How to prepare new students for a healthy college journey
As thousands of Iowans head off to college this fall, one of the most important things needed isn’t on any shopping list. There are lots of new freedoms when entering college, and when it comes to creating strong routines and habits – especially healthy eating, exercise and sleep – it’s important to remember that what you learn now, can shape your health for years to come.
“College is a great place to gain more independence,” says Dr. Joseph Martz, provider at MercyOne Clinton Medical Center. “Sleep, physical activity and simple nutritious meals are great places to start forming healthy habits.”
Make routines that work
Getting enough sleep helps you concentrate; it helps your body fight off illness and it supports mental health. Yet almost half of all college students say they get less than seven hours of nightly sleep and report feeling tired three to five days a week. Some tips to keep in mind:
Read how to develop these routines without sacrificing the college experience.
Prioritize mental health
Approximately one third of college students surveyed who say they’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, say they were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression. To help prioritize your mental health:
- Get quality sleep with a daily routine.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark, without excess noise.
- Turn off electronic devices or anything with a screen about an hour before you plan to go to bed.
- List favorite healthy, easy-to-make foods/snacks and get those at the dining hall or grocery store.
- Any amount of physical activity is helpful so be active doing what you enjoy e.g., bowling.
"It is good to identify what stress reduction strategies work best for you now so that you have these tools available when times get tough," says Dr. Martz. "You should take the time now to learn what helps you relieve stress."
Plan ahead before becoming sick
Schedule a visit with your primary care provider before heading off to school. Your provider plays an important role in helping you to establish healthy habits and routines when you leave for college. If you don’t have a primary care provider, take a short quiz to find a MercyOne provider in your college town matched perfectly with your needs.
In addition to knowing the resources offered at your college’s student health centers, make sure to become familiar with the urgent care and emergency departments near you and when to visit each.
Prepare to treat minor injuries and illnesses in your dorm with a good first-aid kit. Items to include:
- Choose your favorite strategies to use during times of stress.
- Look up your school’s mental health resources in advance.
- Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline anytime by dialing 988.
- Students should reach out to their family doctor if they think they need more help dealing with mental health issues
- For illness: pain and fever relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen) and a working thermometer.
- For wounds: antibiotic ointment, bandages, blister block, tweezers, elastic bandage wrap.
- For insect bites and other skin irritations: anti-itch cream.