Nutrition and Exercise

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain why good nutrition is important.
  • List health problems related to being overweight or obese.
  • Explain the general principles of good nutrition.
  • List the physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise.
  • Plan a program of regular exercise that you enjoy and can maintain.

Eating Healthy in College

Pepperoni Pizza in boxAmericans have trouble eating well in an environment that encourages overeating, and college students often have it even worse. It seems like food is everywhere, making it easy for students to snack between classes. Fast food restaurants abound. There may not be time to get back to your dorm or apartment for lunch, and it’s just so easy to grab a quick pastry at the coffee spot as you pass by between classes. These factors can cause students to gain weight.

Why is being overweight a problem? Obesity is associated with many medical conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Although some health problems may not appear until later in life, diabetes is increasing rapidly in children and teenagers. Furthermore, the habits young adults may already have or may form during their college years generally continue into later years.

It’s the eating by habit, or mindlessly, that usually gets us in trouble and leads to weight gain. If we’re mindful instead, however, we can develop better habits.

Eating Well

The key to a good diet is to eat a varied diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and to minimize fats, sugar, and salt. The exact amounts depend on individual calorie requirements and activity levels, but people don’t have to count calories or measure and weigh  food to eat well. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) general daily guidelines for a two-thousand-calorie diet are below.

  • Grains (6 ounces)
    • Eat whole grain cereals, breads, rice, or pasta.
  • Vegetables (2.5 cups)
    • Eat more dark green veggies like broccoli and spinach
    • Eat more orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes
    • Eat more beans and peas
  • Fruits (2 cups)
    • Eat a variety of fruit
    • Minimize fruit juices
  • Milk (3 cups)
    • Choose low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and other milk products
    • If you don’t drink milk, choose lactose-free products or other calcium sources such as fortified foods
  • Meat and beans (5.5 ounces)
    • Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry
    • Roast, broil, or grill the meat
    • Vary protein sources, including more fish, beans, peas, and nuts
  • Minimize these (check food labels)
    • Solid fats like butter and margarine and foods that contain them (avoid saturated and trans fats)
    • Watch out for high-sodium foods
    • Minimize added sugars
  • Exercise
    • Be physically active for at least thirty minutes most days of the week.

Avoiding the Freshman Fifteen

The “freshman fifteen” refers to the weight gain many students experience in their first year of college. To avoid that extra weight, here are some healthy eating tips:

  • Asparagus and tomatoes on a plateEat a variety of foods every day.
  • Take an apple or banana with you for a snack in case you get hungry between meals.
  • Avoid fried foods.
  • Avoid high-sugar foods.
  • Replace soft drinks with flavored seltzer and other zero- or low-calorie drinks.
  • Follow USDA guidelines.

Does Exercise Really Matter?

Exercise is good for both body and mind. Indeed, physical activity is almost essential for good health and student success. The physical benefits of regular exercise include the following:

  • Improved fitness for the whole body, not just the muscles
  • Greater cardiovascular fitness and reduced disease risk
  • Increased physical enduranceImage result for monroe community college creative commons
  • Stronger immune system, providing more resistance to disease
  • Lower cholesterol levels, reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease
  • Lowered risk of developing diabetes
  • Weight maintenance or loss

Exercise also offers mental and psychological benefits:

  • Stress reduction
  • Improved mood, with less anxiety and depression
  • Improved ability to focus mentally
  • Better sleep
  • Feeling better about oneself

For all of these reasons, it’s important for college students to regularly exercise or engage in physical activity. Like good nutrition and getting enough sleep, exercise is a key habit that contributes to overall wellness that promotes college success. Use the Exercise and Activity Self-Assessment to consider your current habits and attitudes.

Exercise and Activity Self-Assessment

Check the appropriate boxes.

Usually Sometimes Seldom
I enjoy physical activity.
Exercise is a regular part of my life.
I get my heart rate up for twenty to thirty minutes several times a week.
I enjoy exercising or engaging in physical activities or sports with others.


What physical activities do you enjoy?


How often each week do you engage in a physical activity?


If you feel you’re not getting much exercise, what stands in your way?


Overall, do you think you get enough exercise to be healthy?


Image result for monroe community college creative commons

Campus Activities Can Help

MCC has finesses centers you can access on both the Brighton and DCC campuses. If you like more organized team sports, try intramural sports.

Additional Resources

Exercise guidelines and more information. See

Target heart rate calculator. Find your target heart rate to experience the benefits of aerobic exercise (based on age only) at

Target heart rate calculator based on age and current fitness level. See


1. What health problems may result from obesity?





2. How many cups of fruit and vegetables should you eat every day?


3. It is recommended that college students get _________ minutes of aerobic exercise at least ________ times a week.

4. List at least two campus resources to help you with health and wellness.