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Healthy balance is important for back-to-school

By Linwood Outlaw III - loutlaw@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- For many young adults, it's an exciting new chapter.

Michael Rinker, 21, of Edinburg, feeds the soda machine in the lounge at Lord Fairfax Community College on Thursday. Rinker works a 40-hour week and is a full-time student at the college. Photos by Rich Cooley/Daily

Olivia Harris, 18, of Woodstock, chats with Shawn Carlisle, 35, of Star Tannery, during orientation at Lord Fairfax Community College on Thursday in Middletown.

It's a chance to live on your own for the first time, meet new people and lay the foundation for your future.

With classes back in session this month, students are eager to get to their college campus and explore the opportunities that await them. But, in the midst of studying long hours and having a social life, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can easily get lost in the shuffle, something 18-year old Olivia Harris is well aware of.

"It can be [difficult]. It depends on how you're dieting and how you're eating first of all," said Harris, a student at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown. "If [I'm] not finding enough time to fit in a meal or anything, I'm usually cramming in junk food. And then, I end up not exercising ... because, I'm studying."

Michael Rinker's typical snack while cramming late at night for big tests? "Lots of Doritos," said Rinker, 21, a science major at LFCC.

Sticking to a healthy diet and consistent exercise routine is a problem for many college students as they try to juggle multiple responsibilities at once. Besides asking students to pile up on the fruits and veggies, local school officials offer several tips for striking a balance between succeeding academically and staying healthy.

Meals served at college cafeterias, buffets and nearby fast food restaurants make it all the more tempting for students to pick junk food over healthier alternatives. But, fruits and vegetables can make great snacks, too, and they are a better source of energy than other commercial products, said David Urso, coordinator of student life at LFCC.

"Eating healthy allows your mind to focus on what you want to do," Urso said. "Sugar and energy drinks and stuff like that may get you through the first half, but what happens halfway through a class when you crash? You're going to have to find a way to self-motivate and keep yourself going."

Ron Stickley, director of health services at Shenandoah University, agrees.

"We tell [students] to eat sensibly. Just because [the cafeteria] serves pizza every day doesn't mean you have to eat pizza every day. You still need to eat veggies and drink water," Stickley said. "The big thing is to make sure they start out in the morning eating so that their body can get going. Don't wait until 8 a.m. to get up for a class that starts at 8:10 a.m."

Stress from demanding academic and social schedules can even cause students to eat less, which puts them at risk of developing eating disorders, health experts say.

College students should find a health care provider at their school or local health clinic for routine check-ups and advice on how to improve their diet, officials say. Students must also engage in exercises that increase their breathing and heart rates at least two hours a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Riding bikes, jogging and participating in intramural sports are good ways for students to exercise, Stickley said.

"Exercise is also going to be a stress relief," Urso added. "I realize, by default, how stressful just transitioning back in and getting started [can be], particularly for students who are coming right out of high school or have been out [of school] for a while."

Students are more likely to munch on unhealthy snacks and energy drinks during prolonged studying at night, a habit that creates another health issue: Sleep deprivation.

Insufficient sleep is associated with conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and depression. Students who study too many hours late at night are more prone to sleep deprivation, and things aren't any easier if you have a job during the school year, Rinker said.

"I work 40 hours a week. And then, I come here and take 17 credits. So, I kind of sacrifice the healthy lifestyle," Rinker said. "It's got to be difficult [to find a balance], especially if you work. If you didn't work, I'd say it's probably a lot easier."

Lack of sleep can adversely affect concentration and cause fatigue in the daytime. It also puts students at risk for things like automobile crashes and poor academic performance. Students should review their academic, work and social schedules periodically and make necessary changes to ensure they get eight hours of sleep each night, CDC experts say. They should also avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, as their effects can take hours to fully wear off.

"I tell students in some of the classes I teach 'you're going to have a critical moment that occurs at some point where you have to decide between staying up and studying for two more hours or going to bed and trying to go into a test not feeling as prepared,'" Urso said. "The brain needs that sleep. The sleep will do you better than staying up and cramming."

In addition to resisting pressures to use drugs and alcohol, school officials are also asking students to get vaccinated to help prevent the spread of other diseases. It is recommended that college students get polio, hepatitis, human papillomavirus, varicella, and influenza vaccines. The most highly recommended vaccines, Stickley said, are those for preventing meningococcal meningitis, a rare disease that can cause brain damage or loss of limbs.

Meningitis strikes abut 2,500 Americans annually, 10 to 15 percent of whom end up dying from the disease, according to CDC. Students living in dormitories have a higher risk of contracting meningitis. Incidents of adolescents and young adults getting the disease has increased by nearly 60 percent since the early 1990s.

"Meningitis is one of those diseases that doesn't affect as many people. But, when it [does], it can have devastating consequences," Stickley said.

The fall semester for LFCC students begins on Saturday, and classes at SU will start Aug. 24. Welcome Week at the university, meanwhile, will be held today through Saturday.


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