Parents are often advised to teach their children how to do laundry before going off to college. Knowing how to separate lights from darks is definitely something that comes in handy, but many new college students struggle with staying healthy during their first year on campus rather than accidentally turning white clothes pink.
Under the Affordable Care Act, adult children can remain on or be added to their parents’ health insurance policy until the age of 26. This health care law helps many college students who would not be able to afford their own health insurance otherwise.
Even so, many college freshmen are not used to dealing with health issues on their own. “For many students, up until this point, someone else has been actively involved in their health care,” explains Alan I. Glass, M.D., director of the Habif Health and Wellness Center at Washington University in St. Louis and a board member of the American College Health Association. “The transition to college is a time when students assume responsibility for their health.”
Somewhat comparable to the way toddlers and young children get sick when they begin daycare or kindergarten, young adults are often so excited to be living on their own for the first time that they pay little attention to basic hygiene practices like washing their hands and showering regularly. Skipping meals or eating junk food rather than a balanced plate and getting very little sleep are also common among college students. These habits can all contribute to illness.
Students should learn how to make good choices and adjust their lifestyles accordingly for their own well-being. Consider the following tips for staying healthy in college:
Wash your hands regularly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, keeping our hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Always wash your hands after using the restroom, blowing your nose or sneezing, handling garbage, and other “dirty” activities. Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizer handy, too.
Wash your sheets and towels regularly. Sheets and towels are breeding grounds for bacteria. Wash them regularly and don’t share towels with friends. Lice are another concern when large numbers of people are living together in close quarters, such as college residence halls. The CDC explains that body lice infestations are most commonly spread by people with poor hygiene habits or those living in crowded conditions.
Use trash bags and keep Lysol handy. Trash cans are loaded with germs, especially if they are full of used tissues (or worse). Line yours with trash bags and empty them regularly. Always throw away leftover food that can breed bacteria. Spray your trash cans—and doorknobs, telephones and other items that are touched often—with Lysol to help kill germs.
Keep your distance when friends are sick. If your roommate has a cold, chances are good that you will catch it. Try to keep your distance from friends who are sick. All it takes is one uncovered sneeze to send their germs flying through the air toward you.
You are what you eat! Most new college students are concerned about the dreaded freshman fifteen, but poor eating habits contribute to more than weight gain. A daily multivitamin can help you get nutrients that your diet is lacking, but make sure you are eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water.
Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is another bad habit that college students seem to share. A study conducted at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and released by the Journal of Adolescent Health found that 70 percent of college students receive less than the eight recommended hours of sleep, reports The California Aggie. Partying, all-night cram sessions or work often eat into sleep time. No matter what the reason, poor sleep habits can have long-term consequences.
Get annual physicals. Ideally, have an annual physical before the school year begins. Make sure you are up to date on all recommended vaccines and have enough refills on all necessary prescriptions. If your school does not have a campus health clinic, find a doctor or walk-in clinic near campus so you have someplace to go when you get sick.
Don’t smoke. In addition to increased risks of developing lung cancer, respiratory conditions, high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems, studies have found that children whose parents smoke around them are sick more often. Simply put, smoking has a negative effect on your health. Even being around secondhand smoke if you are not a smoker can make you get sick. More and more college and university campuses across the country are going smoke free, reports the Star-Telegram.
Pay attention to your stress levels. College can be stressful, especially for new freshmen. Especially combined with lack of sleep and adapting to a new schedule and new surroundings, stress can put a damper on your immune system. Dr. Andrew Miller, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, studies how stress affects the immune system. According to HealthDay News, Dr. Miller believes recent research “provides a very concrete example of how chronic stress and its effects on the immune system can affect our daily lives in a very real-world context.”
Seek help if you think you might be depressed. NPR reports that depression is on the rise among college students, mentioning a study conducted by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine that claims one out of every four to five students who visits a college health center for a routine illness turns out to be depressed. If you are feeling sad or think you might feel better if you talk to someone about your concerns, contact your campus health center or a medical professional.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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