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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. We talked with David Rosenthal, MD, director of Harvard University Health Services, to create a primer 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 are stressful. Work is stressful. And loads of homework? No question -- 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, spring for a DVD, or download an app.

Get Your Beauty Sleep

Chances are you're not getting enough sleep. Rosenthal suggests college students log six to eight hours per night. When you must pull an all-nighter, try to take a one- to two-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. And that hunchback look? So not attractive. Take a time-out every half hour to stretch, walk around, deep-breathe for five minutes, or otherwise move away from the screen.

Eat Some Greens

Fruits and veggies are bursting with phytonutrients that help keep infection and disease at bay, so you want plenty on your plate, Rosenthal says. In fact, a good (and easy) rule of thumb is to make sure half your plate is fruits and vegetables. Most college dining services offer an array of salads and other greens, so availability shouldn't be a problem. Mix it up: spinach salad one day, mixed greens the next. No need to get stuck in a one-note fruit or veggie rut -- unless you want to eat an apple a day. That saying still holds true.

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