Top tips for keeping fit, healthy and happy as a university student

Jody Cook asked three fitness experts to help her answer the ultimate student question… how do you stay healthy and happy with a busy study schedule?

The past year has been a roller coaster of emotions for students! Online learning and figuring out where to live in the new academic year has left students thinking ‘what’?

BUT, one thing I am sure of is that no matter what the pandemic has thrown at us, we have bounced back every time. I know a lot of students are worrying about their health when returning to university life, so I asked three fitness experts to give me the in’s and out’s of how students can stay happy and healthy!

Jen & Phi from Lift, Learn and Burn

Image credit: Lift, Learn and Burn

“Hi! So we’re Phil and Jen and we’re the co-owners of Lift, Learn and Burn, which is an online coaching service with a passion to help females lose weight without restriction, eating the food they love and finding a healthy relationship with both food and exercise.

“Jen is our nutrition and weight loss advisor and Phil has a personal training background, so we each have our specialist knowledge area, and we CERTAINLY don’t consider ourselves to be fitness influencers – don’t think we’re cool or trendy enough for that.

“As online coaches, our aim is to make sure we’re giving people the facts about nutrition and fitness because there’s so much rubbish and overwhelming information out there that it can be difficult to know what to do and what not to do.

“LL&B formed through Phil coaching Jen through her own weight loss journey, where she found a love for nutrition and wanted to take it further. The idea was born in a coffee shop in Manchester when we were brainstorming a new service that Phil was going to provide his clients.”

Jack Graves – @thehealthcoachuk

Credit: Instagram @thehealthcoachuk

“Originally my account was a personal one hence why if you scroll back in time there are some horrendous photos of me as a youth! Then I decided that social media really is a good outlet for information so I decided to make it more about providing information about how you can improve your health through MOVE, EAT, SLEEP and SUSTAIN.

“Your health really is down to the lifestyle you live. For me social media is great for reaching thousands of people and for me if one of those people experiences a positive health change due to the info, I provide then I am happy.

“I’ve been a health coach now for a long time and it has taken me all over the world. It allowed me to work on films, with athletes and CEO’s of large tech and marketing companies. Health coaching to me is about seeing clients achieve and progress. When you see someone smile because they can now run around with their children or complete an Ironman there really is no better feeling.

“Before becoming a health coach, I used to play Rugby league for Harlequins (now London bronco). I have a Labrador called Ruby (who is nuts) and a power woman of a fiancé who is nicknamed the boss! Also, proud Nottingham Forest fan!”

Adam Berry – @thegymstarter

Credit: Instagram – @thegymstarter

“I know what it is like to be time-poor, have deadlines and the pressures of working every which way and never feeling like you have time to yourself. I also know what it is like to have very little control over your food intake and to be so exhausted both mentally and physically that the last thing I wanted to do was workout.

“And even still I struggle, even though my life has somewhat settled. I now work in an amazing Personal Training Studio here on the Gold Coast, I am still pursuing my acting and just love helping people figure out this crazy little thing called life.

“I became The Gym Starter because I have always loved helping people feel confident about themselves…and I have noticed since the upsurge of Social Media, confidence seems to be a personality trait that is becoming more and more scarce in the world, especially amongst our student population.”

For students on a budget, what quick/cheap meals can you recommend? Are there any ways of eating well under a budget?

Supermarkets like Aldi are great for low-budget healthy food shopping.
Credit: Unsplash

Jen & Phi – Lift, Learn and Burn: “Creating quick, low-calorie meals really doesn’t have to be expensive. To put it in perspective, we spend £40-60 a week at Aldi for all our meals for the week for two of us. Some great staples to have in would be tinned fruit/vegetables, frozen vegetables, bulk buying meat and freezing, eggs, oats and a cupboard full of herbs! I’d say they’re the things we always make sure we have in our cupboards. A really great, free resources is BBC Good Foods, we recommend it to all of our clients as you can access thousands of recipes all with the nutritional information and cooking time. One of our favourite quick and easy teas is banging some chicken sausages in a tray with some veg and potatoes and roasting in the oven for 30-40 mins. Simple, easy and very little washing up needed – always a win for us!!”

Jack Graves – @thehealthcoach: “When it comes to eating on a budget then pre-planning the meals you are going to eat for that week is super important. If you shop only when you need to you’re more likely to over spend by buying unnecessary items. Cooking in bulk goes a long way! You can eat last night’s dinner for lunch and that helps stretch your food out for longer. So write down the meals for the week, create a shopping list for those meals and then cook in bulk and eat leftovers the next day. Chilli is a great go to as it contains protein, fats and carbs and you can cook in bulk. To make it Keto friendly then have with cheese and cook with no beans. This might gross some of you out but organs from the butchers are super cheap as they basically just want to get rid of them. Organ meat is full of vitamins and minerals as well as a great source of protein. Learning how to cook things like liver, kidneys etc can help brings the cost down of food (Just need to get over the stigma)”

Adam Berry – @thegymstarter: “Here are my top 5 tips for eating on a budget:

  1. Buy Frozen Fruits and Vegetables – especially Vegetables. Too many times in my life have I gone to the fridge to find the Courgette I forgot about and now it is rotten to the core. You don’t need to worry about whether they have enough a nutrient profile or not, it’s a daft argument that shouldn’t exist because it creates a needless barrier to entry. Eating any Vegetables will help you, frozen or otherwise. They are simple to cook…just put them in a Wok, and away you go…and they taste just lovely.
  2.  Plan Your Meals Weekly, and budget for them – spend some time sitting down creating a two-week meal plan for yourself. That way you can easily budget for what you ate going to eat as well.
  3. Eat out Less Often – sounds so simple right? But I am aware of how hard this is to do. The Costa Coffee isn’t so much of an issue… its the Muffin and Toasted Sandwich that comes from the trip too, before you know it, a Mocha Chocca Skinny Vanilla Three Shot Latte (or whatever the kids are drinking these days) plus a Muffin and a Tuna Toastie has cost you £15. Added to that…its’s cost in terms of how much it will fill you up as well, combined with the number of calories you are consuming all in one go.
  4. Buy In Bulk – especially your Carbohydrates. Buy big packs of Rice and Pasta. They will last forever and are so much cheaper than buying the Microwave packs that Uncle Ben makes. In the food industry, there is always a higher cost associated with convenience.
  5. Spend Time Cooking – if you don’t know how to cook…learn. It really doesn’t have to be that complex. We live in a world where cooking is really intimidating. There is nothing wrong with a few sausages, some mashed potato, and some frozen veggies on a plate…you just don’t think there is because it doesn’t look good enough for your IG Story.”

Student spaces are normally very small, what exercises can you suggest for a small work out space?

Jen & Phi – Lift, Learn and Burn: “I think a lot of people have the misconception that to look after our physical health we HAVE to do workouts, which yes, do help, but actually you can add an extra 2 years onto your life by just aiming to do 7000-8000 steps a day, which is super achievable for EVERYONE. We work on this first with clients, as building movement into your life is a lifelong habit. So, get out and get exploring your local area!”

Jack Graves – @thehealthcoachuk: “Bodyweight circuits are the go-to really and you can use different variations of intensity techniques.

  1. Stay aerobic circuit: Set a 30min clock and just flow between the rounds. A reminder that this is not HIIT so slow down and focus more on how you are breathing and the way you’re performing the movement. Choose 6-7 movements with a 10-20 reps’ range for each.
  2. Every hour on the hour: If I have a busy day then I will set a timer to go off every hour which means I will get up and perform 100 reps of an exercise. Then sit back down and get on with my work. You could end up doing 1000 reps at the end of the day. So, the first hour might be bodyweight squats, next might be push-ups, next might be burpees and so on and so on.
  3. Resistance bands are also a great tool to add weight to movements. You can get some decent ones for £20 off amazon.

Adam Berry – @thegymstarter: “Right now, during a Global Pandemic and everlasting lockdowns, I’m not sure you need my advice on how to work out in a Dorm Room. There are certain times in a person’s life where working out just isn’t feasible, and putting yourself under more and more pressure to live up to an outcome that you don’t need to live up to will have a wider negative effect on you.  I’d never force someone to work out if they are grieving. Or are stressed to the eyeballs with work and worry about a loved one. There are times when it is ok to say – actually – I just am not going to work out, and that’s ok.  I have recently moved to Australia and had to do a Two-Week Quarantine in a single Hotel Room. I had the intention to workout. I had my TRX with me. But I didn’t work out as much as I hoped to, and there is nothing wrong with that. The room and my personal circumstances didn’t provide me with the energy I needed to workout. And I’m fine with that.

“And if that is you…you should be fine with that too. I would also love for you to reconsider what you think a workout should be. You probably do not have a Leg Press Machine in your Dorm Room, so it’s just daft to have the same expectations of a workout, that you would have if you had access to a Gym Floor. Meditation can be a workout, yoga can be a workout, 10 Push Ups can be a workout, a walk can be a workout. What I am trying to say is that it doesn’t all have to be Deadlifts and Dumbells – you need to have greater empathy for yourself and what you can achieve. And this isn’t just true when you are in the midst of a Global Pandemic. This is true when you are up to your eyeballs in Dissertations and Essays. This is true when you are working, studying, and living on top of trying to keep fit.

woman doing yoga
Exercise does not always have to be of high intensity!
Credit: Unsplash

“Sometimes in life, it’s more important to take 4 or 5 steps back…so that you can then take another 10 forward further down the track. Managing your stress is indeed a workout. But if you are the type of person who is chomping at the bit to do something physical besides what I have laid out above then my top recommendation to you is the following. Get a Suspension Trainer. Not a TRX – they are far too expensive for what they are…and you don’t have the funds. $25 (about £14.99) on you can get a Suspension Trainer or at Decathlon its the same price.”

What impact does physical exercise have on your mental health?

Jen & Phi – Lift, Learn and Burn: “Physical exercise has a really big impact on your mental health and if you google ‘The Five Ways of Wellbeing’ you’ll see that one of the ways to look after your mental health and well-being is physical exercise, it realises hormones that lift our mood and make us feel really great. Right now, we’re seeing lots of people spending lots of time inside, so as we said before, just getting out and getting moving can really help, even if you don’t feel like doing it we can guarantee you’ll feel better afterwards. Just a side note on this one – motivation will not always be around, it’s really important to push through and get moving even on those days where motivation is low, and actually moving with then leave you feeling more motivated.”

Jack Graves – @thehealthcoachuk: “I suffer from mental health issues and for me exercise is a very important medicine that allows me to process and challenge negative thoughts and emotions. I see movement as a form of mediation and a positive output. The best movement for mental health I find is the slow and steady type like running or walking because the intensity is just right for you to focus on your breath. Another very important factor is spending time without your headphones. Removing the external noise allows you to process thoughts rather than push them back. Music, podcasts, etc are a form of information and your mind doesn’t get a real chance to think. Remember it’s ok to be in silence and bored.”

Adam Berry – @thegymstarter: Movement in and of itself will make you feel better about who you are, but when you start aligning that behaviour with behaviours of weight loss for acceptance amongst your peers, or to try and get a six-pack or even so that you can get laid… a problem begins to occur.  Suddenly your movement is no longer beneficial for your mental health, suddenly it is a punishment for it. So to gain the advantages for your Mental Wellbeing in association with fitness and movement you must make sure that you are focussing on your movement for reasons beyond superficiality.

For students that cannot afford a gym membership, can you give some words of encouragement that going to the gym is not the be-all and end-all of fitness’?

Jen & Phi – Lift, Learn and Burn: “As we talked about previously, even just walking can be beneficial for our health!! ANY kind of movement will increase your fitness levels and your mood. It doesn’t have to leave you feeling sweaty or like you want to be sick. What’s most important when it comes to exercise is that you find something you LOVE doing. Most people struggle to stay consistent with exercise, usually, because they feel like they ‘should’ be doing a certain exercise, whereas when you focus your attention on what you enjoy doing it becomes easy to be consistent as you look forward to it. Now we hear some of you saying, I’ll never enjoy exercise, but we fully believe that just means you haven’t found the right exercise for you. Take this time in lockdown to explore some different things: walking, running, workouts at home (there’s so many free online workouts right now), tennis, hula hooping, cycling, boxing etc. Think outside the box and test some out!”

Jack Graves – @thehealthcoachuk: “Yeah the gym really is overrated. I mean if you’re into any strength sports then you’ll need the gym because of the weights. But if you’re in to working out because you want to be fit and healthy then you don’t really need the gym. Bodyweight circuits using the intensity techniques mentioned above will be enough to help strengthen the muscles around the joints which are so important for the health and longevity of your body. Running is a great form of exercise when done properly, the key is mixing the sessions up one might be more interval focused so 3mins of running (Fast) with 2mins of walking x6 and another might just be slow and steady for 30mins looking to just move the legs and challenge the breath. Don’t get too caught up in distance and time (Unless you are training for a sport) when running for health is more about getting out there a moving, feeling good and be able to be consistent.”

pair of blue-and-white Adidas running shoes
Have you taken up running as a lockdown hobby?
Credit: Unsplash

And finally, do you have some encouragement for students that there is hope for a better fitter future?

Jen & Phi – Lift, Learn and Burn: “We just want to say that it’s okay if you feel that you may have put on weight, it’s been a really tough time and if your overall movement has decreased, and your food has stayed the same then that will be why. Food has also provided a lot of comfort for people over lockdown, with people feeling like there’s not much else bringing joy, but as long as food is not your only coping mechanism then try not to beat yourself up! If you have any questions for us or just want to see what we’re about then you can find us on Instagram at @jenkayllb and @philwilliamsllb and we also have our very own podcast, designed to keep you company on those walks you’re now going to start getting out on. If you search ‘The Listen, Learn and Burn Podcast’ in Apple Music or Spotify then you’ll find us!”

Jack Graves – @thehealthcoach: “For me when it comes to clients, I’m not really a fan of weighing people. Because when you get stuck into the numbers it’s always a yo-yo and that can be de-motivating. Ok maybe your trousers fit a little differently, but you can do something about it. Shift your mindset from body image and focus more on WHY. Why am I eating like is? Does it align with me being the healthiest human possible? Will it benefit me now and later on in life?

“Processed foods are aimed at being highly palatable and calorie-dense. This means they are way too easy to overeat and they are packed with loads of calories which really is not a great combo. Have a look at focusing more on foods that give you the most vitamins and minerals with each bite. These usually look like red meat, fish, eggs, organs, some fruit and some vegetables.  Podcast: Healthy Conversations (Spotify)

Adam Berry – @thegymstarter: “I’m an online personal trainer and love working with people who want to learn how to start and crucially Succeed in their Fitness Journey. You can follow me on the Social Media platforms here: Instagram: @thegymstarter, YouTube: The Gym Starter, TikTok: @thegymstarter.

Thank you to Jen & Phil, Jack and Adam, for taking the time to answer my questions. Students are going through so much right now, and I wanted to show them that there are people out there that are willing to help. Students, there are lots of things out of our control now, but we can control the care and time we put into our physical and mental health. Be sure to follow these guys as they have more useful content on their Instagram profiles. Stay healthy and stay safe.

Written by Jody Cook

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