The healthiest college students stay on top of these 2 things, according to science

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Your time in college marks a notorious period in life during which your health loses priority to stressors including academic pressure and balancing new, fun experiences.

But more than 80 percent of college students say they have felt overwhelmed by college-related tasks and half of the students don't seek out mental health services, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

A new study from the University of Michigan found that college students' physical and mental health are largely shaped by maintaining a healthy body weight and feeling happy.

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"Having a healthy body weight and building positive personal attributes and virtues are a promising approach to fight against mental health problems such as depression and anxiety among college students," lead researcher and University of Michigan professor Weiyun Chen tells CNBC Make It. "[It also] suggests that universities need to creatively design wellness programs/centers that dynamically integrate body, mind and spirit into a seamless unit."

In the study, published in the Biomedical Journal of Scientific & Technical Research, a total of 925 Chinese university students went through a series of different assessments to measure their current physical and mental health.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and Fudan University in China wanted to see how positive indicators including feelings of hope, gratitude, life satisfaction and happiness each worked with a student's physical health to promote overall well-being.

The students' BMI was calculated based on self-reported body weight and height.

Researchers also asked students various questions about their sleep quality and how often they felt healthy, energized, worthless, fidgety, anxious or depressed.

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Though well-being may be a subjective concept, the researchers distinguished it as how people think and feel about their life experiences in positive ways, especially with regard to their happiness and life satisfaction.

Citing research by Stanford University psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, the researchers defined happiness "as an individual's subjective feelings about joy and contentment while viewing and experiencing one's life in a meaningful and worthwhile way."

Similarly, life satisfaction refers to what a person may consider a good or successful life.

The study found that a student's happiness was more important than BMI alone in predicting the students' physical and mental health.

"Happier students are more likely to participate in socially enriched events," Chen says, as well as engage in productive, healthy social interactions with others and take part in intellectually challenging activities compared to less happy students.

These students also tend to be more functional and productive in coping with normal stresses of life, the researchers note.

The study suggests that maintaining healthy body weight and fostering hopeful thoughts, thankful dispositions, life satisfaction and happiness are effective intervention strategies for promoting physical and mental health among university students.

As Chen continues studying this area of health and wellness, she hypothesizes this approach should work well for adults who have mental health problems, cancer patients and any patients with chronic disease.

But for any students seeking to make an immediate change, Chen has one recommendation: "Exercise the body and exercise the mind to strengthen both body and mind."

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