Prioritize your health, college students

College student holding books

It's an exciting time of year for many recent high school graduates with college right around the corner. The new fall semester brings many new challenges during a major life transition. One way to cope well with all the change is to put your health first. Make these tips a priority, and you will be a more successful student both academically and socially. And if you're a returning college student, recommit to your health starting now. 

1. Wear shower shoes

College dorms often have shared bathrooms. If this is the case for you, consider investing in a reliable pair of shower shoes to protect your feet from fungi that can cause ringworm. Ringworm is commonly spread in public showers or locker rooms. It is a skin infection caused by a fungus that produces a red and itchy circular rash. To prevent ringworm, keep your skin clean and dry, and don’t walk barefoot in public, or somewhat-public showers, like dormitory showers.

2. Get vaccinated

College-aged adults need certain vaccines before they can enroll. Some colleges require vaccination against meningococcal disease, which can cause infection in the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) for example. Find out what your school requires, and speak to your healthcare provider to obtain the corresponding vaccinations.   

Another vaccine-preventable illness common on college campuses is the flu. Obtain a flu shot each year to prevent the virus. Learn all the recommended vaccinations for adults.

3. Get enough sleep

Late nights studying and socializing are common in university life, but sleep is crucial for immune function, metabolism, memory and learning. Miss one night’s sleep, and you will feel the effects immediately. For students trying to learn and digest information daily, sleep’s role in learning and memory is especially important. Sleep also helps overall mental health and coping abilities.    

4. Reduce your risk for STDs  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that young people ages 15-24 account for half of all new sexually transmitted diseases, and young women’s bodies are biologically more susceptible to STDs. Although the most reliable way to avoid infection is not to have sex, reducing the number of partners you have, or using mutual monogamy by agreeing to be sexually active with only one person, will lower your risk for STDs. Using male latex condoms also reduces STD transmission.

5. Exercise

College is stressful, but regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces feelings of anxiety and depression and improves sleep and quality of life, according to the CDC. Even a single workout can provide temporary improved thinking and anxiety relief. If you are more physically active, you are better able to perform your everyday tasks, like walking to the opposite side of campus, without fatigue. Increased amounts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity are also associated with a healthier body weight and body composition.  

6. Be social

Loneliness is not just a problem for the elderly. Research shows that loneliness is prevalent in university students. Both emotional loneliness and social loneliness are associated with feelings of depression and anxiety. One way to combat loneliness is to become involved in team sports or group exercise, which can have a positive impact on social relationships.

7. Fuel up without crashing

Sugar and caffeine boost you up and let you down fast. The consequences can lead to chronic disease. Having healthy food options, like fruits, veggies and plain nuts, available to yourself at all times is helpful for preventing the “Freshman 15” that seems inevitable to college life. Try “eating an apple a day” for a snack, instead of chips or cookies. Hang out with friends by working out together, rather than grabbing pizza or a sugary coffee drink. Choose lean meats, veggies, fresh fruit and milk or light yogurt to give your body energy, rather than caffeine. Learn more from the USDA’s college nutrition guide.  

8. Wash your hands

Germs spread quickly on university campuses. Stop germs and diseases from making their way to you by washing your hands. The CDC indicates you should wash your hands before, during and after preparing food, before eating food, after using the bathroom, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, after touching an animal, and after touching the garbage. Wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry your hands each time.  

9. Don’t smoke

Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body causing many diseases, according to the CDC. If you’ve made it through high school without picking up the habit, continue your health streak on into college by avoiding nicotine in any form. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm brain development continuing into the mid-20s.