Staying Healthy at College: Create a Plan and Stick to It

By Patricia Gorden Neill - June 13th, 2013

The first thing you need to realize when you reach campus is that you are now the boss of you. Your parents won’t be around to set parameters and the college rightly figures that your boundaries are up to you since you turned 18. As the boss of you, how do you want to handle your health? No doubt you’re aware of the basics, a good diet, exercise, a good night’s sleep and sunshine. Now, with everything else that’s going on like new classes, new friends, new environment and new stresses, you have to create a plan for staying healthy and stick to it.

Before we get into the whys and hows of a health plan, you should realize ahead of time that you’ll no doubt make mistakes or cheat on your plan. To a certain extent, that’s fine and don’t worry about it. But only to the certain extent—if you keep cheating beyond that point, you’ll be in trouble before you know it. Be careful, then, when you go ahead and allow yourself to screw the plan and go out for that oh so tempting pizza and coke or do an all-nighter before a big math test. Strategize from the first how often you will allow yourself to wander off track. One to three times a month would probably be OK and not set you back too much. Seriously, though, any more than that and you won’t be cheating your plan, you’ll be cheating yourself.

The ideal college health plan will build the basic cornerstones of health into your daily life. You need to incorporate eating healthy, exercise, enough sleep and getting outdoors into your day, so that every day you’re on campus, you are doing the basics without even having to think about it. You walk to classes and after class go for a quick walk, jog, run or tai chi on the quad. You make healthy choices in the dining hall, skipping the sweets and going big time for fruits, veggies and protein. You make sure you get six to eight hours of sleep a night and do some of your exercising outdoors when the weather permits. It’s that simple, except, of course, that you’re a college student who wants and needs to have fun as well as study hard. Still, remember these basics and build them into your day:

  • Healthy diet—fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains
  • Regular exercise—30 to 60 minutes three times a week
  • Good sleep—six to eight hours a night
  • Fresh air and sunshine—daily if possible

Three Danger Zones

Bosses know to watch out for any complications to their business plans. As the boss of you, you’ll want to watch out for these three dangers to your health plan.

Temptation—this is a biggy, of course. Every day you’ll be hit by wanting that piece of carrot cake in the dining hall or going out for burgers and fries with your friends. You’ll want to stay up late to talk to friends from home on the phone, watch the new DVD or just share laughs with your roommate. You’ll head out to the party swearing that you won’t drink, but when you get there, you’re tempted. There’s no avoiding temptation, unfortunately. Each person handles it differently, and we are all tempted by different things. How you handle temptation is a measure of your adulthood. Just do your best.

Stress—with a faltering economy, it seems everyone is feeling more stress. While stress in life is unavoidable, and sometimes it is necessary, chronic stress can lead to chronic diseases. College freshmen face many demands and challenges and find them stressful. Deep breathing, stretching, yoga, tai chi or meditation can all help you de-stress. Figure out what works best for you and focus on that. If you feel you need help, don’t hesitate, reach out and find some. Find the college counselors and set up an appointment pronto.

Depression—Another biggy that you’ll have to face most likely. The first thing you need to do is notice that you are depressed. A 2011 survey of college students revealed that 30 percent reported depression that made it difficult for the students to function. If you’ve noticed yourself feeling sad, anxious, hopeless, guilty, worthless or irritable, you’re depressed. You’ll then notice a lack of energy, you’re no longer interested in your extracurricular activities, and you have trouble concentration, making decisions or falling asleep. Go for help when you first notice the symptoms since waiting won’t help. Go talk to a doctor or mental health counselor and tell them your symptoms. There are effective treatments that can help, so do yourself a favor and nip this one in the bud. Get together with your friends and let them know as well. You need the support they can give you. Don’t let depression derail your college career.

More Health Tips

Take breaks—after working on your computer or reading for a while, take a five minute break. Get up, walk around and stretch. Take a deep breath and move around for a few minutes. You’ll return to your studying invigorated.

Keep your immune system strong—eating fruits and veggies will help, as will some simple diet supplements. Get some aged Kyolic garlic capsules and take them. Vitamin C and E also boost your immune system. Eat your spinach and other greens. By keeping a strong immune system, you may be able to fight off colds and flu and diminish stress levels as well.

Drink water—keeping yourself hydrated will help you in a myriad of ways. The water will flush toxins out of your system, balance your body fluids, energize your muscles, keep your skin clear and keep all your other body systems regular. Add lemon slices for flavor and you’ll get extra vitamin C as well.

Avoiding flu—if you’re feeling the slightest bit under the weather, consider getting a flu shot in the fall. College students are always in close contact with other people such as roommates, other students and professors, and any one of these may harbor flu germs. Play it safe and get the shot.

Develop your support network—start this at orientation and keep building it as you start classes and meet your dorm mates. When you need help, they’ll be there for you. When they need help, you’ll provide what they need.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.