Guide to Helping Your Child Stay Healthy in College
As a parent of a college student, it’s normal to have concerns about your child’s health. For years you’ve cooked healthy meals, made exercise a priority, and tried your best to ensure they were well rested.
Now that they are away at school, how do you make sure they are staying healthy?
The team at Glen Allen Pediatrics understands the importance of proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep for college students. We created this helpful guide to ensure that your child’s health needs are met—and that they’re developing healthy habits for the future.
Promote Proper Nutrition
Since your college-aged child may be more likely to eat meals in a hurry or snack during late-night cram sessions, it’s important that they know how to eat healthily and pay attention to their calorie intake. A few suggestions include:
- Portion Control: Share serving size recommendations from the American Heart Association with your child to help them determine the right types of food to eat whether they are in a dining hall, out at a restaurant, or cooking on their own. Other ways to help manage portion control include eating smaller meals, saving part of an entrée for another meal, and avoiding appetizers or desserts.
- Limit (or Avoid) Liquid Calories: Your college student may not be aware that an excessive amount of calories are gained from the liquids they drink. Sodas, sweet iced teas, fruit juices, lattes, sports drinks, and alcohol all contribute to weight gain. Healthier choices include water, unsweet tea, or the occasional diet soda.
- Eat Fruits and Vegetables: According to MyPlate from the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), one-fourth of each meal should consist of fruits and another one-fourth vegetables. Whole dried, frozen, canned, or fresh fruits are the best options while adding vegetables to sandwiches or wraps is an easy way for your child to reach their daily intake.
The remaining meal portions should include one-fourth of a healthy protein and one-fourth of whole grains. For more information about healthy eating, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Encourage a Regular Exercise Routine
To help your child manage their weight and avoid health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, a regular exercise routine is essential. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, states that adults ages 18 and older need 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.
So, how can you encourage your college-aged child to fit physical activity into their busy daily routine? Here are some helpful ideas:
- Take a Break from Studying to Exercise: Studying is more productive when you take regular breaks, and daily exercise is a perfect reason to put down the books or log off the computer. Even a short 15 to 20-minute break to take a walk outdoors to climb the stair in a dorm can help energize your college student and burn calories.
- Make Workouts Fun: From running and dancing to working out at the recreation center and playing organized sports, college life is chock-full of ample physical fitness activities. Encourage your child to find something they enjoy doing, and it will be easier for them to make it part of their routine.
- Keep Track of Progress: If your child is like most college students, they probably don’t go far without their smartphone. Have them put their phone to work by installing an app that tracks physical activity. Whether they count steps with a pedometer app or try to beat their best time on a favorite walking or running path, they’ll be more excited about exercising as they watch their fitness level improve.
Make Sleep a Priority
While you’ve likely made sleep a priority since your child was an infant, it’s just as important now that they are in college. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that adults ages 18 and over need a minimum of seven hours of sleep or more each night. If your child isn’t getting enough sleep at school, consider sharing a few of these tips:
- Establish a Bedtime Routine: College life is busy and the stresses of the day can easily keep your child awake at night. Making a simple to-do list for the following day, doing stretches or yoga, or taking a warm bath are all easy ways to de-stress and relax. Most importantly, urge them to turn off their electronic devices 30 minutes to an hour before they plan to go to bed in order to minimize distractions.
- Buy the Right Bedding: If your child is having a hard time transitioning from their comfy bed at home to a traditional dorm-style bed, the right bedding can make all the difference. Ask them to speak with a staff member in their residence hall to find out if they can purchase their own mattress. If that isn’t an option, invest in a mattress topper to make their bed more comfortable.
- Only Use the Bed for Sleep: The reasoning behind this is quite simple. When your child studies in bed, they associate their bed with school rather than sleep. Help them find a quiet area in their residence hall or encourage them to check out the library if their living quarters aren’t conducive to their study habits. They’re sure to find plenty of cozy places around campus to study.
For more information on how you can help your child stay healthy while they are away at college, contact Glen Allen Pediatrics today by dialing (804) 282-4210. Our small family practice of doctors, nurses, and staff offers pediatric services from infancy through the college years.