggles or writing them down in your agenda is also a really great way to make sure that you're staying on track.

Ultimately, working out shouldn't be a chore. Your body was made for movement, so find activities that you enjoy doing that you're excited about. You don't have to religiously go to the gym. Activities like going for a bike ride, taking a stroll around Lake Ella, or playing Frisbee with your friends are great ways to stay active and to stay healthy.

Remember you're only given one body, so treat it like the treasure that it is.

By Sarah Butcher, Florida State University

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