Getting physical

Advice on keeping fit and staying healthy during your student days. By Frank Tickner
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The Independent Online

When you are fit and healthy, it's hard to think about being ill, but how you live at university or college will determine whether you stay healthy or spoil your time there with avoidable illnesses. It all boils down to the simple things - watching what you eat, getting regular exercise and not overdoing the hedonism...

When you are fit and healthy, it's hard to think about being ill, but how you live at university or college will determine whether you stay healthy or spoil your time there with avoidable illnesses. It all boils down to the simple things - watching what you eat, getting regular exercise and not overdoing the hedonism...

Diet

The nature of your diet will depend greatly on whether your accommodation is catered or self-catered. For those of you going into catered halls, the food suppliers obviously have an obligation to feed you relatively healthily, and you can always pick up any extras you need. You may have to adjust to the meal times though, as food is usually served pretty early in the evenings. Some of you may be worried that other commitments (such as sports training) will clash with dinner. Universities and colleges will have systems to cope with this though. For instance, I used to collect a meal voucher most days that would entitle me to food on campus.

Nutrition is more difficult for those fending for themselves. With their new and perhaps frenetic lifestyle, many do not pay their eating habits enough attention. It is vital you allow yourself a balanced and nutritious diet, and therefore equally important you give it some thought before you start. Make sure you invest in some decent recipe books, and a pack of multivitamins wouldn't go amiss!

Keeping fit

Students are renowned for giving up any previous sporting involvement when starting university/college. Admittedly it can be a bit demoralising when trying out for teams - many find the standards too high as it's a completely different level from school sport. This is no reason to stop exercising though. Joining the athletic union will allow you access to the university/college's facilities, and there is a huge selection of exercise classes on offer. Not only is it a perfect way to keep fit, but sport also introduces you to a whole new social circle.

If you plan to take a car with you, try to refrain from becoming completely dependent on it. The chances are that your lectures will be some way from your accommodation, but that's no excuse not to walk or cycle the distance - not only is it better for you, it's an integral part of student life!

Medical practices

During your Freshers' Week one of the more sensible things to do is register with both a doctor and a dentist. Most universities will have a particular practice they are affiliated with. Make sure that wherever you choose is relatively close to where you'll be living. You will be required to have a check-up when you register at the doctor's, and for this reason surgeries can get extremely busy during the first week or so. There will be plenty of help on offer though, and lots of advice concerning typical illnesses and also on more serious cases. In university and college environments infectious bacteria thrive on the student population, so it is important you are registered with a doctor. Do it while you are fit!

Meningitis is one of the more dangerous diseases you should be aware of. It is an infection of the fluid in the spinal cord and the fluid surrounding the brain, and can be caused by viral or bacterial infection. While the former is relatively harmless, the latter may result in hearing loss or brain damage. The main symptoms are fever, headaches and stiff neck.

If at all worried, consult your doctor - there are a number of antibiotics that can combat meningitis, but treatment needs to begin as early as possible. And although the bacteria are not highly contagious (they are not spread by casual contact) they can be spread by exchange of oral secretions - kissing for example...

The highlife

Many students will be attracted to those archetypal student pastimes: drinking, smoking and experimenting with drugs. In the case of drug use, university and college accommodation services takes a harsh stance with heavy disciplinary consequences. This is not to say that it doesn't go on - it does - but you should be aware of what you might be getting yourself into.

Sex is another thing seen as commonplace - although by no means everyone gets involved. Students are prime targets for plenty of sexual advice, the most important being protection. The doctor's and sexual health clinics offer free contraception as well as check-ups, both being sensible options to take advantage of if you are sexually active.

Ultimately it is down to you how you live at university or college. You should, however, be aware of the important role your health will play during your time there, how central it is to the quality of your experience. You are not by yourself; there is plenty of health help at hand and it is foolish not to make use of it.

Frank is studying English and French at Birmingham University

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