Staying fit and healthy at uni

You have probably been responsible for keeping your child healthy since the day they were born. Even though you will no longer be on hand to administer spoonfuls of medicine once they have left home for university, you can still pack them off with some sound advice for surviving those first few terms. They might not like it, but they will thank you in the long run, says Sophie Morris
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The Independent Online

Food

If you have cooked with your child they should know the basics, but it is easy for them to fall into bad habits as soon as parents’ backs are turned. If you can’t cook, university is a good time to experiment as no one will expect ‘Masterchef’ standards. But for the sake of economy, many students stick to a sugary, high-carb diet of pasta, bread, rice and cereals, which won’t feed their bodies with the many nutrients that result from a balanced diet. Point out that a poor diet will make them look and feel below par, and offer the following tips:

  • Don’t forget to eat regularly, even though someone isn’t putting hot food in front of you every mealtime.
  • Make sure each of your three regular meals contains some protein and something green.
  • Avoid sugary drinks (especially energy drinks and alcopops).
  • Avoid the microwave; it sucks all the good stuff out of your food before it hits your plate.
  • It is much cheaper to cook for a crowd. Roasting a chicken for four and cooking lots of fresh veg is cheaper than buying a sandwich.
  • Buy Lindsey Bareham’s book, ‘A Wolf in the Kitchen’. It is the perfect introduction to cooking for anyone who wants to prepare good healthy food on a shoestring.




Sleep

Students and teenagers have a reputation for being lazy. Late nights, noisy neighbours and early morning lectures (even if you can hop back into bed afterwards) mean most have irregular sleep patterns.

The more you teach your child about the benefits of regular, good sleep, the less likely it is they will return for Christmas tired, grumpy and stressed out.

The American Academy of Sleep Education recommends 11 hours of sleep a night for students, which is quite a tall order. It advises going to bed early and never on a full stomach, avoiding caffeine and getting up at the same time on the weekends to get your body into a regular cycle.

This is good advice, but fairly idealistic, and young people rarely enjoy being dictated to. If you think they will struggle to stick to a regular sleep schedule and prioritise study and socialising over shut-eye, the best thing you can do is help make their room as comfortable for sleeping as possible.

  • If bedroom curtains don’t keep out the light, buy blackout material.
  • Keep as as few appliances as possible in the bedroom, and make sure they are all switched off at night, which is both green and economical.
  • Invest in a good duvet and bedding made from natural fibres.
  • If noise or light are problems, get some earplugs and an eye mask.
  • Restrict afternoon naps to one or two hours, but don’t be afraid to lie in bed all Sunday if you have missed out too many hours of sleep during the week.
  • Buy a Lumie alarm clock and wake up to white noise and light. It may sound a bit wacky but it’s the most natural way ( www.lumie.com)




Health

A bit of a minefield this one. Young people are amazingly resilient, but shared (often not particularly clean) accommodation, late nights and poor nutrition can fell even the strongest teenager.

Encourage yours to read the freshers’ pack they will have received in the post. It should contain details on how to register with a GP. Suggest they find a dentist too: not cheap or easy, but they will thank you for it in the years to come. Then, drop some gentle warnings into pre-uni conversations with your child, including:



  • Debilitating bugs spread like wildfire around student halls of residence.
  • If they catch anything, advise them to give themselves time to recover instead of dashing out to the next party, and keep well hydrated.
  • Advise them to keep an eye on themselves and their friends for symptoms of anything more serious, such as flu or meningitis.
  • No one wants to be given condoms by their mother. Get an older sibling/cousin/friend to do the honours on your behalf.
  • The fast pace of student life, especially for those living away from home, can overwhelm many students. Make it clear you are on hand to chat if needs be.
  • If you sense your child is feeling anxious or depressed in any way, get them to ask the university for help before it develops into a more serious problem.
  • Buy a good multivitamin and read up on other useful supplements if you suspect your child might skimp on the fruit and veg. Check out Solgar’s website ( www.solgar.com).




Exercise

A little exercise goes a long way for busy students. It will give them energy and a clear mind, and keep fresher fat at bay, too. Nagging them not to spend their days playing computer games or sitting in the bar is unlikely to yield positive results, but some simple sleuthing could get them up and about without them even noticing.

  • If your child is not a fan of team sports or the gym, investigate their route to and from lectures. Walking or cycling is the best way for them to fit in 20 to 40 minutes of exercise without eating into their work or play time.
  • The best way to take more strenuous exercise is outdoors and with friends. Point out that the easiest way to make new friends who aren’t just course mates or neighbours is by joining a sports team.
  • If football and hockey aren’t their bag, university is a great time to learn something more unusual such as a martial art, fencing or mountain climbing.
  • They can explore their local area by going for a jog. Taking a friend means they can have a gossip.
  • As well as teams for every sport, most universities have subsidised gyms and even swimming pools. If they complain of feeling tired or sluggish, a short swim or yoga class is a great way to wake up before a day in the library or refresh the mind and body after a night out.
  • Buy your girls a decent sports bra, and if your child wants to run, get them some proper trainers.

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