Student Health – Comprehensive Guide to Maintain Health in College

Student Health - Comprehensive Guide to Maintain Health in College

As a college student, your health matters for both your academic success and overall well-being.

The latest Student Voice survey reveals that physical health impedes academic success for 48% of four-year university students. For two-year students, this percentage increases to 57% of students. 

This guide aims to help college students improve their health and set themselves up for success physically, mentally, and academically. From nutrition and exercise to sexual and mental health, we discuss the ins and outs of maintaining your health while in college. 

To help you gain a complete picture of your health as a college student, we cover the following topics:

Read on to discover everything you need to know about staying healthy in college!

Nutrition for College Students

The Basics of Nutrition for College Students

Discussing college student health demands we begin with the basics of nutrition.

Most college students know about the dreaded Freshman 15 — a widespread belief that college freshmen gain upwards of 15 pounds in their first year due to their newfound freedom and lack of awareness of proper nutrition. Yet, is the Freshman 15 a valid concern for college students?

Research on the Freshman 15 has revealed that the average college student actually gains between 2.5 to 3.5 lbs. during their freshman year. Additionally, the most dramatic changes to a student’s weight often occur during their first semester while they are adjusting to their new environment and routine. 

College life often comes with late-night study sessions, erratic schedules, and a whole lot of stress. Amidst the chaos, maintaining a balanced diet might seem like a low priority. 

However, proper nutrition is crucial for sustaining energy levels, supporting cognitive function, and promoting your overall well-being. It is equally important to make sure you are eating enough balanced meals as it is to ensure you are not overeating during your freshman year. 

Let’s take a look at several essential tips for achieving balanced nutrition in college: 

  • Prioritize Regular & Colorful Meals: Skipping meals might seem like a convenient option during hectic college days, but it can take a toll on both your energy levels and concentration. Aim for three balanced meals a day, incorporating a mix of whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. 
  • Smart Snacking: Snacks can be a college student’s best friend, but they should be chosen wisely. Opt for nutrient-dense snacks like nuts, yogurt, fruits, or whole-grain crackers. These choices keep you satiated between meals and provide the energy you need to get through the day. 
  • Hydration is Key: Drinking enough water may slip your mind when you’re rushing from class to class, but staying hydrated is crucial for your overall health. Carry a reusable water bottle and aim for at least eight cups a day to improve your focus and support your digestion.
  • Budget-Friendly Nutrition: Being on a college budget doesn’t have to mean compromising your nutrition. Buying in bulk, planning meals ahead, and opting for frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can be cost-effective while still providing essential nutrients. Additionally, cooking meals with friends and splitting the costs can be both fun and economical.
  • Limit Sugary and Processed Foods: While convenient, excessive consumption of sugary snacks and processed foods can lead to energy crashes and negatively impact your health in the long run. Try to limit these items and instead focus on whole, unprocessed foods.
  • Consider Dietary Restrictions: If you have dietary restrictions or preferences, college dining halls often accommodate special diets. Reach out to the cafeteria staff or dining services for options that meet your needs. It is essential to ensure you’re getting the right nutrients even if you have specific dietary requirements.
  • Seek Help When Needed: If you’re struggling with maintaining a healthy diet or have concerns about your eating habits, don’t hesitate to seek help from a nutritionist, campus health services, or counseling center. These professionals can provide guidance tailored to your exact needs.
Getting Enough Sleep in College

5 Tips for Getting Enough Sleep in College

Pulling all-nighters and staying up late are hallmarks of the college experience — but how does this lack of adequate sleep impact your health?

According to the Washington Post, research reveals that every lost hour of sleep accounts for a 0.07-drop in a student’s GPA. The impact of lost sleep on your grades is even more significant when you are getting less than six hours of sleep per night. 

With this in mind, let’s look at five tips for getting enough sleep while in college: 

  1. Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Create a routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up naturally. 
  2. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Develop a calming bedtime ritual to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. This might include activities like reading, taking a warm bath, practicing meditation, or listening to soothing music. Steer clear of screens (phones, computers, TVs) at least an hour before bed, as these devices can contribute to disrupted sleep.
  3. Prioritize Sleep Hygiene: Your sleep environment matters. Ensure your dorm room or bedroom is conducive to sleep by making it dark and quiet. Invest in earplugs or a white noise machine to block out disturbances, and keep the space clean and comfortable. 
  4. Limit Caffeine and Stimulants: While late-night coffee might seem like a lifesaver during study sessions, excessive caffeine intake can significantly disrupt your sleep. Limit your caffeine and stimulant consumption, especially in the evening hours when your body wants to wind down. 
  5. Manage Stress and Time Management:  Stress and a packed schedule can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. Practice stress management techniques such as exercise, yoga, or mindfulness to help relax your mind. Additionally, effective time management can reduce the pressure of looming deadlines, making it easier to relax and sleep better.
Maintaining a Regular Exercise Routine in College

Maintaining a Regular Exercise Routine in College

College life is a whirlwind of classes, assignments, social activities, and newfound independence. 

Amidst this whirlwind, maintaining a consistent exercise routine might seem like an impossible task. However, incorporating physical activity into your college lifestyle is not only beneficial for your health but can also enhance your academic performance and overall well-being. 

According to Inside Higher Ed, more than half of all college students (57%) named getting more exercise as a top health goal. Additional goals included reducing stress (72%), eating a healthier diet (60%), getting more sleep (60%), and spending more time outside (43%).  

Here are some tips on how to prioritize fitness while navigating the demands of college life:

  • Schedule Exercise Like a Class: Just like you schedule your classes, allocate specific times for exercise in your weekly routine and treat it as a non-negotiable commitment. Whether it’s hitting the gym, attending a fitness class, going for a run, or simply taking a brisk walk outdoors, setting aside dedicated time for physical activity helps ensure you prioritize your health.
  • Choose Activities You Enjoy: Exercise doesn’t have to mean hours on a treadmill. Find physical activities that you genuinely enjoy and think outside the box — dancing, yoga, hiking, and many other activities outside the realm of the gym can be great for your physical health. Joining intramural sports teams can also make exercise more enjoyable and social.
  • Utilize Campus Facilities: Most college campuses offer gym facilities, fitness classes, and recreational areas. Take advantage of these resources as they are convenient and can help you stay motivated. Hit the gym between classes and participate in fitness classes that pique your interest — after all, these facilities are often included in your tuition. 
  • Prioritize Recovery and Rest: Balancing academics and exercise requires adequate rest and recovery. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep and eating enough to allow your body to recover from workouts. Additionally, consider incorporating stretching, foam rolling, and relaxation techniques like yoga to prevent injury and enhance recovery.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Exercise is just one aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Pay attention to nutrition, hydration, and stress management. Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated can complement your exercise routine and improve your overall well-being, while managing stress can positively impact both your physical and mental health.
  • Accountability and Support: Find a workout buddy or join group activities to help keep you accountable and motivated. Having a friend to exercise with can make workouts more enjoyable and create a sense of accountability, encouraging consistency in your routine.
Sexual Health as a College Student

Protecting Your Sexual Health as a College Student

For many students, the independence and freedom of college make way for sexual exploration. 

According to an American College Health Association study of more than 94,000 college students, 24.2% of students reported having two or more sexual partners. Additionally, 47.9% of students did not use condoms during vaginal intercourse, and 72.3% did not use condoms during anal intercourse. A further 13.9% reported having sex after consuming alcohol. 

New sexual experiences can be important to your individual growth, as it can help you determine what you want from a partner and learn more about your specific preferences. However, it is vital to practice safe sex and safeguard your and your partner’s sexual health responsibly. 

Here’s a comprehensive overview for college students on how to protect your sexual health:

  • Safe Sex Education: Knowledge is power when it comes to sexual health. Educate yourself about safe sex practices, contraception options, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Utilize campus health services, workshops, or online resources to understand the importance of protection during sexual activities.
  • Use Protection Consistently: Condoms are one of the most effective methods for preventing STIs and unwanted pregnancies. Always use condoms during vaginal, anal, or oral sex to reduce the risk of transmission. For lesbian and bisexual women, dental dams are a good option for staying safe during oral sex. Always use protection consistently to ensure utmost safety. 
  • Regular STI Testing: If you are sexually active, get tested regularly for STIs. Many STIs don’t show immediate symptoms, so regular testing is crucial. Most college health centers offer confidential testing services, making it accessible and convenient for students.
  • Communication is Key: Open and honest communication with sexual partners is crucial. Discuss sexual health, STI testing, and contraceptive methods before engaging in sexual activities. Having these conversations ensures mutual understanding and informed consent. 
  • Know Your Status: Knowing your own sexual health status is just as important as being aware of your partner’s. Get tested before becoming sexually active with a new partner, and encourage them to do the same. This transparency fosters a culture of responsibility and care for each other.
  • Consent and Respect: Consent is the cornerstone of healthy sexual interactions. Always ensure that there is clear and enthusiastic consent from all parties involved. Respect your partner’s boundaries and communicate openly about what you’re comfortable with.
  • Seek Help and Support: If you have concerns about sexual health, don’t hesitate to seek help. Campus health services, counseling centers, or local clinics offer confidential support and guidance on sexual health matters. Whether it’s obtaining contraceptives, seeking advice, or getting tested, there are resources available to assist you.
  • Avoid Risky Behaviors: Alcohol and drugs can impair judgment and lead to risky sexual behaviors. Practice responsible drinking and avoid making decisions about sex under the influence. Being in a clear state of mind is key to making informed sexual choices.
  • Self-Care and Emotional Well-being: Sexual health isn’t just about physical well-being but also emotional and mental health. Engage in self-care practices, maintain healthy relationships, and seek support if you’re feeling overwhelmed or distressed about sexual experiences.
Substance Use & Abuse in College Students

Substance Use & Abuse in College Students

It is a well-known fact that alcohol and drugs are rampant on most college campuses. 

Like sexual exploration, the freedom of college makes way for students to try new substances. Many college students turn 21 around their sophomore or junior years, increasing access to alcohol for them and their friends. Likewise, drug dealers often find college campuses to be lucrative grounds for selling. 

While it is unrealistic to suggest that college students abstain from drugs and alcohol entirely, it is crucially important to understand the risks associated with substance use and abuse. 

According to the American Addiction Centers:

“Substance abuse is (unfortunately) common among college students and can result in a range of academic, physical, mental, and social problems. One study found that nearly half of participating college students met the criteria for at least one substance use disorder (SUD), while the 2019 Monitoring the Future survey found the highest rates of marijuana and some illicit drug use, particularly amphetamines, cocaine, hallucinogens, and MDMA, among those of typical college age (early to mid-20s)”

Substance use and abuse among college students pose significant risks that can affect your health, academic performance, and overall well-being. Let’s delve into the dangers associated with alcohol, drugs, binge drinking, drug misuse, overdose, and the rise of vaping:

  • Alcohol: College environments often foster social situations where alcohol use may be prevalent, leading to peer pressure and experimentation. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 49.3% of college students aged 18 to 22 drink alcohol, and of those students, 27.4% engage in binge drinking. Additionally, alcohol impairs decision-making abilities, leading to risky behaviors, accidents, and dangerous situations. Abusing alcohol can not only put your health at risk but also negatively impact your academic performance. 
  • Binge Drinking: Binge drinking, defined as excessive alcohol consumption in a short period, increases the risk of alcohol poisoning, accidents, injuries, and long-term health issues. Binge drinking can contribute to risky behaviors, aggression, violence, and sexual assault, leading to serious consequences for both the individual and others involved. The legal blood alcohol concentration for U.S. adults is 0.08%, or roughly two to three low-ABV drinks. Aim to limit binge drinking as much as possible and never drive after drinking. 
  • Drug Misuse & Addiction: Continued drug misuse can lead to addiction, where individuals become dependent on substances, affecting their physical, mental, and emotional health. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that 93% of college students who use drugs have used marijuana, 37% have used cocaine, and 36% have used hallucinogens. Hard drugs (cocaine, heroin, etc.) can lead to withdrawal if used too frequently, which can include moderate to severe physical and psychological symptoms. If you are struggling with addiction and drug abuse, contact campus health services or call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 to get help and resources for beating your addiction. 
  • Overdose: Irresponsible use of drugs and alcohol can have fatal consequences. The mixture of substances or excessive intake can lead to respiratory failure, coma, or even death. Drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning often require immediate medical attention. In college settings, delays in seeking help due to fear of consequences or lack of awareness can be life-threatening. Many states have Good Samaritan Laws in place to protect adults from the legal ramifications of possessing drugs if they take action to get medical help in instances of overdosing.  
  • Vaping: Vaping nicotine and marijuana has grown substantially in popularity over recent years. While vaping is thought to be less risky than smoking, it is still largely under-researched and can present new health risks for students to consider. One major problem is the convenience of vaping — one 2023 report reveals that college students vape more than they realize and that dependence on vapes often drives continued use. For nicotine vapes specifically, vape juice can contain high levels of nicotine, a highly addictive substance. Though it may be trendy to hit the vape, your best bet for protecting your health is to avoid vaping altogether. 

Substance use and abuse among college students pose multifaceted risks, ranging from immediate dangers like overdose to long-term health and academic consequences. 

Colleges must address these issues through education, prevention programs, and accessible support services, fostering a campus culture that prioritizes health and well-being over substance misuse. Students must be aware of the risks and empowered to seek help when needed, creating a safer and healthier college environment for all.

Mental Health as a College Student

Managing Your Mental Health as a College Student

College life is a transformative journey filled with new experiences, friendships, and academic challenges. Amidst this whirlwind, prioritizing mental health becomes paramount. 

According to a 2023 Best Colleges report, 77% of college students experienced moderate to serious psychological distress in 2022. Anxiety was by far the most significant mental health issue among students, affecting 35%, followed by depression diagnoses for 27% of students. 

Other common mental health issues highlighted within the report included trauma, eating disorders, OCD, substance use disorders, and bipolar disorder. 

Managing your mental health as a college student involves understanding the challenges, seeking support, and addressing sensitive topics like suicide and hazing. Let’s now examine how college students can better care for and protect their mental health while in school: 

  • Understanding Mental Health Challenges: College life can be overwhelming, triggering stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation in some students. Academic pressures, adjusting to a new environment, financial stress, and social expectations can contribute to these challenges. Taking the time to assess your mental health and take note of changes can be crucial for seeking help if your mental health takes a downturn. 
  • Suicide Awareness and Prevention: Discussing suicide is uncomfortable but vital. From 2022 to 2023, roughly 14% of college students dealt with suicidal ideation, 6% made suicide plans, and 2% attempted suicide. A further 29% of college students deal with non-suicidal self-injuries. Many colleges offer resources such as hotlines, counseling services, and workshops focusing on suicide prevention. It’s important to recognize warning signs, offer support, and know where to seek help if you or someone else is struggling.
  • Speaking Out Against Hazing: Hazing, often associated with initiation into sororities and fraternities, can have severe consequences on mental health. College students must take action and speak out against hazing to push their schools to ban the practice. In fact, hazing is even under consideration from Congress, with legislators taking action to curb the occurrence of hazing on college campuses. Hazing should not be considered a normal or acceptable part of college culture, and students should be encouraged to  report instances of hazing to protect themselves and their peers. 
  • Seeking Support and Resources: Colleges usually have counseling centers, hotlines, and mental health professionals available to students. It’s essential to break the stigma around seeking help for mental health concerns. These resources offer confidential support and guidance for managing stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
  • Self-Care and Stress Management: Prioritize self-care by incorporating stress-relieving activities into your routine. Practice mindfulness, exercise regularly, maintain a balanced diet, and ensure adequate sleep. These habits contribute significantly to managing stress levels and promoting mental well-being. 
  • Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Identify healthy coping mechanisms that work for you. This might include journaling, creative outlets, meditation, or engaging in hobbies. These activities serve as healthy distractions and help manage stress. Avoid using alcohol, drugs, and other substances as a means to cope with poor mental health. 
The Impact of LGBTQ+ Harassment on College Student Health

The Impact of LGBTQ+ Harassment on College Student Health

LGBTQ+ students may be at a higher risk of harassment on college campuses. 

According to one Inside Higher Ed report, 33% of LGBTQ+ college students reported being bullied, harassed, or assaulted in college. Comparatively, only 19% of non-LGBTQ students reported the same experiences while in school. Additionally, around 60% of LGBTQ+ students chose not to out themselves to faculty or staff during their time in college. 

Whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or simply want to help create safer and more inclusive environments for your LGBTQ+ peers, taking harassment of LGBTQ+ students seriously is key. 

Meeting Your Medical Needs as a College Student

Meeting Your Medical Needs as a College Student

College life brings independence and new experiences — but it also requires managing your health responsibly. From regular health check-ups to dealing with more severe health conditions, college students must learn how to meet their medical needs properly.

Here are three tips on how to navigate healthcare as a college student:

  • Finding a Healthcare Provider: Most colleges offer on-campus health services that provide basic medical care, counseling, and sometimes even prescription services. For specialized care and medications, seek out nearby clinics and hospitals, keeping in mind insurance coverage when selecting a provider. Always check if your college offers insurance plans or if you’re covered under a parent’s plan to help manage medical expenses.
  • Vaccines & Flu Shots: Whether it’s parties, game days, or packed classrooms, college students spend a lot of time in close quarters with their peers. Staying up-to-date on vaccinations and flu shots can help students stay healthy and avoid illnesses that may be spreading around campus. Additionally, students should take care to avoid close contact with people who are sick and isolate as needed should they contract an illness. 
  • Medication Management: If you take daily medications, keeping up with your medication schedule is vital to your health. Investing in a pill box and setting up automatic refills with your pharmacy are two great options for staying on top of your medication needs. It is also wise to inform campus authorities of your medical needs, especially if you require emergency medications like inhalers or EpiPens.

Final Thoughts

Keeping up with your health as a college student is no small task — but with the right resources, education, and support, you can maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout your time as a student. 

Here are four final tips for maintaining your physical and mental health while in college:

  • Utilize Campus Health Resources: Colleges often provide health education programs covering topics such as sexual health, mental health, substance abuse, and nutrition. Take advantage of these resources. Don’t hesitate to seek help if dealing with any health issues, mental or physical.
  • Practice Regular Self-Care: Building healthy self-care habits can significantly impact your overall health. Schedule routine check-ups and screenings to ensure your health is in order. These preventive measures help detect health issues early and maintain overall well-being. Maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get adequate sleep to more effectively manage stress. 
  • Prepare for Emergencies: Familiarize yourself with emergency procedures on campus and the nearest hospitals in case of medical emergencies. Keep emergency contact information handy, including contacts for local emergency services, campus security, and healthcare providers.
  • Advocate for Your Health: At the end of the day, you know your body best. Ask healthcare providers questions and advocate for your needs. Make sure you understand your rights regarding healthcare confidentiality, access to medical records, and healthcare decisions.

Managing your health as a college student requires proactive self-care, responsible decision-making, and regular utilization of on-campus resources. 

By staying informed, seeking appropriate care, and adopting healthy habits, college students can maintain their health and well-being effectively throughout their academic journey.

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