Give germs the cold shoulder this winter

The average U.S. adult catches between two and four colds per year.

By Emily Eiermann
eiermanne@theridernews.com

The weather is getting colder, the stress levels are increasing as the semester approaches midterms and, one by one, students are falling victim to illness.

Some coughs can be attributed to fall allergies, but as students return to their dorms and classes and find themselves in constant close proximity to each other, germs are easily shared. According to Robin Mansfield and Lynn Eiding, nurse practitioners at the health center on campus, upper respiratory infections are common this time of year, including sinusitis, strep pharyngitis, mononucleosis and bronchitis. Thankfully, by following a few steps toward achieving a healthier lifestyle, the risks of catching these can be reduced.

Time management is a common problem for college students. The attempts to balance classes, homework, social lives and sometimes a job or internship is an ongoing struggle, leaving students tired, stressed and ultimately, sick. Scheduling time for adequate sleep is one way to help fight off diseases.

A study featured in Scientific American found that a lack of sleep directly affects people’s immune systems. Sleeping for less than seven hours a night leaves people nearly three times more likely to catch a cold than those who sleep the suggested eight hours. Of course, as exams roll around the corner and work piles up, the notion of eight hours of sleep can seem more like a fairy tale than a reality, but giving sleep a priority can help reduce the risk of getting sick.

Mansfield and Eiding also listed poor nutrition and a lack of exercise as causes for susceptibility. As students turn to all-nighters to finish their work and cram for midterms, they often turn to late night binging on junk food and caffeine to keep them awake. However, keeping a balanced diet and exercising regularly can increase your ability to fight disease.

But for those who are lacking in a few aspects of their diets, Eiding included vitamins as a way of keeping their bodies fit.

“Vitamins, especially Vitamin C, don’t necessarily protect from illness,” she said. “But a multivitamin can be used if eating habits are poor.”

Of course, there are more light-hearted ways to help beat illnesses this semester. Zen College Life, a website geared to college students, offers a list of 99 tips to keep healthy during the school year. These include singing in the shower (if you are not opposed to the resulting hatred of your floormates), wearing earplugs (especially if someone is singing out-of-key in the shower), drinking enough water, and cooking your own meals.

However, none of these tips are miracle workers. Those who are sick should place even more emphasis on healthy lifestyle habits and refrain from going to their classes to avoid worsening the symptoms and putting other students at risk. Eiding and Mansfield also emphasized the importance of hand washing, explaining that it should be done for at least 15 seconds at a time, multiple times throughout the day to prevent germs from spreading.

Simple acts can also keep viruses from spreading. Tissues should be thrown away immediately after use, and Eiding urged students to “please cover your mouth when coughing.”

Fall is the season of falling leaves, apple picking, schoolwork and the common cold. But with a few tricks and a changed habit or two, a healthier student body can be provided for Rider.

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