Ways to stay healthy on campus this winter

Emily Inverso

As the weather gets colder and the new semester gets busy, a combination of viruses and stress may start weighing on students.

Stress can cause inflammation in the body and make students have trouble sleeping or experience anxiety. Couple that with cloudy days and bacteria spreading through classrooms, and students may find themselves in a wintry mix of illness. By following a few tips, though, this winter might be just a little bit healthier.

“I always tell students they need to learn to listen to their body,” said Dr. Jennifer D’Abreau, senior physician at University Health Services. “Whether it’s stress or your appendix rupturing, your body is talking to you.”

Why ankle socks might not cut it:

While bundling up in the winter may keep cross-campus walkers warm, some little thought of areas like the ankles, wrists, neck and ears could be in need of extra reinforcement.

“We’ve heard growing up to wear a hat outside, and all that does is not let heat escape your body,” said Rebecca Lehman, health educator at the Portage County Health Department. “But if you take extra care to cover your wrists, wear taller socks around the ankles, have a scarf and wear something over your ears, you’re going to be so much warmer than just with a winter coat.”

If smaller areas like these are ignored, Lehman said, people run the risk of other health complications, like cold wind blowing on their ears and causing painful ear aches.

Why you want to cut back on caffeine:

Two to four cups of coffee, or a comparable amount of caffeine from other sources, is about an average, safe intake for most adults, according to a study by the Mayo Clinic. But when intake exceeds 200 to 300 mg. per day, it can begin to have adverse effects, like a racing heart, dehydration and insomnia.

“I know students have demanding schedules, but pulling an all-nighter and then taking an hour nap here and an hour nap there will never add up,” D’Abreau said. “Your body does require a full seven to nine hours of rest to go through all the phases of the sleep cycle and repair itself.”

Caffeine is just another form of self-medication, and when students are already losing sleep because of the stresses of classes and are possibly ill with a virus, caffeine can force an already over-tired bodies to keep running when they are telling people it is time to rest, D’Abreau said.

“But if you are tired and can’t go to sleep yet, try drinking water first,” Lehman said. “Fatigue is one of the first signs of dehydration.”

Why you might need to eat salmon:

As clouds cover the sky and the sun is visible fewer and fewer days, a feeling of depression might not just be grieving for the officially gone warm weather. Exposure to the sun allows the body to synthesize vitamin D, and Jodie Luidhardt, coordinator of the nutrition outreach program, said its absence is one of the contributing factors to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“When I see a student come in stressed, especially if they are from southern states or a country without a winter season, we do a vitamin D check,” Luidhardt said. “Deficiencies happen a lot in Ohio natives, too, so if eating a lot of leafy greens or salmon isn’t easy for people, I suggest some sort of multivitamin supplement.”

Why you should replace that last beer with water:

The body registers alcohol as a toxin. A moderate alcohol intake is about one drink a day for a woman and two for a man, but a lot of times, college students participate in binge drinking more than four or five in a single setting, said Luidhardt. Because the body recognizes alcohol as a toxin, it puts aside other processes and tries to metabolize the alcohol first.

“Alcohol has no nutrition to it — you don’t get any vitamins or protein from it,” Luidhardt said, “and excessive amounts of alcohol cause vitamin deficiencies because you’re not taking in the nutrients you need.”

Any steps students can take would help, Luidhardt said, like replacing a beer with water, which will let the body get rid of alcohol quicker and stop it from postponing the metabolism of necessary vitamins.

Contact Emily Inverso at [email protected].