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5 keys to staying healthy in college

Posted on by Andrea L. Stern, MD

 

Along with getting a great education, going off to college is about learning to take care of you. Here are some tips on how to approach this big transition with a health-minded and positive attitude.

1. Diet: Pay careful attention to what you eat or you could put on the “freshman 15” and more.

  • Vary your meals. When the cafeteria has your favorite foods daily it can be easy to return to those old favorites every day. Changing up your diet is an important part of good nutrition. Take advantage of the variety of selections available.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand. Stock your dorm room, apartment and backpack with fruits and other healthy snacks.
  • Drink moderately. If you drink, do so in moderation...for many reasons, including the added calories.

2. Exercise: Learn how to fit exercise into your schedule. You’ll form new friendships at the same time.

  • Play a sport. Join an intramural team or play recreational sports to get active and have fun at the same time.
  • Head to the gym. Most schools offer gym facilities students can use free or at minimal cost. Go to the gym between classes or when you get up in the morning to squeeze in a workout.
  • Take advantage of fitness courses. Along with gym facilities, many students have access to a variety fitness classes.

3. Sleep: Getting enough sleep is an important part of staying healthy.

  • Get a full night's rest whenever possible. While sleep needs vary, most people require 7-9 hours to feel fully rested. While this may not be possible every night, try to sleep a full night whenever you get the chance. Keeping your sleep schedule as consistent as possible will help.
  • Avoid all-nighters. While you may feel like you need to study all night to do well on a test, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Not getting enough sleep can impair your ability, regardless of how much you've studied. So make sure you get at least a little sleep before your big test.

4. Sexual Health: The college years are often a time when students explore their sexuality. Some tips on being safe.

  • Get tested. Protect your sexual health by getting tested for STDs annually or even more frequently. Most schools offer these tests free or at a low cost.
  • Always use protection. Unless you are in a long-term, monogamous relationship with a partner who has been confirmed STD-free, always use protection to prevent the risk of contracting a disease.
  • Don't do anything you're not comfortable with. While you may feel pressure from a partner, or even those around you, to engage in certain sexual activities, never do anything you aren't completely comfortable with. It's your body and you are in charge. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.
  • Mixing alcohol and sex can be a dangerous combination.

5. Wellness and Prevention: Be mindful of your physical and mental health.

  • Take preventive measures. With communal living and thousands of other students sharing classroom space, spreading colds and viruses is easy if you're not careful. Keep your immunizations up to date, specifically meningitis vaccines and annual flu shots. And, the importance of diligent hand-washing can’t be over-emphasized.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. College students are in a high risk group for depression. Depression is a common and treatable problem you don't have to deal with alone. Tap into campus resources to find help, or tell a friend how you're feeling.
  • Get involved. Joining clubs and social groups on campus can help you meet new friends, and keep you from feeling lonely or isolated.
  • Stay in touch. Reach out to your family from time to time. Social media makes it easy. Remember they are going through a transition too!

 | Mount Joy Family Medicine

Andrea L. Stern, MD, is a physician with LG Health Physicians Mount Joy Family Medicine and has expertise in the full spectrum of family medicine. Education: Medical School—Boston University; Internship and Residency—Lancaster General Hospital.

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