How to Stay Healthy While Attending College Online
Thinking about attending college online? It’s a great option for people looking to advance their careers while balancing other life obligations. For online students, however, it’s especially important to also invest time in personal health. With so many other commitments—children, family, older parents needing care, demanding jobs, and other responsibilities, not to mention a busy class schedule—it can be hard to remember to take care of oneself. And while sitting down in front of a computer for hours at a time may not seem that harmful, recent research suggests it is. Without self-care, it can be that much more difficult to successfully complete your online program and accomplish the life and career goals you were hoping to achieve by attending college online.
Here are three risks online students face when it comes to staying healthy and what you can do to help avoid them.
Risk 1: Long Periods of Sitting
According to U.S. News & World Report, online students can have up to 40 to 50 hours per week of intensive seated screen time. If they’re not breaking that time up with physical activity, those hours can lead to a number of health concerns, including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat, and poor cholesterol levels, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What You Can Do
Mayo Clinic experts recommend taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes, so set an alarm for every half hour to get up from your chair, even if just for a minute or two. Between classes, consider taking a walk around the block or making a quick trip to the gym. At the very least, break up extended sitting sessions by standing up, stretching, or walking around the house.
Risk 2: Lack of Exercise
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both. But just 45 percent of college students meet the AHA’s recommendations, according to the American College Health Association’s most recent National College Health Assessment. Online students face extra challenges when it comes to exercising. Compared to their on-ground peers, they don’t have the benefit of campus athletic centers with exercise equipment, fitness classes, and intramural sports—unless they make it a priority to compensate with their own exercise regimen.
What You Can Do
There are a number of ways to introduce exercise to your routine. Join a nearby gym. Sign up for a recreational sports league. Take runs around your neighborhood. Bike on weekends. Whatever physical activity you choose, just make sure you’re exercising. While you might not be able to achieve it right away, make it your goal to meet the AHA’s recommended amount of aerobic exercise. In addition to getting your heart pumping, it may even benefit your academic performance when you sit back down for your next class. Experts say that exercise can have a short-term benefit for your brain, improving your focus for up to three hours afterward.
Risk 3: Social Isolation
Even with the best-designed, interactive, and collaborative online courses, online students can be left feeling alone when class ends. After all, you may not have a roommate to return to or college-sponsored activities to attend with friends. If you’re not compensating with social connections in other parts of your life, loneliness can set in, possibly leading to mental-health disorders like depression.
What You Can Do
Spending 40+ hours a week in relative isolation while attending college online makes maintaining a personal social life all the more important. Make a point to spend time with friends and family members often. Don’t be afraid to make new friends in your online classes—after all, they’re in the same situation as you. Organize study groups or chat with classmates via Skype or other social collaboration tools. And who says you always need to be alone while taking online classes? Depending on the course, you may be able to occasionally attend class or study in a vibrant setting amongst others, such as a coffee shop, park, or the local library.
Attending college online has tremendous benefits. And although staying healthy as an online student can be difficult, it can be done by adopting good habits and sticking to them. We invite you to explore our online programs and see what it will take to make that next step into your profession. If you are interested in learning more about our team and UTEP Connect’s 100% online undergraduate, master’s, and graduate certificate programs, reach out. An enrollment counselor will contact you directly.