I like U of T, I really do. But being a good student here sometimes turns out to be a real pain in my back. It’s exam time, which normally means that for the last month and a half, thanks to the plethora of end of term assignments due, I’ve been hunched over a desk for hours each day. Hours turn into days, days into weeks. For some really avid students who study diligently from the get-go of the term, totally sedentary lifestyles can go on for months. After thirteen weeks of sitting in a single chair for days, of going to bed far too late, and of eating the last of the groceries in my kitchen with a spoon (read: peanut butter), I start to notice the extent to which my body is unimpressed with me. The first signs, starting around week nine, include a bit of extra padding in the mid-section, or a kink in the back that inhibits me from easily standing up straight. By week thirteen, it’s a gaunt, grey skin tone and the inevitable appearance of those cursed circles below my eyes, darkening at an exponential rate.
So this year I performed the impossible: I opted for a new strategy. I took a stand against my self-imposed asceticism and made a few changes. In other words, above all other things, this term I paid attention to my health.
Here’s what I found:
1) Masochism. As in, sitting at a desk for hours on end is severely masochistic. We were not born in office chairs, and if we’re lucky we will not die in them either. It doesn’t take much to take a break once every hour. I find getting up, walking around, stretching, interacting with other human beings (yay: roommates!), or having a cup of tea breaks up the inactivity and ultimately ends in the ability to study a little longer. (Permitted that you don’t succumb to your roommate’s invitation to go out for a pint).
2) All you need are sneakers. Lulu Lemon matching tops and bottoms don’t increase your heart rate. I’m always strapped for cash at this time of year, which makes some options (yoga classes, pilates, fancy gym memberships) seem a little unreasonable. Luckily, as U of T students we don’t need to pay any extra fees to join a gym as we all have free access to the Hart House, complete with a healthy assortment of free classes happening throughout the week.
You live off campus? You can also join the YMCA at very little cost. The Y offers a membership assistance program for members (like students) whose budgets are really tight.
And if you’re simply not into the gym thing at all, you can still put on your sneakers and go out jogging a couple times a week.
3) Do it with a friend. It’s far too easy to push the snooze button at 7 am and, in consequence, to run out of time to get to the gym. Promising to meet a friend at the gym or on the corner to go jogging is great reinforcement for getting up.
It’s hard to persuade yourself when you’re really busy that spending time going to the gym is a worthwhile activity. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of my best terms have occurred when I take the time to exercise regularly. I’m sure there is a science student somewhere who could explain why this is so.
5) Sit up straight. I don’t care how much I sound like your mom. Take it from someone with chronic lower back problems: slouching can be very, very bad for you. Use those stomach muscles.
6) Sleep. Divine, sublime, glorious sleep.
7) Read fiction before you go to bed. Or something recreational. Being in school does not preclude reading for pure enjoyment. I don’t think U of T’s mandate is to make you hate reading, or to ensure that you never have the time to get through the Harry Potter series.
8) Try Korean. Just because you’re way too busy to find the time to cook doesn’t mean you have to resort to eating Big Macs for a month. Try getting Korean, Vietnamese, or Ethiopian. There are lots of healthy and delicious restaurants near campus that cost the same amount (or less) as a fast food meal, and whose ingredients weren’t grown in an industrial lab in Etobicoke. I am always amazed at how much more I can do in a day when I have eaten properly.
9) Coffee is not water. Too much coffee does strange things to the body and to the mind. Insomnia, gut rot, over-stimulation of the nervous system. I’m not saying cut it out entirely (I admittedly will never do so) but keeping caffeine intake under control can really reduce the side effects of stress.
10) Don’t take it too, too seriously. Chances are we will still survive. Even if we get a B.