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College life brings new academic challenges for many students, but staying healthy can also be a challenge. Denise Ward, director, Health and Wellness at Macalester College in St. Paul offers ten tips for staying healthy at college.
1. Get enough sleep. While students may brag about pulling all-nighters, it’s a strategy that runs counter to good health and good academics. Research proves that adequate rest is necessary for learning and staying healthy. Young adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
2. Get to know campus medical resources. Where will you go if you don’t feel well? Going away to college may be the first time you’ve had to manage your own health care, including finding providers, making appointments, and managing insurance. First learn what’s available at your college or university health service. And find out about after hours resources; health problems don’t always follow a 9-5 schedule. Keep a thermometer, aspirin, throat lozenges, and antacids in a basic medicine/first aid kit in your residence hall or apartment and practice self-care as needed.
3. Maintain health insurance coverage. You should have adequate health insurance coverage. Make sure you have an insurance card and know how to use it. For example, learn which providers are in-network and out-of-network, or what services are subject to a deductible or co-pay. Foregoing insurance coverage just because you’ve been healthy can be costly if you have an accident or serious illness. Also, most insurance plans will cover preventive services at low or no cost. Prevention is a great way to stay healthy.
4. Eat well and exercise. Most campus meal plans offer enough variety to make healthy choices. Be careful about the “all you can eat” nature of dining halls. Take only what you will eat. Simple things, like not using a tray, have been shown to reduce consumption. Keep healthy snacks like fruit and veggies in your residence hall room for the inevitable late night munchies. Physical activity will not only help you maintain a healthy weight (all you can eat can be too much of a good thing for some students), but also help reduce stress. Group activities like intramurals and club or varsity sports can help create a sense of belonging and community.
5. All things in moderation…or not at all. Make conscientious choices regarding alcohol and drugs, and always practice safer sex.
6. Prevent illness. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer regularly. Don’t share personal items such as dishes, toiletries or clothing.
7. Be safe. Every campus has a feeling of being “safe” – but street smarts are important whether cornfields surround your campus or it’s in a major urban area. Walk with friends or use the campus safe-walk resource. Keep your room locked. Don’t let people “tailgate” behind you into a locked building.
8. Pay attention to your emotional health. College can be a stressful time for many students. Moving away from home for the first time, changing social relationships, facing tough academic expectations all can take their toll. Trained staff counselors are available to offer confidential services and resources. Take advantage of these services on campus.
9. Your privacy. If you’re at least 18 years old, your medical and counseling records are legally protected. Your care, diagnoses and communication with your health providers or college health service will not be shared with faculty, students, or your family without your consent.
10. Build “down time” into your schedule. Whether you recharge by being with friends or taking some time for yourself, it’s important to create a sense of balance between classroom and out of classroom activities. Being engaged in organizations or activities that feed your interests and passions will complement your academic studies.