Avoiding Back-To-School Illness
& The Freshman 15
What an exciting time of year this is… Fall is upon us, the weather is changing and students across the nation are in the midst of the opening months of school.
Students going back to school — or in the case of college freshmen, starting a new school — can experience a variety of stressors that can impact their overall health and well-being.
This can range from the first time being way from home, limited access to healthy food, long days and hours spent going to school, studying, working, participating in sports and clubs, to the stress and demands that school places on them.
The whole time this is happening, they are trying to maintain their relationships and connections with family and friends.
For students in K through 12, the demands of the school day make this a challenging balancing act and for college students, who are away from home, this presents a whole assortment of new challenges, many of which they haven’t experienced before.
While these and other demands that are competing for equal footing this time of year are notorious for students becoming ill, irritable, run down and stressed, it is equally notorious for that dreaded rite of passage called the ‘Freshman 15,’ which refers to the weight gain many college students experience during their first year of school.
While working with students at Youth Transformations, together we come up with a plan to give students the best chance of staying healthy and illness-free while avoiding the Freshman 15.
Below I share three of the many successful strategies that students and I have come up with.
My Top 3 Success Tips For A Healthy & Happy Back-To-School Experience:
What I am advocating for and what many students can attest to is that getting enough sleep is crucial to maintaining health.
Sleep is an important restorative period for our bodies, as this is when healing, growth and detoxification takes place, as well as the all-important REM cycles we go through for restoring mental function and capacity.
Getting enough sleep is challenging for many students with deadlines, class time and time spent outside of school on work, play and family and friends.
It is small wonder that most students, no matter the grade level, are sleep-deprived.
While the amount of sleep each person needs varies a bit, there can be serious health consequences to not getting enough sleep.
Certainly, we all have all been in the place where we have looming deadlines, social engagements and life happenings that all seem to come together at once.
During these times it can be difficult to get enough sleep; however, if sleep is made a priority, the amount of sleep lost can be minimized.
Following the simple tips below can help with getting the amount of sleep that is right for you:
- Listen To Your Body. If you feel like you need more sleep, sleep!
- Take Naps. If and when you can, take a nap in the afternoon. This practice is very popular in Europe and other parts of the world. As little as a 10- to 20-minute nap can have surprising health benefits.
- Play Catch-up On The Weekend. While ideally you would be getting enough sleep during the week, if you find that you are not, catch up on your sleep on the weekends when you can.
- Have A Consistent Bed Time. Although it may be fun to stay up late on the weekends or on special occasions, keeping a consistent bed time is important in maintaining a regular sleep cycle.
- Make Sleep A Priority. You deserve to be well-rested. I am not suggesting you shun your responsibilities; rather, I am suggesting you take care of yourself by making sleep a priority. Sometimes it helps to actually schedule it. This seemingly odd practice has worked for students who needed to make sure they maintain a consistent time for sleep.
Eat Whole Foods
Our grab-and-go culture can make it seemingly impossible to eat whole foods, not to mention the social pressures we encounter around food and what it means to have ‘a good time’.
However, eating whole foods that are nutritious, delicious and easy to prepare is easier than we are led to believe.
Whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural form as possible.
An example I like to use is the difference between an apple and processed apple sauce that has sugar, food coloring and other additives added to it.
Eating whole foods helps our bodies recognize and utilize the nutrients it needs for growth, repair and optimal functioning.
Eating foods with many fillers or unnatural additives or preservatives makes our bodies work harder to digest food and figure out how to use the things it does not recognize.
This puts a strain on other body systems, such as our immune system and circulatory system.
Here are a few tips for eating whole foods:
- Prepare Food Ahead Of Time. When you have more time, say, maybe on the weekend, you can prepare some meals for the week. A good rule of thumb is cook once, eat twice or more. The fall presents a great opportunity to prepare soups and stews on the weekend that can be eaten during the week. You can even prepare breakfast foods such as hard-boiled eggs a few days in advance. This will make it easier and more likely that you will eat whole foods when you are pressed for time or need a quick snack.
- Buy Organic/Local/Free-Range/Pasture-Fed. Eating food that is grown locally and is organic, which means it is grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, will go a long way in ensuring that you are eating whole foods. Eating organic foods can be expensive, so to limit that expense, you can join an organic CSA, go to local farmers markets or only buy organically when the food you are choosing is one of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen Plus, which are foods that are grown using the most pesticides, and buy non-organically when the food you are choosing are on their Clean 15 list. Buying animal products that are free-range, pasture-raised and fed using organic and natural methods of feeding will not only give you better quality, but will ensure that the animal products you are eating have the least amount of chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides in them.
- Stick To The Outer Aisles Of The Market. When shopping in your local supermarket, stick to the outer aisles. This is where you will most likely find produce and animal products with the least amount of processing. The inner aisles are generally reserved for the foods and condiments that are processed. This doesn’t mean that you can never find whole foods that are minimally processed foods in the inner aisles, but you will be less likely to find whole foods in these aisles.
- Satisfy Your Cravings. This is about listening to your body and satisfying your cravings. It is important to do this in a way that is the most healthy and nutritious. When you are craving something sweet, eat a low-sugar fruit such as a green apple or berries, such as blueberries, blackberries and strawberries. Generally, when you’re body is craving something, it is telling you that you might be lacking a specific nutrient. If you satisfy your cravings with whole, nutritious foods, you will do so in a way that not only satisfies your craving but feeds your body well.
For many college freshmen, they come from an active high school life where they may have been part of sports teams, clubs or participated in various physical activities with friends. Transitioning to college life, where they are not able to participate in these activities regularly for a variety of reasons, can make it so exercise gets pushed down on the priority list.
For younger students, coming off a summer vacation full of physical activity to being in school where physical activity may be limited can make regular exercise difficult also.
Exercise has many benefits beyond keeping us fit and strong.
Exercise is good for our psyche and reduces stress, which is a result of a release of endorphins by our brains. Exercise also has the added benefit of helping with our mental and cognitive functioning.
Even with the challenges associated with starting a new school or going back to school, there are simple ways to get regular exercise without spending hours per day at the gym.
Before starting any exercise program, you should consult with your health care provider.
- Move Your Body For Twenty Minutes. A good rule of thumb is to move your body vigorously for at least 20 minutes every day. This can be walking, running, dancing, yoga, weight-lifting, etc. Move your body in whatever feels best for you and is the most fun.
- Move Your Body Every Two Hours. Extended periods of sitting or inactivity can lead to various health complications. When it is possible, move your body at least every two hours. It can be as simple as getting up and stretching for 5 minutes, going for a short walk or even walking up and down the stairs or wherever you can. It doesn’t matter much what kind of movement you’re doing, so long as it safe for you to do. Moving your body every two hours can help you maintain mental focus and concentration and sometimes helps when you are feeling stuck while trying to figure out a particular concept or struggling to solve a problem.
- Join A Sports Team Or Recreational Club. Many schools and towns have sports teams and recreational clubs that can motivate you to get moving with a group of other like-minded people. You don’t have to have the coordination or ability of a professional athlete to join a team or club; you just have to be willing to participate. This can be a great way to make sure you have a scheduled time to move and exercise your body.
- Take Advantage Of Opportunities To Move. Most schools have athletic facilities or at least places where you can walk or move your body. Make moving your body a way of life. If it is safe and reasonable for you to do so, engage in walking or riding a bike to school. If this isn’t reasonable, arrive at school 30 minutes early so that you can walk around the campus or find a place where you can move your body. Of course, if your school has athletic facilities or programs that you can take advantage of, it would make good sense to do so. Make movement a way of life, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator if you are able or take a parking space that requires you to walk a bit to your destination rather than taking the closest space. The idea here is simple: Take the opportunity to move your body when you can, as even moving for a minute has benefits.
Give yourself a break and recommit to doing some simple things that will keep you healthy and help your body maintain optimal functioning.
Keep in mind that these are just a few of the strategies that young people and I have come up with.
As always, listen to your body and keep in mind your unique needs and goals.
Do your best to nourish yourself in mind, body and spirit, and most of all, enjoy doing the things that keep you happy and healthy.
~ Article by Dr. Peter Berg of Youth Transformations ~
*For more exciting information on Dr. Peter Berg, please visit IHH’s Guest Authors page.*