According to Statista.com, the most popular New Year’s resolution of 2021 is to increase fitness of some sort.
However, with the unique set of circumstances 2020 — and now 2021 — has provided for everyone, getting to the gym and adopting healthy eating habits could prove a bit more difficult, especially for college-aged adults.
Marissa Pakiz, a dietitian for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s wellness services, said everything from food access to budget can make it more difficult for college students to adopt a healthy lifestyle, and the pandemic has exacerbated that.
“I think COVID has really obstructed a lot of people’s routine and sense of familiarity,” Pakiz said. “Having a support network is incredibly important for students to help them have some level of accountability when it comes to being healthier, and I know a lot of students right now are facing challenges with maintaining their support group.”
Pakiz said there are also a lot of misconceptions when it comes to adopting a healthier lifestyle, especially weight loss and the cultural beauty standard of thinness.
“Unfortunately, people have this idea that they’ll be more worthy, happier and their life will be better somehow if their body was different because unfortunately that is kind of what society idealizes,” Pakiz said. “It’s not a healthy look for everybody. Bodies just naturally come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and all are beautiful. All are perfectly worthy and valid.”
The first thing Pakiz recommends when setting a fitness goal is to approach health and wellness with a sense of self-compassion. She says to focus on incorporating lots of nutrient dense foods from all the food groups as opposed to strict caloric deficits.
“I do not encourage calorie restriction diets. I think that can send us on a restrict-and-then-binge cycle,” Pakiz said. “A general healthy eating pattern is going to include lots of fruits and vegetables, lots of whole grains, some protein and a little bit of dairy to make sure that you’re meeting your nutrient needs.“
While healthy eating is important to wellness, Pakiz also said finding a movement you enjoy is a great way to start getting in shape. With COVID-19 complicating trips to the gym, personal training graduate assistant at the Campus Recreation Center Jason Johanek said there are a lot of ways to be active, even in a pandemic.
“Finding something you enjoy is really important, because you’re going to be able to maintain that a lot longer than something you hate,” Johanek said. “If you don’t know what to do, that’s a good time to maybe go out and get some help from somebody. Finding a workout partner might be a good idea.”
Johanek also said the Campus Recreation Center has a lot of good resources for students who are wanting to start working out. According to Johanek, strict social distancing protocols have been adopted in the strength and conditioning rooms. Group fitness classes are requiring reservations that ensure proper distancing, and remote options such as meetings with trainers are offered.
“UNL has done a phenomenal job in providing options that make everyone feel safe as well as providing education on fitness that people can do at home,” Johanek said.
Both Pakiz and Johanek emphasize the importance of ultimately listening to one’s body when taking up any kind of fitness regiment.
“Listening to your body is super, super important, especially when you first start working out, when starting something new,” Johanek said. “Whether you’re running or lifting weights, your body’s going to respond by getting sore, and when you’re sore, that’s your body telling you that you need to rest, which is just as important as working out.”
As well as listening to one’s body when setting out on a fitness plan, Pakiz stresses that a little bit of weight gain is very normal for the circumstances presented by COVID. If a person wants to adopt a healthier lifestyle, Johanek and Pakiz both said it’s best to go slow, set goals and above all, take care of yourself.
“I think it’s important for us to normalize that some of us may have gained a little bit of weight throughout the pandemic,” Pakiz said. “Coming out of it, we can take a moment and really take a look at our lifestyle and decide what we appreciated from the pandemic and approach fitness with that level of reflection.”