or today's students, college can be an unhealthy experience.
Physically, that is. And sometimes emotionally.
Sure, the intellectual atmosphere, career opportunities and abundance of friends are terrific -- but often, sheer fatigue and poorly managed stress create problems.
There is good news, however: These less-than-stellar aspects of college life almost always can be resolved through foresight, awareness and a little careful planning, leaving students free to explore the world newly opened at their feet.
Thus, the following students' guide to health, peace of mind and general wellness on campus. These 10 tips -- while not comprehensive -- are the first important steps in getting any college education on the right, healthy track.
1. Avoid the "Freshman 15" -- Pounds, that is. First-year weight gain is an unfortunate reality for most college students.
But according to Dr. David J. Novelli, a West Seneca family practitioner, it doesn't have to be. A simple, balanced diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and stays far away from the standard fried, fatty campus fare will help you maintain your healthy weight throughout college, Novelli says.
"It's a big change from being at home -- there are a lot of (food) choices, and it's really tempting to try all those fatty foods. . . . There's really not a lot of emphasis on eating right. You eat and sleep and go to class, and you put on this weight," he says.
Furthermore, Novelli cautions, keep those Doritos out of the dorm -- study snacking is a bad idea all around. "Bring back some fruit or carrot and celery sticks if you must," he advises.
2. Use your college's athletic facilities -- And not just if you're on a college sports team, either. Good health depends on frequent exercise, and campuses are invaluable for their wealth of exercise equipment, swimming facilities, weight rooms, running tracks . . . the list goes on. It's right there, and it's completely free. No excuse for not working out regularly, now.
3. Get enough sleep -- Again to Novelli, who advocates exercise, caffeine cutbacks and regular sleep patterns to help you wake up rested and ready to go.
"The demands in college are so great that you're not going to be getting eight hours of sleep a night. You have to be realistic," he says. "Six hours of sleep a night is adequate. Less than that and you're going to show signs of sleep deprivation."
According to Novelli, caffeine shouldn't be consumed within six hours of bedtime. And a regular set of sleeping hours is a good idea, to keep the body's diurnal rhythms in sync.
4. Take advantage of the college counseling center -- Can't be beat for help with family troubles, relationship problems, mediation needs and good old-fashioned stress. Both group and one-on-one counseling sessions are a rich resource open to students free of cost.
Workshops and phone counseling, as well as time, stress and anger management courses, round out the wide array of options available at campus centers.
"We're helping people help themselves," says Lebanon Arrington, senior counselor at Buffalo State College's Counseling Center. "We try to facilitate independence."
5. Drink in moderation, if at all -- OK, maybe the "if at all" part is a bit unrealistic. But the average college student doesn't hit 21 until junior year at least. If abstinence isn't a possibility, do yourself a favor and go easy on the alcohol.
There's good reason to. The statistics for student drinking are staggering. Binge drinking -- that's five or more drinks on a single occasion -- is a serious problem on campuses nationwide, with 57.4 percent of male students and 35.5 percent of female students saying that they have engaged in binge drinking at least once in the past two weeks.
R. Lorraine Collins, a senior research scientist with Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions, says moderate alcohol intake is the answer. And moderate drinking is very strictly defined: seven drinks a week for women, 14 for men. (This may vary a bit because of differing metabolic rates, heights and weights.)
But, Ms. Collins points out, "We're not saying go out on Saturday night and have all seven drinks -- that's the worst kind of drinking.
"When you think about college drinking, it happens a lot in mixed sex groups. It's important that women not try to match drinks with men. It's important for men and women not to take part in drinking games," she adds.
6. Take your own health supplies -- Some basic medications, such as aspirin, cough drops and vitamins, are a good idea, and you'll save yourself trouble if you remember to bring a decent supply of any prescription drugs you use.
But there are other supplies you'll need to keep yourself healthy: your own stash of bathroom toiletries, personal care products (think contact lens stuff, feminine hygiene products, etc.) and cleaning supplies. And don't forget flip-flops (you know why -- those shower stalls get nasty).
7. Use the college's health center as a resource -- Who wouldn't want free health help? Your college's health center is your best bet for advice, diagnosis, and free samples of cold medicine, aspirin and other health products.
The University at Buffalo's Student Health Center, for example, not only has physicians and nurses on duty all day, but also has an in-house lab and pharmacy (think cheap) and an infirmary that can provide 24-hour care.
Not only that, but college "wellness centers" and specialty clinics (allergy, dermatology, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.) teach students "balanced, healthy-choice living," says Sara Bihr, director of UB's facility. "Most of these include a great deal of education. It's a university, after all."
8. Give yourself quiet time -- In other words, time to be by yourself. College is a time of upheaval, whether you're a freshman or an about-to-be graduate. Time alone, even a few minutes, can help you rearrange your thoughts, focus on your plans and gather reserves to meet the next challenge.
9. Steer clear of dangerous situations -- No big revelations here, just some plain and simple common sense. According to John F. Barker, director of public safety for Canisius College, it pretty much boils down to one preventive measure: Be aware of your surroundings. Stay away from unlighted or poorly lighted areas, keep an eye on other people when walking on the street or around campus, and -- before you go out -- consider how populated an area is likely to be.
"Take advantage of the escort services and shuttle services campuses have," Barker adds. "Common sense should be the guideline."
10. Get outdoors once in a while -- After all, there is life beyond the library's four walls and the television set. You deserve a break -- and you'd be surprised at how much a walk in the great outdoors can help. Nothing beats fresh air to clear your mind. You'll feel healthier, too, once you've gotten some exercise and a change of scenery. It even makes that philosophy textbook look inviting again.