Arrive and Thrive: How to Stay Healthy in College

by John Montesi

There are plenty of resources out there that talk about academic success and picking the right major, but there are fewer articles that discuss how to stay healthy in college. Health involves physical, mental, and emotional well-being—and while the three are interconnected, it is important to prioritize each as part of your pursuit of academic success and personal development.

We spoke with Dr. Todd Emerson, medical director at Azusa Pacific University, to gather his advice on how to stay healthy in college. Here are his suggestions for thriving as an individual and avoiding illness during your time on campus.

Sleep Matters

You probably saw this one coming, but sleep matters for a lot of reasons you may not realize. In fact, sleep is probably one of the most important factors when it comes to staying healthy in college, according to Dr. Emerson. “Studies show that those who get adequate amounts of sleep (7-9 hours on a regular basis) tend to handle stress better and stay healthier,” he explains.

In order to get a good night’s sleep, Dr. Emerson recommends going to bed—and getting up—around the same time each day, minimizing caffeine intake later in the day, and refraining from watching TV while trying to go to sleep. In addition, if you’re not able to fall asleep within 30 minutes of your head hitting the pillow, he suggests getting up and reading a boring book until you are sleepy. It’s also a good idea to avoid naps during the day to ensure you’re sleepy when you go to bed.

Friendships Are Healthy

College is an ideal place to meet new friends and build a strong community of like-minded individuals. And who knew socializing with your friends down the hall could actually help you stay in good health?

According to Dr. Emerson, the connections you make and the friendships you build are key to a healthy college experience. “Make an effort to develop friendships early on,” he explains. “Take advantage of being in an Alpha group [for new students] or getting to know a roommate or someone in your hall, so you have a connection.” Transitioning and adapting to the college environment will be a lot easier if you have someone you can hang out with and talk to.

Exercise Often

Incorporating some form of regular exercise into your daily routine provides a number of benefits. You can walk on the track, play intramural sports, head to the gym on campus, or simply explore the surrounding area. If you’re a student at APU, consider accessing one of the many trailheads near campus and taking a hike in the San Gabriel Mountains.

As a college student, it’s easy to hunker down in the library for long periods of time. But switching up your scenery, taking a nice study break, and soaking in the sunshine and vitamin D will do you—and your studies—some good. Not to mention, exercise releases endorphins and helps you lower your stress level!

Eat Well

Food is literally fuel for your body, so even though it’s liberating to be able to decide what to eat for every meal, remember that what you eat will affect how you feel. “Make healthy choices when eating,” says Dr. Emerson. “All the dining venues have ways to monitor what you are taking in.”

Use the Resources Available to You

Above all, it’s important to remember that seeking mental or medical help isn’t cost-prohibitive in college and shouldn’t be intimidating in any way. Even with all these tips, it is important to remember that you occasionally need the help of others to stay healthy in college.

Dr. Emerson runs the Student Health Center (SHC) at APU and notes, “It is important for all students to understand that any undergraduate student may access the SHC and the University Counseling Center (UCC) free of charge, regardless of what their health insurance may be.” APU students can make appointments at the SHC online, via the MyCougar Health portal.

You should feel comfortable taking advantage of every resource available to you. The campus community is there to ensure your well-being and help you grow, so don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.

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