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Five Health Mistakes College Students Make

Bridget Kulla

June 04, 2014

Five Health Mistakes College Students Make

Don't spend more time in the campus health clinic than in the classroom this school year. Avoid these common campus health mistakes.

1. Not washing your hands enough - With so many people living together, eating together, and studying together, germs spread quickly on college campuses. You can catch colds, the flu, sore throats and more by rubbing your nose or eyes with dirty hands.

Make it harder for germs to make you sick by keeping your hands clean. "The number one thing about keeping people well is encouraging hand washing," says Mary Ann Stienbarger, director of health services at Earlham College. In situations where you might be especially vulnerable to germs, like computer labs or the gym, carry a small bottle of antibacterial lotion with you. It only takes a second, and it could save you a few days of feeling sick.

2. Sampling the entire cafeteria buffet - Your college cafeteria offerings have little resemblance to good home cooking, but filling your tray with the unlimited burgers and ice cream is not the smartest choice. Late-night pizzas and after-class take-out don't help either. "Mom doesn't fix pizza every day of the week and she doesn't serve French fries every day. Students need to make that connection and eat balanced meals," Stienbarger says. The "freshman 15" gets a lot of attention for students starting college, but eating smart is just as important of an issue for upperclassmen.

Aside from the negative health effects of being overweight, a poor diet can make you sick. Eating a ensures your body gets the nutrients it needs to function properly. When your body works properly, you're less likely to get sick and will have more energy. A healthy diet also fends off chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

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3. Pulling all-nighters - The only way you'll ever finish that research paper and study for your exam is to pull an all-nighter. Again. You'll be doing yourself more harm than good if you skip sleep. Not getting enough sleep increases your risk of depression, makes you more likely to make errors in your work, impairs your concentration, and slows your reaction time. Sleep deprivation also weakens your immune system, causing you to be more vulnerable to illnesses.

If you don't get enough sleep, you're not alone. The average high school senior misses nearly 12 hours of needed sleep each week, according to a 2006 study. Sleep habits are not likely to improve for college students. Improve your sleeping habits by keeping a regular bedtime and waking schedule. Avoid caffeine or eating a large meal close to bedtime. Get into bright light shortly after waking up to help signal your brain that it's time to wake up. A good night's sleep will help you concentrate better in class.

4. Stressing out - Your schedule is packed, you have papers due every other day, and you don't want to lose your part-time job. When stressed, you are more indecisive, your ability to concentrate is weakened, and you are more easily exhausted. Excessive stress also makes you more susceptible to illnesses. You may not be able to avoid stress but you can develop healthy ways to cope with it.

It's okay to take a break, so take a deep breath and try to relax. Exercise relieves stress, so go for a walk or join an intramural team. Make a to-do list and complete the items of highest priority first. Don't worry if you don't get to the others until the next day. Be realistic in your expectations. Become part of a support system and let your friends and family help you when you feel overwhelmed.

5. Risky behavior - Excessive drinking, drug use and irresponsible sex are common issues on college campuses. According to the , 31 percent of college students meet the criteria for alcohol abuse. Drug abuse by college students is not only a risk to health, but can get you kicked out of school and arrested. Irresponsible sex can lead to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Half of the 19 million new cases of STDs reported each year infect people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to a study.

"You don't have anybody looking over your shoulder on campus. You're on your own so you have to use your own instincts on how to take care of yourself and take care of problems before they get too big," Stienbarger says. If you think you or a loved one has a , contact campus health services. If you think you might be pregnant or have an STD, get in touch with health services. Special pregnancy and addiction helplines are also available on some campuses.

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