dog with cold compress on its head

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—Scott H., Humber College, Ontario

This question is both easy and difficult to answer. Easy, because what I’ll recommend may seem obvious. Hard, because it may not be so easy to do. We can get sick in various ways. We can catch an infection, develop a chronic disease, or experience emotional illness. These behaviours help keep us healthy:

1. Get the flu shot every year.

This is especially important if you live in a residential setting and/or are medically at higher risk of complications from infections.

2. If you’re around someone who has a cold or the flu…

Don’t share their eating utensils, dishes, and bed linens, and avoid touching surfaces that could be harbouring germs from coughs and sneezes. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says: “Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.” If you get sick, stay home; don’t spread it to others. Stay hydrated and frequently wash your hands with soap and water.

Canadian food guide eat variety healthy foods3. Eat a balanced diet

Follow Canada’s food guide. Where most people have difficulty is getting several fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Prioritize that.

4. Be physically active.

A little bit every day adds up to what you need. Every week, get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity movement (equivalent to a half-hour running, biking, or dancing on five days) and two strength-training sessions (using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or your own bodyweight), as recommended by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP). Recent research shows that brief, high intensity workouts provide many of the same health benefits. Stretching is important to avoid injuries.

5. Get enough sleep.

Lack of sleep is very common in students, and is linked to physical and psychological illness, as well as academic struggles. If you are daunted by the goal of nine hours a night, focus on waking up at a consistent time each day, and making incremental gains: 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there. It makes a difference.

6. Minimize stress.

Your campus counselling service can give you practical tips. One of the most important stress-reduction strategies is time management.

As I said, this is obvious, yet difficult to do consistently. Any healthy behaviours that you can turn into a habit will serve you well.

How to eat (Health Canada)
How to move (CSEP)
How to sleep (Canadian Sleep Society)
How to de-stress  (Canadian Mental Health Association)

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