Expert Strategies for Staying Healthy at College

School, sports, and socializing can wear your body down. Here's how to stay well.

From the WebMD Archives

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?

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.

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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.

Fight the Flu

Get a flu shot every year. The vaccine is usually available by early October, though you can benefit from a vaccination as late as early December, when there are still several months left in the flu season. This is especially important for college students who are in close quarters with roomies and classmates. Many colleges offer flu shots for free or for a small charge that's typically covered by insurance.

Chug Some Water

Drink plenty of (non-alcoholic) liquids each day, Rosenthal says -- more if you exercise or tend to perspire a lot. Dehydration can make you more vulnerable to illness and infections. By the time you notice you're thirsty, you're probably already dehydrated, so don't get to that point. How much water is enough? If your urine is light yellow, you're well-hydrated. If H2O isn't your thing, don't worry -- juice, tea, and other beverages count as well.

Back Off the Drinks

Drinking too much puts you at risk for accidents, injuries, and regrettable behaviors, not to mention a host of serious conditions from high blood pressure and liver disease to cancer. Stick to the recommended daily limit: no more than two beers or glasses of wine for men, and one for women.

Find Your BFFs

Having someone you can talk to and count on is important for your mental health, and the right friends will encourage healthy habits. Seek out campus groups, play a sport, get to know your dorm mates, and put yourself out there to attract friends who will support you.

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Kick the Habit

Even though the risks of smoking -- like heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema -- will elicit a big “duh” from almost any college student, some still light up. If that's you, look into the quit-smoking programs offered by your college wellness center or public health department.

Work Out in Your Dorm Room

No gym? No problem. Melina Christidis, a certified personal trainer in Southern California, designed this full-body strength and conditioning workout. Do it two to three times per week. Three times through the circuit is one workout.

Pushups (25 repetitions): If you can't do a full pushup, or you tire in the middle of the set, you can do them on your knees.

Squat jumps (25 reps): Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Drop your bottom down, shifting your hips back and keeping your back straight and chest lifted. Try to lower to a 90-degree angle, keeping your knees over your ankles. Make sure your knees don't go farther than your toes. After you complete the squat, jump up. Land in the starting position and repeat.

Jumping jacks or jump rope (25 reps): You know the drill!

Plank (1 minute): Get into pushup position, with your hands under your shoulders and your body in a straight line. Don't raise your hips up or let them sag. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Work up to 60 seconds.

Burpees (25 reps): Bend down and put your hands on the floor. Then jump back into a plank position. Do a pushup. Then jump your feet back up to your hands and jump straight up. If you're a beginning exerciser, skip the pushup.

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WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 15, 2012

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "5 a Day."

David Rosenthal, MD, professor, Harvard Medical School; endowed professor of hygiene, Harvard University; former director, Harvard University Health Services; active medical staff, Zakim Center for Integrated Therapies, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.

Melina Christidis, CPT- ISSA, personal trainer, fitness instructor, Long Beach, CA.

© 2012 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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