Preparing for College Life: A Healthy GuidePosted on by
Zoey Brown joined the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response during this past summer to help with a data analysis project. She saw a number of CDC programs and activities, and authored the following post to the Public Health Matters blog. The views expressed are her own, and do not necessarily represent those of CDC, HHS or other government entities. A number of the links included take those interested in these topics to both CDC and non-CDC sites for more information. The Office was pleased to have this talented young woman on staff for an internship experience.
As a rising high school senior, college looms large on my horizon. Everywhere I turn, there’s another form to fill out, essay to write, and decisions to make. And although I’ve had plenty of help during the application process, no one seems especially concerned with what happens after I choose a school. I’ve lived in the same town my whole life; how do I pick up my life and move it to a campus one thousand miles away?
For all the students out there like me, who aren’t quite sure how to prepare for college, I want to share some tips to help you prepare to start this school fall.
You are what you eat
Odds are, your parents have had some control over your food up until now. A lot of kids go to college without any sense of how to manage their diet; hence, the infamous Freshman 15. With that in mind, here’s some helpful tips on maintaining your nutrition on a meal plan.
- Talk to your doctor. Before you go back to school make sure you understand what your body needs. Everyone has different nutritional needs based on a variety of factors, like age, sex, size, and level of activity.
- Stay well stocked. Keep your dorm room stocked with healthy snack alternatives. My personal favorites are carrots, cashews, apples, granola bars, and popcorn.
- Make the swap. Consider switching out some fried foods for grilled versions and soda for juice or water
- Consistency matters. Develop a consistent meal schedule that complements your schedule. Don’t skip a meal to study or party.
If you’re anything like me, finding the motivation to exercise can be tough. Sleeping in a few extra minutes or catching up on Netflix are more tempting than getting in that cardio workout. Without the high school sport or fitness-loving parent to which you’re accustomed, you’ll have to take your health into your own hands. So, what are the best ways to stay in shape on campus?
- Hit the gym. College is a great place to take advantage of free access to gyms and fitness classes. This is probably one of the last times in your life that you’ll have a free gym membership, so you might as well use it!
- Get in your steps. Just walking on campus can also be a great source of exercise. Or think about a bike for transportation around your new town.
- Try out a new sport. If you enjoy playing sports but don’t want to commit to varsity athletics, consider joining an intramural team. There’s no pressure to be an intense athlete, and it’s a great way to let off a little steam.
- Join the club. Most colleges also offer clubs that go hiking, biking, climbing, and more. These are great way to expand your social circle.
As someone who has struggled with mental health issues over the past few years, I must admit that I’m a little concerned about my transition to college. Luckily, there are a ton of tips out there for maintaining and improving mental health in a new environment.
- Battle feeling homesick. One of the most common mental health issues new college students experience is homesickness. This can be especially tough if you’ll be attending a college far away from home, like me. There’s no perfect solution, but one of the best things you can do is immerse yourself in college life – join clubs and activities, try to make friends with the people living near you, and make your dorm room feel a little more like home.
- Avoid anxiety. College is a completely new environment, so it’s understandable that over 40% of college students suffer from anxiety. To help keep anxiety to a minimum make sure you exercise regularly, try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, drink less caffeine, and do something you enjoy every day. Of course, if feelings of intense anxiety persist, you should seek help through your school’s health services.
- Watch your mood. It’s normal to feel down occasionally, but if these feelings persist, you may be suffering from depression. You should visit a counselor at your college’s health service if you experience any of the following for more than two weeks:
- sleeping problems
- lack of energy or inability to concentrate
- eating issues
- headaches or body aches that persist after appropriate treatment
- You should also seek help if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts
Know about safe sex
I am fortunate to attend a school with a decent sex education program. However, many teenagers haven’t, so there are a few things that the average college student should know about safe sex.
- Know it’s a choice. The choice to have sex is yours to make, and abstinence is a completely viable option.
- Avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. If you do choose to have sex, you should take steps to protect yourself. Use condoms, male or female. Be sure to check that the condom is intact and has not expired before use.
- Talk to your partner. Ask your partner about their sexual health first. If they refuse to answer, they probably don’t deserve to have sex with you.
- Get tested. If you are already sexually active, you should consider going into your college’s health clinic to get tested.
Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in the US, but that isn’t always the reality on college campuses. With this in mind, I wanted to lay out some of the dangers of drinking on college campuses so everyone can be informed.
- Beware of binge drinking. One of the biggest concerns regarding drinking on college campuses is the high rate of binge drinking – 90% of underage drinking is binge drinking. Frequent binge drinking in young adults can lead to alcohol dependence, liver problems, brain damage, and heart troubles. Binge drinking can also lead to poor decision making, including driving under the influences.
- Don’t get hurt. Underage drinking is also linked to unintentional injuries, violence, school performance problems, and other risky behaviors.
Best of luck to those of you heading off to college and thank you to the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response for the chance to experience public health in action at CDC!