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ISSUE 119 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/14/2006

Avoid spring sniffles, stress

By Jenna Johanson
Contributing Writers

Friday, April 14, 2006

We have almost come to expect it: getting sick when we return back to school from a long-needed break, after a stressful week of midterms, or after pulling several all-nighters, is something we have all experienced.

Why? Do we have to expect a cough and sore throat at these times? Actually, there is hope for preventing the dreaded plague that sweeps the campus multiple times each semester.

So, as college students, what can we do to keep ourselves healthy? College students do have poor sleeping, eating and exercise habits and often have a difficult time dealing with stress. Healthy changes in these areas will produce a helpful boost to your immune system.

First of all: stress. A little stress is OK, but continuous stress over time weakens our immune system by releasing excess amounts of the hormone cortisol into our body.

Completely eliminating stress is impossible, but keeping stress to a minimum is a realistic goal. Some helpful tips are to learn to say "No" to taking on extra tasks and responsibilities. It is also helpful to talk about your stress to keep it in perspective - maybe you can even laugh about it.

Laughter is proven to increase your infection fighting antibodies, so bring on the Laffy Taffy jokes!

Sleep also influences the immune system and is directly correlated with stress. Sleep is the time when your body reinforces and replenishes the immune system.

Most of us have experienced difficulty falling asleep the night before a big test. Studies show that every night counts: Even one late night can decrease your immune system's ability to keep you healthy.

Another important point is that alcohol disrupts sleep. So, even if you get 12 hours of sleep after a late night at the bar, it is not the same quality of sleep that you would get if you were sober.

A couple tips to improve your sleep are to exercise (but not within two hours of when you plan to go to sleep), avoid napping, and if you cannot sleep at all, get up and do something for a few minutes and try again.

Next, diet and exercise play an important role in a strong immune system. College students make many excuses for not exercising or eating right, but there is proof that a little extra effort goes a long way.

First of all, fruits and vegetables contain valuable phyto-nutrients. Phyto-nutrients enhance the immune system and repair damaged cells. I guess that's why they say, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

Also, meat and protein have been shown to help fight infection.

Exercise is something we all know is good for our cardiovascular health, but did you know it was good for your immune system as well?

Regular exercise can lead to great benefits in the immune system. It produces a temporary increase in your body's ability to attack bacteria and viruses. But be careful not to over do it, especially if you are sick.

In addition, exercise also helps to lift your mood and to decrease stress. These areas of wellness are interconnected.

Last, the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Think about all the people that have touched that computer keyboard or door handle before you. By regularly washing your hands you can prevent the spread of germs causing colds, flu, hepatitis A, meningitis and infectious diarrhea. Yuck! Remember to scrub for at least 15 seconds. So keep in mind that a little prevention done today will prevent you from the stress of getting sick in the future.

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