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Expert Strategies for Staying Healthy at College

School, sports, and socializing can wear your body down. Here's how to stay well.
By Linda Formichelli
WebMD Magazine - Feature

You're studying for exams, playing sports, socializing on weekends, perhaps even working at a part-time job. Who has time for health?

Well, let's put it this way: How do you think it will affect your cramming, working, and relaxation time if you're under the covers with the flu or low energy from eating nothing but corn chips and pizza?

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Take care of your body, and you'll rock in school and at work, not to mention in your social life. Harvard professor David Rosenthal, MD, shares this advice for lasting health all school-year long.

Campus Cardio

Regular cardio exercise will fend off stress and give you energy to make it through a marathon class load, plus it's good for your heart and just about every other part of your body. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends moderate cardio for 30 minutes, five times per week.

No time? Two 15-minute sessions are as good as one half-hour stint. Take your pick of exercise, from walking and swimming to kickboxing and rowing. If you want more bang for your cardio time, pump up the intensity so the exercise feels somewhat hard to very hard. The ACSM says you can get the same benefit from 20 minutes of vigorous cardio just three times a week as from those five 30-minute moderate workouts.

De-Stress With Stretching

Exams, work, studying: All are stressful. That's why Rosenthal suggests a gentle, relaxing practice like yoga, tai chi or qigong two to three times per week. These exercises combine deep breathing with stretching and movement and are excellent at melting away built-up stress. If your campus doesn't offer classes, check out what's available in the nearest town or download an app.

Get Your Beauty Sleep

Chances are you're not getting enough sleep. When you must pull an all-nighter, try to take a 1- to 2-hour nap the next day to make up some of the difference. If you have roommates who are up all night, make a contract that outlines quiet hours, or create sleeping arrangements that let the quiet roomies bunk in the same room, Rosenthal says.

Take Five

Hunching over a computer keyboard all day can strain your wrists, eyes, neck, and back. Take a timeout every half-hour to stretch, walk around, breathe deeply for 5 minutes, or otherwise move away from the screen.

Eat Some Greens

Fruits and veggies give you nutrients that help keep infection and disease at bay, so put plenty on your plate, Rosenthal says. A simple rule is to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Most college dining services offer salads and other greens. Mix it up: spinach salad one day, mixed greens the next.

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