College students aren't usually known for putting health at the top of their priorities.
Homework, working and, of course, partying usually hold the top three spots on their lists - but not necessarily in that order.
Contrary to popular belief, staying healthy on campus isn't impossible. That's according to the Wellness Resource Center at Watkins Student Health Center, 1200 Schwegler Drive.
Melissa Smith, the center's manager, says that by making a few simple lifestyle changes, students can ward off illness and make it through college feeling healthy and stress-free - well, most of the time.
It's no secret that pizza, beer and the occasional packet of ramen noodles don't have a place in the food pyramid.
Smith says that the junk food many students consume on a daily basis contributes to a weak immune system. That leaves students susceptible to all sorts of illnesses, she adds.
"In college, there's just a petri dish of germs everywhere," Smith says. Between community living and packed classrooms, there are limitless opportunities for germs to pounce on the weakened immune systems of college students.
The shots you need before setting foot on campus: ¢ Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) - two vaccinations on record. Required for all students. ¢ Meningitis - required for students living in student housing (dorms, scholarship halls, fraternities/sororities), but recommended for everyone. ¢ Tuberculosis screening - required for international students. Source: Watkins Student Health Center
Smith recommends that students eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drinking a lot of water is important, too.
"All these things we talk about are things that probably people have heard forever, but it really is important," she says.
Eating well benefits more than just the immune system. By cutting down on bad, sugary foods, Smith says that blood sugar will remain at a more constant level. That means less moodiness and more brain power.
"Even not drinking enough water affects your ability to concentrate, so that contributes to stress, and things can kind of snowball," she says.
Speaking of things sort of snowballing, last spring, the Kansas University campus played petri dish to one of the worst mumps outbreaks in Douglas County history.
Nearly 200 KU students were diagnosed with the illness last spring, which leaves its victims with sore or swollen salivary glands and flulike symptoms.
Carol Seager, director of KU Student Health Services, said that she couldn't predict whether there would be a mumps outbreak this fall.
"I'm sure it's a possibility," she says. "It's certainly one we hope does not become an actuality, clearly."
She suggests that students take three steps to lessen the likelihood of contracting mumps or other illnesses this fall. After all, like the cold or the flu, the mumps is an upper respiratory illness. URIs, as doctors call them, are the most frequently diagnosed illnesses at the Watkins center.
The first step is immunization. Students are required to have been immunized with two measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccines before attending KU.
Because being vaccinated doesn't ensure that you won't get mumps, Seager also suggests that students live a healthy lifestyle. That's step two.
That means eating well, getting plenty of sleep, drinking a lot of water and exercising regularly.
The third step is a new idea called "social distancing." Seager says that it's very important for students who are sick to distance themselves from others. That means staying home from class, not going to parties and covering your mouth when you cough.
Medicine cabinet musts
A checklist of over-the-counter medications you'll swear by at semester's end: ¢ Tylenol, for fever, headaches and pains. ¢ Pepto-Bismol, for nausea and other stomach problems. ¢ Tums, for heartburn. Also a good calcium supplement. ¢ Neosporin and Band-Aids for cuts and scrapes. ¢ Allergy medicine, to ward off all the pollens floating around on the Hill. ¢ Vitamins, if you know you won't eat right. Smith says, "The best source of nutrition is from food. They can't crush that down into a pill." Source: KU Wellness Resource Center
She adds that though the third step might be difficult for students who'd rather go to a crowded bar then stay home on the couch eating chicken broth, it's a vital step in ensuring that the mumps outbreak gets stamped out this fall.
How not to earn a degree in drinking
According to the Wellness Resource Center, binge drinking is one of the biggest problems among college students.
That's because consuming too much alcohol results in a myriad of health problems. Hangovers, dehydration, liver problems, weight gain, sleep deprivation and addiction can all result from bar-hopping and partying in excess.
Smith recommends that students visit www.e-chug.com. The Web site offers a lot of information on drinking and how it affects health.
One feature allows you to track your blood-alcohol level at any point in a typical night's drinking. Another tells you how much money you'll spend in a year on alcohol. And for those concerned with gaining the "Freshman 15," there's even a page that lines up cheeseburgers to show how many calories you're drinking.
Smith adds that many students might be surprised to learn that "alcohol is more caloric than carbohydrates and protein per gram."
One of the most commonly diagnosed illnesses on campus isn't one that makes you sneeze or run a fever.
It's stress. But, if left unchecked, it can wreak havoc on the immune system, leaving students fatigued, weak or prone to illness.
Between difficult class schedules, working, moving away from home and making new friends, students have a lot to worry about.
Luckily, Counseling and Psychological Services at Watkins Health Center is there to help. CAPS offers students free first-time visits, and charges only $11 for each visit after that.
Dr. Pamela Botts, acting director of CAPS, says that most students who seek services there are dealing with anxiety and depression. But many, she adds, just need a little help with normal college concerns.
"We work with students on a whole variety of issues that can range from adjustment to school to clarifying goals to getting along with roommates, making friends, homesickness. ...a whole range of things that would not be diagnosed," Botts says.
She adds that the main goal of CAPS is to help students get through college emotionally and psychologically. Though stress is the main reason students seek help, others suffering from more serious conditions can get help at CAPS, too. They have a clinical psychiatrist on staff who can diagnose any psychiatric illness onsite.
Botts adds that students shouldn't be nervous to seek treatment with CAPS.
"We see lots of students from every school and every type of student activity," she says.
As far as mental and physical health is concerned, there is no better cure for everyday ills than a healthy dose of exercise.
Those pesky feelings of anxiety often arise from a lack of exercise. Smith says breaking a sweat is a piece of advice we can borrow from our ancestors.
"Ever since human beings have been around, we've had the fight-or-flight syndrome. Those (stress) hormones are released, and the only way to get rid of them are to fight off the woolly mammoth or flee from it," Smith says.
"But now we don't have those and it's not really appropriate to run out of the classroom when you get stressed," she says.
By treading on an elliptical machine at the Student Recreation Fitness Center, 1740 Watkins Center Drive, or simply taking a stroll down Jayhawk Boulevard on the KU campus, students can get rid of stress-inducing hormones.
Dr. Robert Brown, who works at Watkins Health Center, says adding exercise to your daily routine is important both short- and long-term. And, he adds, exercise can help students lose weight and become more adept at climbing The Hill to class.
Smith recommends that students block out 30 minutes of exercise in their schedules each day. It doesn't have to be all at once or extremely vigorous - just somewhat routine.
Dr. Brown says that sexually transmitted diseases also are pretty common in college.
To prevent them, he says students should try to limit the number of sexual partners they have and always use protection. At the Watkins Student Health Center's pharmacy, condoms are sold at cost. That translates to about three condoms for 50 cents.
The Wellness Center also offers dental dams and information on abstinence and how to talk to your partner about using protection.
While most students probably know they should use condoms, they may not know about a new vaccine available this fall. It's called Gardasil, and it's a three-part vaccine against the human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV causes 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, Dr. Brown said. He also said that about half of people in the United States have HPV at least once in their life.
He says the impact of the vaccine could be "huge" in the prevention of those illnesses. Though the Watkins Student Health Center doesn't have the vaccine yet, it will probably be available this fall.