Helping Your Child Stay Healthy While in College

With the end of summer upon us, many parents are preparing their children to head off to college. Along with the new dorm items, clothes, and books, students need some information on staying healthy while away from home. Often students can become so overwhelmed with heavy coursework, new friendships, and trying to fit in work schedules that their previous healthy habits are quickly forgotten. Good nutrition, enough sleep, and a regular fitness routine are things that most of today’s college students find easy to cut corners on when faced with the rigors of college life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students heading to college for the first time might struggle with balancing their newfound freedom with making sensible choices when it comes to meals, time management, stress, and binge drinking. They might also be faced with health and safety issues that they have not had to previously think about. Below are some of the top obstacles young adults in college face and some tips on overcoming them to stay physically and mentally fit:

  1. It’s all about the attitude. Having to walk clear across campus in 15 minutes – uphill, can seem like a royal pain unless you can think of it as part of a “staying fit” action plan. Mentally prepare yourself to make it to that next building on time, take the stairs up to the third floor, and do it all over again the next day!
  2. Make healthy choices in the dining halls. Many colleges offer healthy alternatives to the fast food selections in their dining halls and snack spots. Sure, pizza and fries are always available as that teenage comfort choice, but also appearing on countertops are grilled veggies, chicken, wraps, and salads.
  3. Get enough sleep. It might be tempting to take advantage of every opportunity and activity happening on campus, but getting used to the rigors of college coursework needs to be the priority for the first semester. Of course staying involved is important, but there needs to be a bit of sensible time management and listening to that nagging feeling that too much is too much!
  4. Don’t stress out! Or at least learn how to manage it. It’s inevitable that stress will become part of the college experience. Often instructors will pile on the assignments and group projects get left to the last minute, but letting every stressor bog you down will only lead to more serious problems such as depression and withdrawal. Succeeding in college does not mean avoiding all stress. Sometimes the stress of a presentation or due date for a paper will help to keep you in the zone and focus your creative energy. But when stressors pile on they can lead to anxiety and push the student to shut down.
  5. Alcohol consumption. Sometimes college students seem to drink their way through college. Whether it’s a local bar or party down the road, students have opportunity to engage in underage or excessive drinking. Binge drinking according to the CDC consists of “four or more drinks for women or five or more drinks for men over a short period of time” and is a leading risk factor for sexually transmitted diseases, unintentional pregnancy, and alcohol poisoning. Having an open relationship between parent and teen will help to have the serious discussions about the risk of binge drinking.
  6. Hit the gym and visit the health center. Many times part of tuition includes mandatory fees for the campus health and fitness centers. You’re paying for them so encourage your teen to utilize all the services they have to offer. Check out the campus website for a listing of the hours and services that every student is entitled to use. Many campuses offer a free counseling center for students who feel they would benefit from talking about their concerns with a professional.

College is an exciting time. It is filled with new experiences, independence, and opportunities that will help with a future job search. Making sure to take care of yourself through daily healthy habits can only help to enhance your time in this learning environment.