Heading to College? Avoid These 5 Health Risks

College is all about change—trying new things and having new experiences. However, you may face new risks that could take a toll on your health. Here’s how to make the most of your college years while side stepping common health mistakes.

Risk #1: Not getting enough sleep

Between studying and spending time with friends, it’s tempting to skimp on sleep. Too little sleep can raise your risk for many different diseases such as obesity and depression. Getting enough sleep is also essential for doing well on tests, concentrating and participating in lectures, and juggling your many responsibilities successfully. Aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Risk #2: Too much time sitting

The time you spend sitting in classes, doing schoolwork, and surfing your phone or computer can quickly add up. Inactivity can put you at risk for health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Find ways to fit in 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week. Visit your school’s fitness center to run or swim or try a new fitness class. If you enjoy team sports, sign up for a recreational sports team. You could also consider biking to class and activities. Also, sneak in some strength training two or more days a week. Try lifting weights or doing yoga.

Risk #3: Using alcohol and drugs

The pressure to binge-drink or use drugs is widespread on college campuses. Substance abuse can have serious consequences: injuries, violence, alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases, and unintended pregnancy. Binge drinking is defined for women as consuming four or more drinks in a single occasion. It’s five or more for men. You shouldn’t drink if you’re younger than 21. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. That’s no more than one drink a day for women or two drinks per day for men.

Risk #4: Weight gain

Packing on pounds doesn’t have to be a given when you go to college. In addition to getting regular exercise, you can keep the Freshman 15 at bay by eating a healthy diet. It won’t be easy when you’re surrounded by pizza deals, vending machines, and all-you-can-eat buffets. But these tips can help you stay strong and the same weight:

  • Use smaller plates—you’ll fill them with less food.

  • Make unhealthy foods, such as cookies, pizza, bacon, and ice cream occasional treats instead of daily eats.

  • Eat nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables at every meal.

  • Drink water instead of soda and energy drinks.

Risk #5: Excess stress

It’s easy to get stressed, anxious, or depressed from everything college puts on your plate. While some anxiety is normal, it’s a problem when these feelings affect your daily life. Here’s how you can prevent that:

  • Build a network of friends who can support you.

  • Talk with teachers, counselors, or friends if you’re having difficulty with studying or managing your course load.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Speak with a health professional if you have concerns about your mental well-being.

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