Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Health: Tips from a veteran on keeping illness at bay

Fact: My immune system sucks.

I became a regular at University Health Services, frequenting Searle Hall once a week over a five-week period. Now, I hope your immune system is a lot better than mine, but the fickle Evanston weather combined with the too-close quarters of dorm life makes college a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria.

If you hated being sick in high school, I have some bad news: It’s even worse when you’re in college. Your mom isn’t around to coddle you and make you chicken soup, and you’ll miss your cozy spot on the couch, huddled underneath the blankets as you watch “The Price is Right.”

It’s easy to forget to do certain things when we’re away from home, and often, these things are the ones that help keep illnesses at bay. As a sickness veteran, however, I can suggest ten easy things to keep in mind in order to stay healthy.

Get your shots

Northwestern and the State of Illinois have a list of vaccines they require students to get before coming to school. One that isn’t required, but highly recommended, is the meningococcal vaccine. College students living in dorms are at particularly high risk for meningitis, a life-threatening disease that can affects the brain and spinal cord. Make sure you call up your doctor and schedule an appointment before you head off to college in September and get the vaccine. I also recommend getting flu shots.

Drink up and watch what you eat

Eating healthy in college can be tough. No one is around to make sure you eat your vegetables, but you have to hold yourself accountable anyway. If you find thatHinman’s soggy asparagus isn’t wetting your appetite, buy a refrigerator and get your own fruits and vegetables. The Evanston Farmers’ Market in downtown Evanston offers a wide array of locally grown fruits and vegetables, and it will be around until Nov. 5. After that, Whole Foods is only a few blocks from campus, and if you prefer, Jewel is a short bike, shuttle or train ride away.

Make sure you also bring a reusable water bottle with you to college or buy a Brita pitcher. Fill up and drink up, because water flushes out the toxins in your system. Water will also be your best friend when you’re sick: Keeping yourself hydrated will often help you get over your illness a lot faster.

Cheat a little

Chances are you’ll be too busy to watch what you eat and make sure you’re getting the recommended daily amount of each food group. While they’re no substitute for actually getting sustenance from food, multivitamins can fill in the gap in your college diet. Talk to your doctor about the best one for you. At the very least, I recommend getting a Vitamin C supplement.

Get moving

Head over to SPAC, Blomquist or Patten to work out. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Run or ride your bike out on the Lakefill while it’s still warm outside. Maintaining a healthy exercise habit in college will keep your stamina up and will help your body fight off diseases. It’s also a great way to avoid putting on the freshman 15.

Catch some Z’s

College students are among the most sleep-deprived age group, and if you’re coming to a school like NU, you’ll probably be part of that statistic. But while pulling an all-nighter to study for your econ exam might help you pass, depriving yourself of sleep will put you at a high risk for catching an infection, making you miss class and fall behind anyway.

Procrastination is a part of life, but if you do have to stay up all night, make sure you give your body a chance to recover the next day. That doesn’t mean allowing yourself to stay in bed all day, though. You don’t want to mess up your body’s sleep rhythm, which can lead to insomnia, so make sure you still sleep at normal people time, but maybe wake up at 11 a.m. instead of 9 a.m.

Also, find some time to relax. Make sure you block off some time each week to do something low key. The more stress and pressure you put on yourself and your body, the weaker it gets. If you find that you have no time to just sit down and rest, re-evaluate your schedule and consider cutting something out. Nothing is worth more than your health.

Clean up

Okay, so I’m not exactly the neatest person either. It’s rare to find my room completely clean. But keeping your room sanitary takes less than half an hour. Stock up Clorox or Lysol wipes and wipe down your desk and door knobs once a week. Throw out the trash, and then crack a window open to air it out for a few minutes. And if you’re sick, make sure your tissues go in the trash. Don’t leave them lying around, spreading your germs further.

It’s also a great idea to keep a hand sanitizer in your purse or backpack. Often, we’re in such a hurry to get from class to lunch then back to class that we forget to wash our hands before eating. So having that handy will help you sanitize before you eat.

Towels and sheets go in the laundry, too.

I hope it’s a given that you will do laundry regularly because you really don’t want all that dirt and germs piling up inside your room. But don’t forget to wash your towels and sheets as well. I recommend washing your towels at least every other laundry cycle (assuming you do laundry every week). As for your sheets, wash them at least once a month. If you get sick, throw them in the wash as soon as you feel better. You don’t want to be putting your face in dirty towels or rolling around six to eight hours every night on a bed of germs. Make sure you use the hot water setting because that’s the most effective in getting rid of the germs.

Keep your feet covered.

Even if the people in your floor or suite are the cleanest people you have ever met, make sure you always keep your feet covered when you walk around your dorm, especially when you go into the bathroom. Buy rubber flip-flops, and use them while you’re in the shower to avoid nasty athlete’s foot germs.

Be wary of the bathroom.

I’ve seen people in my dorm wash their dishes in the bathroom sink because it’s a lot closer than the kitchen sink. But even if the cleaning lady just sanitized your bathroom, take the longer walk, use the kitchen sink and don’t risk getting a stomach illness. Think about what you do in the bathroom and where you wash your hands after you do said deed. Do you really want your plates and utensils right next to that?

On a similar note, avoid leaving your toothbrush in the bathroom. You’re better off keeping it in your room. But if it’s necessary, get a toothbrush cap and make sure you keep your toothpaste covered tightly at all times.

Dress appropriately

Make your homepage, and make sure you know the temperature outside before heading out. During the winter, dress slightly warmer than you think you should, especially if you’ve never experienced a Chicago winter. You can always take a layer off if you get really warm in class. Don’t be the idiot who wears shorts in the middle of a snowstorm.

Speaking of snow, if it’s snowi
ng hard outside, or if you unfortunately fall into a snowbank, make sure to change out of your wet clothes when you get back to your room. And invest in some boots — for snow and for rain — to keep your feet dry.

This list won’t make you immune to every disease, but the good thing is Searle is only a phone call away. You will receive free health services as an undergraduate student, and typically, if you need blood work or labs that isn’t covered under the free services, it will be covered by your insurance, whether it’s the NU student insurance or your parents’.

I recommend getting a first-aid kit as well. Stock up on Band-Aids, alcohol wipes and typical medicines for headaches, stomachaches and cold symptoms. My mom, a nurse, also gave me some masks, just in case we get an outbreak of some flu again. But make sure you also have a thermometer with you. If you have a fever, you need to monitor your temperature: It only takes a few degrees higher than average temperature to need urgent care.

The point is, if you’re sick, don’t be afraid to call up Searle. At the very least, if you have a flu, you can speak to the nurse who will give you advice on what to do, so you don’t miss too much of Organic Chem.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Health: Tips from a veteran on keeping illness at bay