When you’re studying at uni, particularly if you’re living away from home, it can be easy to fall into some bad habits when it comes to taking care of yourself. With lectures to attend and a stressful workload, it’s easy to skip exercising in favour of a few extra hours’ work (or sleep) and buy yourself takeaways and microwave meals so you can eat quickly and easily.

The long term effects of skipping nutritious meals and sitting at your desk all day can have a huge impact, not only on your weight, but on how your brain functions. Whilst chucking a frozen lasagne in the microwave might feel like you’ve given yourself one less thing to think about during deadlines, it can also make you struggle to concentrate and find motivation, and even increases the stress on your body – and if there’s one thing students need less of, it’s stress.

We spoke to nutritionist and personal trainer, Kayleigh Armstrong, who runs her own private training facility – Armstrong Health & Fitness – in Newcastle Upon Tyne, to get some helpful tips and tricks when it comes to staying healthy whilst studying.

Kayleigh is a huge advocate for making health accessible to everyone, and understands the impact that a poor diet and exercise routine can have on students; “Keeping the mind focused and reducing stress levels is big for students,” she says. “Having a balanced diet of protein, unsaturated fat and unrefined carbs is a good start to eating healthier.”

By breaking down your diet into some easy to follow habits, you begin to see dramatic improvements in your day to day life. Below, we’ve outlined our top tips for staying healthy, eating well and keeping fit at university.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is one of the main reasons our brains start to slow down and we lose all concentration and motivation before lectures have even finished for the day. Drinking water is a must to keep yourself ticking along nicely. Try to remember to carry a reusable water bottle with you whenever you leave the house so you can keep re-filling it during the day.

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Get Your Z’s

One of our favourite tips – get more sleep. “Sleep is key in everyone’s life. More sleep = a better functioning body and brain,” says Kayleigh. Students are notorious for getting far less sleep than they should between deadlines, nights out and early morning lectures, sleep seems like a distant memory for most, however it’s one of the most important – and easy – things you can do to stay healthy and energised.

Walk It Off

The most basic way to get your body moving is to walk. Walk as much as possible – to the shops, to uni, even to the pub and back when you can. “Recent research has shown achieving 10,000 plus steps a day had similar of not more energy expenditure over 24 hours than a gym session,” says Kayleigh.

The easiest way to mark your progress is to set yourself a daily target that’s challenging but achievable, then once that becomes easy, add on extra steps. Before you know it you’ll be fit and active and feeling the benefits of that extra time spent in the fresh air. 

Eat Well for Less

Buying groceries can be much cheaper than you think, and there are plenty of shortcuts you can take to make your food go further. Doing a big shop with your housemates helps spread the cost and avoids wasting food that can’t be eaten before it goes off. Lots of supermarkets now also do “wonky” veg boxes, where you can bulk buy fresh fruit and vegetables cheaper because they’re mis-shaped – and since you’re going to be cutting them up any way who really cares if your carrot has a bump on it?

Kayleigh also recommends going with less obvious cuts of meat and green veg to help keep your protein and fibre up. “Chicken thighs, turkey mince, ham, eggs and quark” were top of her list of healthy and low-cost proteins, and she also recommends preparing meals and freezing them to be cooked at a later date to help cut down on your spending. That way, you have your own frozen ready meals that are packed full of all the goodness that the shop bought ones just don’t have.

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Where to Find Easy Recipes

Below are some of our favourite accounts when it comes to whipping up a quick lunch or the easiest way to make yourself a cheap and delicious “fakeaway” dinner.

@buzzfeedtasty – Full of quick easy to follow videos, Buzzfeed Tasty has the perfect mix of day-to-day healthy eating and recipes to make your own splurge meals. 

@videomeals – Stuffed full of delicious recipes with a video showing just how each dish is made. There’s also a step-by-step guide underneath each video that teaches you exactly how to make the dishes

@feelgoodfoodie – These recipes are the perfect “healthy-ish” mix of delicious, comforting and still pretty good for you with everything from pasta and muffins to smoothie bowls and salads.

@mobkitchen — All the ingredients for Mob Kitchen recipes come in for under £10, and make enough to feed the masses. Hearty and healthy, what’s not to love?

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When To Consult a Doctor

One of the major benefits of eating better and moving more is that it helps to improve your immune system. All those vitamins and nutrients from good food can help you recover from illnesses quicker and prevent them in the first place, so you don’t need to spend weeks bed-bound with the latest bout of Fresher’s Flu. However, it’s always important to know when you should check in with your doctor. If you’re eating well, sleeping plenty but are still constantly exhausted, it might be worth getting some blood tests done to rule out common problems like anaemia.  

Tests can also help to rule out things like food intolerance, such as gluten or dairy, or point out areas where your diet might be lacking like calcium or iron. These imbalances in your body can make you feel bloated, tired and even cause problems with your skin and nails. If you know you’re taking care of yourself and something still doesn’t feel right, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so make sure you register with your local doctor and pop in for a chat if you aren’t feeling yourself.

 Words by Faith Richardson