The 10 Health Facts High School Seniors Need to Know

I have one more year before I send my oldest into the wild west of college. Having been on many college visits, it is amazing to me to see the focus on wellness — high tech, gorgeous fitness centers, tons of healthy food choices, emotional support, etc. We had none of that and we gained weight, got sick too often and stressed. These kids have all of it and they are still gaining weight, getting sick and are even more stressed than we ever were. I think we need to start younger.

I have a dream of one day implementing a REAL wellness program in middle school and high school, not one focused on forced exercise most teens resent and health classes where kids memorize for a test and immediately forget the information. I want to delve deep into the important topics kids should understand. No tests. Everyone gets an A for showing up and being respectful. The also get a lifelong education about what it takes to maintain a healthy body and mind, despite the challenges and temptations of life.

When I think of the things I want Madelyn to understand about her body and her wellbeing before she enters college, these are the first 10 that come to mind.

  1. It is very hard to lose weight once you’ve gained it.
    Let’s jump right to the Freshman 15. Our bodies want to maintain, not lose. This helped us when we were cave people and the next meal was a dead lion away. It does not help us now. Losing weight is hard, and it is not as simple as we once thought it was. We now have lots of evidence it isn’t as simple as eating less and moving more. Yes, it is a good start, but our bodies will fight us to keep a new “normal” weight. They want to hold on to the status quo and have evolved ways to make it harder to lose weight than it is to gain it.
  2. Sugar, processed food and alcohol crush your immune system.
    A diet of beer, Doritos and lattes will not only promote the problem above, they will lower the ability of the immune system to do its job. Being sick at school, without your mother and with roommates who are more concerned with catching what you have than taking care of you, kind of well … sucks.
  3. A consistently good night’s sleep does wonders for the body.
    For decreasing stress, increasing focus, supporting your immune system and your happiness, there is nothing quite like good, consistent sleep. I know most college students give up a healthy sleep routine for cramming, parties, or even binge watching Friends. I am not naive enough to think college kids are going to make a solid 7 hours a priority, if they could really understand how much this lack of a sleep schedule negatively affects their health, their academic and sports performance and their mental wellness, I believe they would, at least occasionally, put down the red solo cup or the laptop and opt for a good night’s sleep.
  4. HIV is still a prevalent disease.
    Seemed to make sense to jump from sleep to sex. Just because we don’t hear as much about HIV and AIDS does NOT mean it is not a risk of unprotected sex. Herpes, genital warts, chlamydia and gonorrhea are all rearing their ugly heads in college. It does not matter if she is on the pill, it does not matter if he says he’s only done it a couple of times, STDs are very real and very preventable. Condoms people. Always.
  5. Fruits and vegetables are our friends.
    I have dim recollections of the dining hall at Manhattan College, but I don’t remember a whole lot of tasty, healthy options. Now, there are options galore; vibrant salad bars, smoothy stations, vegetarian and gluten free options. The trick is they have to be chosen. All those colorful fruits and veggies aren’t there just to make parents happy during tours, they are meant to be eaten. Eat lots … often. They will keep them well, boost their energy, lower their calorie intake and stabilize their bowel movements (counteracting all that happens after a kegger.)
  6. Stress shows up in the physical body. 
    When they have a backache, or a headache, or are feeling exhausted, the first place to look is their stress level. For all of our insisting we just want happy kids, the message we send is often very contrary. For all of our understanding of the mind-body connection, we still are not equipping our children with the tools to manage pressure. We are seeing more and more kids on anti-anxiety and anti-depression meds than ever before. Good stress management is good preventive medicine.
  7. Piggy backing off of #6, no one ever died from a bad grade. Medical fact!
  8. Exercise will make their life easier.
    Everything will be better if they get some physical activity in at least every other day. Much like the healthy food, the beautiful fitness facilities are doing no one any good if you just look at them in the brochures. Joining a rec sport, taking classes, going for a walk or a swim, will not only help their bodies. Exercise will help their minds, decrease their anxiety, and make them happier.
  9. People are more successful when they are supported.
    Most colleges have great mental health and addiction services, social and academic resources now. Needing some help is not a sign of weakness and seeking help is a sign of strength. When you find yourself starting to slip, whatever the problem may be, this is the time to seek help. Rock bottom hurts. Support is available!
  10. Moderation is pretty much the key to a happy, healthy life.
    Partying is O.K. … in moderation. Junk food is O.K. … in moderation. Being a couch potato is O.K. … in moderation. Finding a healthy balance can be hard, but listening to your body should make it easier. Your body does not want 6 beers, it does not want pizza every night, it does not want to be sedentary. If you pay attention to the cues your body sends you and act on them, you will be just fine without depriving yourself.

There are so many other things I want to impress upon my daughter before she sets off for college … things like respect yourself, work hard but not too hard, have fun but not too much fun, I can be there in a few hours, people transfer, mix your own drink, don’t drink, practice safe sex, don’t have sex, people fail out, tequila and Jaegermeister don’t mix … things like that. I have some time, and I’ll work on it but I wish I could run a pre-college wellness boot camp using my experiences, my mistakes and my education to prep teenagers for the first time they are really responsible for their own wellbeing. If anyone hears of an opening …

 

 

 

 

 

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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Physician, Wellness Coach, and founder of Tips From Town. She is passionate about sharing her medical expertise, her coaching techniques and her parenting experience to encourage happier and healthier lives.

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