Nine methods to defend against sickness this semester

After coming back from a long break, college life resumes quickly. Between classes, friends, social events and work, many concerns demand your attention. This sudden re-emergence onto the college scene can cause a great shock to your body, especially your immune system.

Hopefully, your winter break was filled with relaxation and fun, but when you resume normal college life you likely become more stressed, get less sleep and overall your body is weaker—thus rendering your personal temple less effective at fighting off illnesses. Here are some ideas to keep in mind and some tricks to stay healthy for a great semester.

Drink water.

Water is not only essential to life, but it also allows your body to flush out your system. When you are dehydrated, you generally feel fatigued. This fatigue weakens your immune system. According to Rutgers’ Student Health Services, “Drinking enough water can help boost your concentration as well as keep you from overeating. Make sure to keep hydrated as you go through your day by bringing water with you” (Rutgers Student Health Services, “101 Health and Wellness Tips for College Students,” 04.25.2008).

Get a good night’s sleep.

Most people have heard this repeated ad nauseum but sleep is very important for your mental and physical well-being. Since college life can be unpredictable and busy, consider scheduling your day and blocking off time for sleep, or even a nap(!) during normal conscious hours. When you are ready to go to bed for the night, remember to disconnect from electronics to reap peak benefits from the time your allotted recharging time. Remember, “Sleep deprivation can lead to reduced brain function, fatigue, headaches and weight loss or gain. College students need between seven and nine hours of sleep and getting this amount can improve overall health” (Huffington Post, “10 Tips to Stay Healthy in College,” 06.21.2011). Do not work in bed. You want to condition your body to associate your bed with sleep so that when you hit the mattress, falling asleep will be easier.

Go exercise.

Exercise increases your heart rate, encourages your blood to flow and enables you to have a better night’s sleep. By exercising, you are rewarding your body and your immune system. But don’t take my word for it: “According to a study published in the journal Neurologic Clinicians, regular exercise also keeps inflammation and chronic disease at bay, reduces stress and the release of stress-related hormones, and accelerates the circulation of disease-fighting white blood cells (WBCs), which helps the body fight the common cold” (Healthline, “The Secrets to Never Getting Sick,” 11.16.2017). If you go to the gym, remember to wash your hands after touching the equipment. If you are not a gym lover, ask a friend to go for a walk around campus or the farm and take in the fresh air.

Do not share drinks or utensils (or lip balm!).

Most people don’t second guess sharing drinks or food with friends.Your friend may feel fine, but that does not mean that you cannot get sick. It might be in your best interest to have your own water bottle and even snacks, especially during the winter months. The Rutgers Student Health site emphasizes that “Germs are easily spread through the sharing of drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, so get your own and avoid sharing with friends” (“101 Health and Wellness Tips”). Getting your own lip balm is also a good idea.

Cut back on the caffeine.

Tea and coffee are staples in the college student diet, but these drinks contain caffeine, which is a diuretic. Hydration is even more important for caffeine lovers. If you are one of those people that cannot survive without daily caffeine, consider switching out the coffee for green tea, as it has immune-boosting antioxidants. In fact, “Green tea is loaded with polyphenol antioxidants, including a catechin called EGCG. These antioxidants can have various beneficial effects on health,” such as fighting free radicals that cause cellular damage (Healthline, “10 Proven Benefits of Green Tea,” 01.17.2018). Your whole body will thank you.

Wash your sheets.

You should wash your sheets and pillowcase at least every two weeks, or even every week.  Your bed is home to lots of different germs, so frequently washing your bedding can help to keep your body healthy. One article tells us, “Over time, bacteria from human sources like sweat and spit—and a few grosser ones that don’t need to be mentioned—join forces with those from foreign bodies such as pollen, lint, and dust mites” (Mental Floss, “What Happens When You Don’t Wash Your Sheets?” 09.10.2018). Spending all night in this veritable cornucopia of malevolent microbes will definitely increase your chances of falling ill.

Do not share towels.

Towels touch your hands, face and body. It is important to have your own towels so that you are not sharing your germs with your friend or visa versa. Try to change your face and hand towel every few days and wash your towels regularly.

Disinfect your keyboard and phone.

You use your laptop and phone frequently. Disinfecting these items regularly will prevent germs that would otherwise transfer from these electronics to your fingers and ultimately to your face. Try to disinfect your phone often, especially since you usually place your phone to your ear and cheek when chatting with a friend.

Dress appropriately.

Make sure to bundle up when it is cold out—even if you are just sprinting between classes. Try to check the weather in advance to ensure that you are dressed properly Also, try not to go outside with wet hair. These small things can cause a big shock to your body which can, in turn, weaken your immune defenses.

If you do happen to get sick, remember the resources available on campus, such as walk-in clinic hours at Baldwin Hall on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Even when the semester is hectic, take time to care for yourself and your physical, emotional and mental well-being.

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