How To Graduate With Your Health Intact

The start of a new university year can expose students to all sorts of health woes. The experts explain how to boost your brain power and protect yourself from STIs and all those other nasties.

While the sweet smell of freedom after years of living at home can drive even the most serious of students to act a bit wildly - you need to remember to take care of yourself too.

A new uni term - whether you're starting afresh or returning from summer hols - means you'll be meeting new people, dealing with deadlines that approach faster than freight trains, enjoying late nights out, sleeping through your morning classes, and eating endless amounts of pretty terrible food.

By following our simple health survival guide, your body and your mind should be able to cope - and hopefully, you'll be able to avoid the more common pitfalls that uni life can throw your way.

:: HANGOVERS


And so we begin with the essential: knowing your limits. During the first term of university, it's likely that you'll be having lots of nights out. While we encourage you to enjoy yourself, it's also key to know when to stop - as the knock-on effects of drinking too much can lead to some unexpected, and unwelcome, consequences.

"Alcohol is a problem for all sorts of reasons and the first one is that if you've been drinking at all, you become disinhibited and are more likely to have unprotected sex or take risks you'd normally shy away from," warns Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a Birmingham-based GP.

"In the short term, alcohol affects your ability to work and concentrate," he adds. "But the knock-on effects go right through to long-term alcoholism and other health problems such as heart attack, weight gain and cancer."

So how much is too much? The recommended allowance for guys is three to four units a day, whereas for women it's two units. A glass of wine can have
anything from 1.5 to three units, depending on its size and strength.

If you are going on a bender, eat before you go out, don't mix your drinks, have a glass of water every other round, don't leave your glass unattended, stick with your (albeit new) friends and plan your journey home before you set out.

If you're interested in giving alcohol a miss, you could try Kudzu - a herbal supplement that's believed to help reduce alcohol cravings and
the nasty after-effects of a big night out.

Another alternative is to take herb milk thistle before and after drinking to help detoxify the liver. Milk thistle promotes the regeneration of new cells - perfect after obliterating them down the pub.

:: STIs


You're young, you're in the mood, and you're surrounded by your peers: it would be unrealistic to think that you won't be having sex - or at
least thinking about it, but be careful...

According to the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, STIs among 15-29 year olds made up three quarters of reported STIs!

"Students are at risk of STIs when they go to uni, particularly in the first few weeks where they're meeting new acquaintances and wanting to be sexually active," says Professor Field.

"The only way to help safeguard against your own risk is to use a condom. Some STIs, like chlamydia - which affects both men and women - often don't produce any symptoms, but you can render yourself infertile later in life because of it."

So what should you look out for? Any itching, swelling, redness around, or unusual discharge from, the vagina or penis, or pains in the lower abdomen, mean you should get yourself to your GP, family planning or sexual health clinic pronto.

Getting both yourself and your partner tested will help cut down your risk, but always be sure to wear protection, says Professor Field.

"Safe sex also includes not having sex," he says, "but if you can't do that, then remember to wear a condom whenever you get sexually active - in any way."

For more info on STIs go to www.sti.health.gov.au

:: FLAGGING ENERGY


You're probably bored just reading this article - and this isn't even a lecture! If you're finding uni hellish, it's likely that you're in need of some energy boosters.

Partying hard, eating badly and overextending yourself can lead to longer-term health effects, so it's important that you take time to exercise. Exercise helps keep you calm during exams, leading you to feel more energised and refreshed and - in turn - helps you perform better in your studies.

You don't have to become the captain of the uni football team - all you have to do is engage in some regular physical activity for 30 minutes five days a week. It will keep you at a healthy weight and lower your risk of major illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. Join a sports or activity group and you'll meet people too.

Certain vitamins can also help, such as Vitamin B and C. B vitamins are lost from the body due to smoking and alcohol consumption and from food during cooking and over processing. Vitamin C is needed for the transformation of food into energy, and is also an antioxidant that may help support the body's immune system - helping you avoid Freshers' Flu.
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