How to stay healthy at university

For most students freshers’ week can be overwhelming. Meeting new people, finding their way round the university campus and feeling a little home sick can all take their toll.

Between classes, studying and an active social life it might be a little difficult to stay healthy. But there are simple steps you can take to enjoy a healthy student lifestyle.

Care UK GP, Dr Tara Dukkipati, offers the following advice.

Regular exercise

Cycling or walking to lectures is a great form of exercise and will save money on transport costs. Join a sports team. University is a great time to try out new sports and beginners are welcome at most university sports societies. As well as helping to keep fit, it’s also a great way of meeting new people and the extra exercise might just help boost your immune system.

Healthy eating

This may seem difficult if you’re on a tight student budget or cooking for yourself for the first time but market stalls can be great for cheap fruit and vegetables, as can some supermarkets towards the end of the day. Inexpensive options such as fruit juice and tinned fruit also count towards your five-a-day. Eating a wide range of fruit and vegetables and trying to avoid too much processed food will help keep your system healthy. Make sure you have a healthy and hearty breakfast to help you concentrate throughout the day in your classes.

Regular sleep pattern

It can be hard to stick to a schedule when juggling different classes and work hours each day – or even staying up until the early hours of the morning to finish an assignment every now and then. But getting into a regular sleep pattern can greatly improve your chances of a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep can leave you unfocused, irritable, reduce your ability to concentrate and can make you gain weight. Getting enough sleep is integral to staying healthy.

Alcohol, smoking and drugs

Socialising and having fun is a big part of university life, but it can be easy to start smoking, drinking too much alcohol or being tempted to try drugs when away from parents and living independently. Most adult smokers start in their teens and if you already smoke it means that you are becoming unfit, getting ready for stained teeth, wrinkly skin and a one-in-two chance of dying early. If you could do one thing right now to improve your health, quit smoking.

To help prevent a hangover and avoid causing long-term damage, don’t drink more than your body can cope with. Stick within the recommended limits of alcohol consumption: men shouldn’t drink more than three to four units a day and women shouldn’t exceed more than two to three units. One alcoholic unit is half a pint of beer or one 25ml measurement of a spirit. There are approximately two units of alcohol in a glass of wine, but this is dependent on the strength of the wine and the size of the glass.

To avoid a hangover, try to alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water to stay hydrated. It’s also important to have a meal before going out – try to eat something which contains plenty of carbohydrates. If you haven’t drunk a lot of alcohol before going to university, don’t feel pressured to keep up with friends and drink more than you can cope with. Drinking large quantities of alcohol within a short space of time is very harmful to your health and could put you at risk of finding yourself in situations you’d rather avoid.

Starting at university is the first step to a future that is full of promise and opportunities and using drugs might rob of you of those beautiful things in life. Just say no to drugs.

Sexual health

If you are sexually active at university it’s important to practice safe sex. It’s easier to prevent a sexually transmitted disease than to treat one. Condoms are often available for free at student unions, as well as community contraceptive clinics and sexual health and genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics. Condoms protect against sexually transmitted diseases, as well as preventing unwanted pregnancy. If you’re unsure of your contraceptive options, contact your GP.

Be prepared

Packing a first aid kit may not be high on the list of priorities when preparing to go to university, but it’s very worthwhile. A first aid kit should contain plasters, paracetamol, antiseptic cream, cold remedies and creams to treat burns. Having a first aid kit in a university house or halls of residence will make dealing with minor accidents easier and remove the hassle of getting to a pharmacy.

Remember to register with a GP and dentist if you’re moving to a new area and find out where your nearest A&E department or walk-in centre is, just in case of an emergency. Please don’t use A&E for minor illness or injuries. You should only visit A&E or call 999 if you’re seriously ill or injured or have a life threatening emergency.

You can also use the NHS Choices website to get reliable advice on many conditions, including how you can treat them yourself and when to seek further help. If the symptoms persist, worsen or if you’re at all unsure, please contact your GP or call NHS 111 for advice.

Many common ailments can often be treated at home using medicines that are available over the counter at the local pharmacy. Your local pharmacist will also be able to advise you on how to deal with minor illnesses. Remember that students aged 19 and over aren’t automatically entitled to free prescriptions even if they’re in full time education.

Have you had your Meningitis vaccine?

If you are under 25 and starting university for the first time please speak to your GP to get the free Men ACWY vaccine as soon as possible. It protects against four strains of meningococcal disease which cause meningitis and septicaemia – strains A, C, W and Y.

Meningococcal disease affects around 2,000 people in the UK and Ireland every year. The disease can affect anyone of any age, but mainly affects babies, pre-school children and young people. Meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia are life-threatening diseases.

Most people make a full recovery without long-term after effects, but some are left with disabilities or with problems that can alter their lives. A quarter of survivors find that the effects of the disease reduce their quality of life.

Students must remain alert to the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek urgent medical attention if there is any concern. The disease develops rapidly and early symptoms can include headache, vomiting, muscle pain and fever, with cold hands and feet.

Have fun and stay safe

University is all about studying and having fun with like-minded people but remember to stay safe. Save the numbers for licensed taxi firms in your phone, keep your housemates informed of your whereabouts and when to expect you home and avoid walking home alone late at night.