How to stay healthy your first year of college

Illustration by Mabel Barreto

This story ran as part of a VCU Student Media Center summer special publication, The Compass, which serves as a guidebook for new students.

Emma North, Contributing Writer

An all-you-can-eat dining hall, parties, late-night cookie delivery services and all-night study sessions can make it seem impossible to stay healthy while in college, but VCU offers numerous on-campus options for a balanced lifestyle complete with a healthy mind and body.

Best Value Schools ranks VCU’s Cary Street Gym second among the top 20 college gyms and student rec centers in the country. Despite the high ranking, you don’t need to be an Instagram model or bodybuilder to use Cary Street Gym. With a track, turf field, climbing wall, a four-court gym, weights, machines and a pool with a waterslide, the gym offers numerous ways to work toward fitness goals. Students don’t have to work toward those goals alone — there are free group exercise classes and intramural sports available at the gym as well. 

Cycling, high-intensity interval training — known as HIIT — workouts and yoga programs are great options. Students who aren’t used to a gym setting might feel more comfortable being guided by an instructor. 

For those who prefer to get outside, the Outdoor Adventure Program offers weekend trips and daily clinics as a way for students to explore Richmond and the rest of Virginia. Students can also take advantage of nearby green spaces offered by the James River Parks system and the city of Richmond. 

You can even get active for school credit. There are classes through the Health, Physical Education and Exercise department and the School of Dance that require physical activity and are open to anyone. Students can take yoga, pilates, self-defense and scuba for 1 to 2 credits each. 

Exercise is just one part of staying healthy, according to a National Institute of Health study, about 70% of college students gain weight in their first two years of school. Eating healthy on campus is possible — but it’s also easy to eat Chick-fil-A, Pizza Hut and never-ending dessert from Shafer. Make a habit of steering toward the healthier options, and don’t be afraid to venture off campus to pick up staples like fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. 

Try to restrict your electronic usage before bed, because all that screen time can make it harder to sleep, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. You might want to buy a Brita filter, though, because Richmond tap water isn’t the greatest. 

Without a set schedule governing your day like in high school, you might feel overwhelmed at times. If a planner isn’t your thing, writing out a list of tasks for the day will make them more manageable. In that schedule, be sure to incorporate “treat yourself” activities to avoid burnout. 


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