5 health tips for teens heading to college
Heading off to college can feel a little daunting. For many teens, it’s the first time they’ve been completely independent and responsible for themselves. Family medicine physician Brandon Hecht, DO, said doing well in college depends on staying healthy. He offered five health tips for teens heading to college so they can be best prepared for what’s ahead.
Avoid substance abuse
“Don’t give in to peer pressure with when it comes to using alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or other illegal drugs at school,” Dr. Hecht said. “Your brain is still developing. We don’t know what profound impact those substances could have on your brain and your continued development, so it’s best to avoid it.”
Practice safe sex
If you’re going to be sexually active, use protection. There are no cures for some sexually transmitted infections, which means they could affect you for the rest of your life.
Try to sleep at least eight hours every night. “Getting adequate sleep is going to be important for your academic success,” said Dr. Hecht. “There’s a lot of good evidence that adequate sleep is important for weight management. If your body is constantly running on empty, you’re going to do a lot more emotional eating, not paying attention to your portion sizes, late night snacking, and all the bad things that can lead to the ‘freshman 15.’”
Choose healthy food
The school cafeterias can be somewhat of a playground when it comes to meals. You can have ice cream at every meal if you want, and for teens heading off to college, the freedom may lead to less-than-optimal choices. “I encourage teens to not do things they wouldn’t have done when they lived at home,” Dr. Hecht said. “Continue to try to choose healthy foods, lots of veggies, some fruits and watch your portions on all those sugary and starchy foods like pasta and rice.”
Make sure you’re up to date on vaccines. It’s important to complete the meningitis vaccine series before entering a residence hall setting where people are living in close quarters 24 hours a day. It’s recommended that both boys and girls complete their HPV vaccine to help prevent certain cancers caused by the human papillomavirus.
“You might also benefit from getting a COVID-19 vaccination and, of course, don’t forget to get your flu shot in the fall,” Dr. Hecht said. Colleges usually offer flu shots at the student health center.
Don’t forget about mental health
College can be stressful, but resources are available if you need them. Most colleges and universities have student mental health centers, so identifying those ahead of time can be helpful.
Remember, if you had any accommodations for learning or anxiety or depression through school, those accommodations can be carried on throughout college as well, so be sure to provide the proper documentation to the college or university.
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