HEALT & FITNESS - College brings health challenges

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Oh the glory days of meeting new faces, writing term papers and tailgating for Saturday football games. As fall approaches, college is an exciting time for young adults to embrace freedom and explore talents and life possibilities.

Reflecting on the last 6.5 years of my college experience, I realized what an emotional, mental and physical toll college had on my mind and body -- all while trying to "figure life out."

College students have the tendency to throw all health knowledge out the door, when in reality it is crucial to be mindful of life choices. From the freshman 15, sleep deprivation, relationship break-ups to deadline pressures, university students struggle to maintain balance and health.

Broke students' diet generally incorporates cheap, low-quality foods including ramen noodles, chips or sugary snacks. Some on-campus hot food can be drenched in butter, oil or cheese. Not only are these foods rough on the digestive system, but they do not provide enough energy to mentally and physically sustain students' long days.

Stressed students can improve eating habits by making it a goal to start eating at least one whole-food, nutritious meal a day. Once time management is controlled, students should incorporate healthy foods in every meal.

Drinking can be a part of the college culture. Sometimes students unwisely spend money on alcohol and fancy additives like energy drinks in place of high-quality foods. It is important for students to understand what alcohol does to the system to reinforce smart drinking.

When drinking, the liver must work "overtime" to properly function. As alcohol is consumed, the liver processes alcohol into a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. This then turns into acetate, which is eliminated through a person's urine, breath and sweat.

When the liver is trying to metabolize alcohol it cannot send energy glucose to other areas of the body.

For a 150-pound person, it takes two hours for the liver to metabolize beer. Therefore, "sobering up" quickly is not an option especially when consuming numerous beverages. Students who drink more than four alcoholic beverages are considered binge drinkers.

Thirty-four percent of energy-drink consumers are between the ages of 18 to 24. Energy-mixed alcoholic beverages mask the depressant effects of alcohol. Caffeine is not metabolized in the liver, and it does not affect the breath alcohol concentrations. Only alcohol will be present in the system if asked to take a breathalyzer.

Weight gain from alcohol is common due to the daily caloric intake. If a student generally eats 1,800-2,000 calories per day and consumes additional alcohol calories, he or she is bound to experience the "Freshman 15."

Alcohol should never replace meal calories. Complex carbohydrates are the number one food a student should consume. When drastically cutting carbs or calories, students immediately feel mental fatigue and confusion. The brain feeds on carbohydrates to sustain clarity and alertness for long days and exams.

Beyond beer and bogus meals, depression and sleep deprivation among young adults are detrimental. Pulling all-nighters require loads of caffeine or energy stimulants. Some stimulants are known to take up to eight hours to wear off and leave students groggy and mentally confused the next day.

Students need to make it a goal to get a full eight hours of sleep. Students who lie in bed with wondering minds struggle to relax and sleep. Restless minds should drink a cup of chamomile or bedtime tea.

Using over the counter substances like Nyquil can lead to addiction. Once addiction occurs, people generally need to ingest a larger serving to feel the effects. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep-less students experience "daytime sleepiness, sluggishness and difficulty concentrating or making decisions. Students are at risk for: automobile crashes; poor grades and school performance, depressed moods, problems with friends, fellow students, and adult relationships."

Students with an eating, alcohol or sleep disorder should contact the campus health center professionals.

College students should take breaks with a walk or bike ride to refresh the mind and energize the body.

Elizabeth Kovar has been working in the fitness industry since 2006 with international experience in India and Australia. She has a master's degree in recreation and tourism and is a programs coordinator at the YMCA where she trains, instructs fitness classes and assists in marketing projects. She welcomes questions and comments and can be reached at ekovar@wwymca.org.

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