Stress, a poor diet, and partying are common to many students’ lifestyles. However, they are not conducive to good health. College-bound students leaving home for the first time are faced with making their own decisions about many things that affect their well-being. Here are some health tips to consider.
1. Eat a Balanced Diet
It should come as no surprise that eating right is at the top of the list of healthy behaviors. The adage “you are what you eat” is true. Your physical and mental resiliency depend upon your body receiving adequate nutrition.
Consuming foods with large amounts of sugar, salt, and saturated fats can compromise your immune system and lead to illness. It also can sap the energy you need to meet all your responsibilities. Your body requires nourishment to deal with the stresses of college life. Eating poorly can lead to obesity, sickness, fatigue, anxiety, and other undesirable conditions.
Most colleges and universities do not allow students to cook food in the dorms. However, you can keep your room stocked with snacks like fruit and nuts. This might help curb the temptation to order pizza or get fast food when you feel hungry.
Make good choices in the school’s cafeteria or dining hall. You have heard it a million times: Eat a balanced diet. That includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and protein. Make sure you have something from each food group every day. Ideally, the volume of vegetables in your diet should exceed that of meat.
This does not mean you have to survive on tofu and leafy vegetables, though you might be surprised by what you can do with such ingredients. Inevitably, you will eat some pizza, burgers, and fried bar snacks. These foods are linked to opportunities to make friends and socialize, which are important elements of the college experience. Practice moderation when enjoying junk food.
Be creative and find ways to eat your favorite foods in more healthy ways. Order whole-wheat tortillas and pizza crusts when they are available. Include vegetables in your pizza ingredients. Ask for low-fat white, rather than yellow, cheese; and choose chicken instead of beef or pork. Opt for baked, rather than fried, food.
Breakfast is important. You need an energy boost after many hours of not giving your body any fuel. Eat a bowl of healthy cereal or granola, or at least grab some fruit (and perhaps a whole-grain bagel) on the way out the door.
Drink water frequently, even if you are not thirsty. You may find that you feel better and eat less. Take it easy on the caffeine. While a little of this stimulant can be beneficial, consuming too much is counterproductive and potentially dangerous. The same is true of sodas and other beverages containing large amounts of sugar.
Your body needs a variety of nutrients, so don’t eat exactly the same foods every day. If you are trying to lose weight, be mindful of portion sizes but eat plenty of veggies and get enough protein. Never go on a crash diet. The weight you lose will probably return soon, and in the meantime you will have compromised your health.
There are some other ways to ward off illness, boost energy, and stay in shape. One of the best methods is getting some exercise every day. Walking from your room to classes is not enough. Take longer walks, jog, ride a bicycle, go to a gym, or play a sport.
Between studying and socializing, you may not think you have time to exercise. All it takes is about 20 minutes every day, which is not that hard to fit into your schedule.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Many people do not appreciate the importance of sleep. You need to get at least seven hours of sleep per day. If you don’t, it will be harder to stay alert and focus on your studies.
Sleep deprivation may cause fatigue, headaches, and depression. Your relationships, as well as your grades, could suffer. If you are not getting enough sleep at night, try to take an afternoon nap. Avoid caffeine and sugar for at least a few hours before going to bed.
4. Take Precautions
College classes are in session during the winter, when the most illnesses occur. As a student, you are in close contact with numerous people. It is crucial to protect yourself from viruses and other infectious diseases.
Wash your hands often, especially after touching door knobs and other objects with which many people come in contact. This will keep you from catching most contagions. Get a flu shot, or choose an herbal alternative, to keep yourself from catching a bug. Obtain appropriate vaccinations. Take Vitamin C and antioxidants.
5. Cope with Stress
College life is stressful. Living away from home, dealing with new people, is hard enough. Studying and taking tests create additional anxiety. The college life challenges your mental, as well as physical, health.
Diet, exercise, and sleep are critical to managing stress. Take breaks when you feel overwhelmed. Switch from studying to playing a game or watching a video. Gain some perspective and relax. Spend some time outdoors every day. Find balance by connecting with nature.
Compartmentalize the things that cause you stress. Figure out what you need to do, a step at a time. Set priorities and short-term, attainable goals. Try to transcend the anxiety and look at things logically. Remember that your fellow students are having the same problems. Share your feelings with them, as well as with other friends and family members. Try meditation, yoga, or a hobby. Do not hesitate to speak with a counselor.
6. Avoid Risky Behaviors
Many college-bound students are excited about their new experience for the wrong reasons. They may be looking forward to partying and having sex. They are at an age when experimentation is normal, but it is vital to know how to stay safe.
Parties featuring beer or liquor are common on, or near, most campuses. You are likely to find yourself at such a party. If you are of legal age and choose to drink, know your limit to ensure that you remain aware and in control. Have a designated driver.
Illegal drugs also may be available. The obvious advice is to refrain from taking them. If you do decide to experiment, understand the effects of the drugs and the risks involved. Remember that what you are doing is against the law, and may result in bad decisions and unwanted consequences.
Another part of the college experience is dating. Some students meet their life-long partners in school. It is easier to find people with common interests in college than it was in high school. Students who make the decision to have sex should use protection, get tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases, and go to doctors for exams and vaccinations.
7. Other Tips
If you smoke tobacco, figure out a way to quit. Your performance in school, as well as your health, may benefit from doing so. Find healthy alternatives to nicotine to provide the stimulation you crave.
Support your feet by wearing good shoes rather than sandals. You are likely to be doing a lot of walking, going to classes and moving around campus. Do not let aching or injured feet slow you down.
Give your back a break by minimizing the weight of your backpack. You don’t have to carry all your books, all the time. Do some stretching before heading out on a long walk or beginning your daily exercise regimen.
Communicate your needs to roommates. Coordinate times for studying and sleeping. Maintaining good relations with your roomies also enhances your mental health.
Resist excessive tanning because of the risk of getting skin cancer. If you do lay out, use sunscreen. Daily applications of aloe vera or other moisturizer help prevent skin from burning or getting too dry.
These tips can help you maintain mental and physical health during your college years. By eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and managing stress, you get the most out of the experience. Your relationships and grades will benefit.