Health & Safety

Secrets to staying healthy in college

By Diane Schwemm with Amanda Taylor

My friend Amara recalls a teary phone call from her older daughter when she was a freshman.

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High School Parent | College Parent

“It was right after Family Weekend, which her dad and I hadn’t been able to attend,” Amara remembers. “She only had a cold, but feeling homesick made it a hundred times worse. She didn’t know how to take care of herself. She just wanted to be home in her own bed!”

Fall is in the air, and so are lots of germs. If your first-year student hasn’t gotten sick yet, it’s probably only a matter of time, and the first illness away from home can be a challenge. You may receive a snuffly phone call, or your student may suffer in silence (while still hoping for some long-distance TLC in the form of a care package).

Either way, the time is right to check in about whether she’s making a healthy transition to college life. The following health tips make good conversation starters.

Lights out.

No matter how disciplined your student may be, it’s challenging to manage all the new freedoms and responsibilities of college life. Many students get less sleep than they need, which affects immune function, concentration, academic performance, and overall mood. A period of poor sleep is normal as freshmen transition from home to school — the key is to establish a healthy pattern of sleep for long-term academic and personal success. How is your student doing with this? Have she and her roommate established some regular “quiet hours”?

Eat your fruits and veggies.

Students tend to hit or miss meals at the dining hall due to busy schedules and often end up substituting processed and fast foods. Encourage your student to eat in the dining hall as often as possible, and to keep fresh and dried fruit on hand for snacks.

Be active. Breathe.

Exercise and mindfulness are two effective ways of dealing with the stress and complexities of campus life. Most colleges have well-equipped fitness centers where students can work out and take classes. Outdoor activities provide a wonderful opportunity for exercise and increase overall well-being.

Students can also cope with stress by learning and integrating mindfulness and breathing practices — instruction is available on many campuses through the health or counseling centers. Is your student fitting exercise into her routine?

Find your way to the student health center.

It has so much to offer — encourage her to drop by and check it out. If she is full-time, basic services are free, covered by the student health fee (student health insurance picks up where that leaves off and specialty appointments are typically fee-based). Depending on the school your student may find:

  • Free flu shots! (walk in or schedule on line, or check the school calendar for the dates and locations of flu shot clinics around campus, including at places like the rec center)
  • Primary care, pharmacy, vision and dental, x-ray and lab services, physical therapy, immunizations, allergy shots
  • Mental health services: walk-in-consultations, individual and group counseling, emergency psychiatric services, support groups, relaxation training
  • An on-line health magazine (note: parents can usually subscribe, too!).

“Okay, Mom,” your student says. “I’ll go to bed earlier and eat more leafy greens. Now how about that care package?”

care package ideas

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

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