Pizza, beer, and all-nighters – welcome to higher education. But college doesn't have to be harmful to your health, as long as you avoid some common bad habits.
- TIP: Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Coffee, soda, and beer and liquor are all diuretics that dehydrate the body, so make sure you replenish your water supply.
- Step 1: Drink sensibly and in moderation – and only if you're of legal age. Not only does alcohol impair your judgment and lead to risky behavior, but binge drinking also causes weight gain, memory loss, and can result in long-term liver damage.
- Step 2: Don't give mental health short shrift. If you're feeling overwhelmed or depressed, talk to a campus counselor or doctor.
- Step 3: Be safe and smart about sex. Use protection, inquire about birth control options at the campus health center, and trust your gut. If a situation is making you uncomfortable, leave immediately.
- FACT: According to a survey conducted by the Snack Food Association, the most popular snack food among college students is potato chips.
- Step 4: Enjoy yourself. College should not be a 24-hour exercise, diet, and study fest. Part of being healthy is being happy, so always make time for friends and do things that put a smile on your face.
- TIP: College campuses are breeding grounds for illness. Wash your hands frequently, especially during cold and flu season, to avoid catching a bug.
- Step 5: Between classes, studying, and partying, sleeping is often the last thing on your mind. But shut-eye is essential for keeping your immune system strong; aim for eight hours of rest a night. When that's not possible, try taking a 20-minute power nap during the day to recharge.
- Step 6: Don't fall into the dining hall downward spiral. Avoid greasy fried foods and high-fat desserts, keep your portions under control – you can always go back for seconds if you're still hungry – and get creative at the salad bar, the pasta bar, and other healthy food stations.
- TIP: If you're a woman, consider getting the HPV vaccine, a series of three shots covered by most insurance companies.
- Step 7: Eat regular meals. To keep your mind sharp and focused, it's important to eat sensibly sized meals three to four times a day, rather than gorging once a day. If you don't have time for lunch, bring along a healthful snack to munch on between classes.
- TIP: Steer clear of fat-laden energy bars. Instead, try carrot sticks and hummus, a piece of fruit, a handful of unsalted nuts, or yogurt.
- Step 8: Sitting behind a desk with your nose in a book for 12 hours a day might do wonders for your mind, but it'll wreak havoc on your body. Take advantage of the campus gym, join an intramural sports team, or enroll in a P.E. class. Not the athletic type? Walk everywhere you can, and take the stairs instead of the elevator in your dorm.
- Step 9: Before you head off to school freshman year, visit the doctor. Get a physical, and any necessary booster shots and vaccines. Getting stuck with a needle may not be the ideal end to summer, but at least you won't have to worry about meningitis, tetanus, or hepatitis B come autumn.