Monday, July 17, 2017

10 Things Every College Girl Should Do For Her Health

Hello, beautiful! Today, I'm here to get just a lil' bit serious with you about an important subject: your health.

Lots of college kids make the mistake of putting off their health, saying that they're young and don't need to think about those things until they're an adult. However, building strong habits now when you're in your 20s will make it easier to establish healthy habits as an adult.

I think it's super important to take care of our bodies - after all, you only get one in this life! (Depending on what you believe, of course.) So, I put together a short list of 10 easy ways you can take better care of yourself now, to improve your health later in life! Check them out below :)

1. Use a birth control method.

I'm starting off with a bit of a contentious one - but let me explain what I mean: every girl should use a birth control method (emphasis on the "a"). What that method is depends on your personal preferences and beliefs, of course!

Using a birth control method is an important sign of respect for your body. If you're sexually active, it shows that taking responsibility for your own sexual health is important to you - and, as an added bonus, birth control can help tackle other health problems such as endometriosis and acne, even if you're not having sex.

Though many people think of birth control as a pill or an implanted device, hormones aren't the only way to regulate your menstrual cycle. There's the copper IUD for one - or, the FAM method. If you haven't heard of the Fertility Awareness Method (aka the FAM method), it's a way of taking control of your cycle without any added hormones or devices. 

If you want to learn more about your periods and how to chart your fertility, visit Groove's website for a free 7-day e-course on your menstrual cycle. I took it about a year ago, and I have to say it completely transformed the way I view my body and all of its signs!

2. Visit a gynecologist.

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, girls should start getting annual gynecological screenings around their 13th birthday and pap smears by their 21st. If you've never had a gynecological exam, here's a quick guide to what it is and what it feels like.

It's important to take your gynecological exams seriously, especially once you start getting pap smears. Pap smears test for cervical cancer and HPV, an STD that can put you at a higher risk of cervical cancer (though if you've had the Gardasil vaccine series, like many college girls have, you're already protected against HPV!). If you want to know more about what a pap smear is and what it feels like, here's a quick rundown from Healthline.

Getting a pap smear basically determines whether or not the cells on your cervix (the lower part of your uterus that extends into the vagina) are normal or abnormal. But while an abnormal result can be scary, most of the time it doesn't mean they're cancerous. If your cells are abnormal, you might simply need a pap smear more often than every 3 years, and your doctor will probably keep a watchful eye for any changes in your cervix.

3. Track your period.

If you're still the gal who rolls into the doctor's office and has to look at a calendar to guess when her last period started, now's the time to start tracking your periods! 

In case you haven't heard my spiel yet, I'm an ambassador for the period-tracking app Clue, an app I personally use and fully endorse for its progressive features and forward-thinking research. If you're someone who cares about pushing women's health forward, you should totally download Clue!

Clue's period-tracking app not only makes some careful analysis of your period symptoms, but also collects the data (with your permission, of course) to use in some of its research studies, which Clue often performs in tandem with other research entities like universities and organizations. For example, you might have heard that with its research, Clue proved false the long-held assumption that women's cycles "sync up" when they spend a lot of time together.

One other thing I love about Clue is its ability to generate printable reports for your doctor, your partner, your family, your therapist or anyone else who might need access to your health history. You can also share your cycle info with anyone who downloads the Clue app - so, encourage your partner (or your roommate) to download the app and arm up with chocolate when the time comes!

4. Switch to natural products. 

So many of the products we use every day might actually be harming our health without us even knowing it! According to Mint and Berry, the average adult is exposed to 168 hazardous chemicals every darn day. For example, if you have sensitive skin or acne, toxins in your skincare, body care and even cleaning products might be to blame. 

There's lots of reasons why you should switch to natural and organic skin, body and home-care products. For one thing, your skin is the most absorbent organ in your body, meaning any of the toxins in these products are easily soaked into the bloodstream. For another, as women, hazardous chemicals in our everyday environments can cause health problems later in life with our fertility and even in our future children.

Thus, switching to natural skin and beauty products, as well as cleaning products, can help you minimize the toxins in your environment, and therefore the number of toxins absorbed into your bloodstream. So, show your body some love and switch to natural and organic products!

5. Cut back on dairy. 

As a vegan, let me tell you: ditching dairy can make an unbelievable difference in your overall health! If you suffer from acne, period cramps, indigestion or inflammation, it might be time to nix the dairy products in your diet.

You might be wondering, what's so wrong with dairy? After all, we're taught that it's a key component of that perfect food pyramid from middle school. Well, milk might be nature's perfect food - but as Dr. Mark Hyman puts it, only if you're a calf! 

My senior year of high school, a speaker came in to teach us all a little more about nutrition. When she spoke, she taught us all about the risks of dairy - specifically the hormones in dairy. If you're someone like me who suffers from period problems like acne, headaches and fierce cramps, the hormones in dairy can create an imbalance in your body. 

That day was the first day I ever tried to go vegan, and while I eventually reverted a month later, I tried again and have been successfully following a vegan diet for almost half a year now! 

6. Get tested.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to get yourself tested regularly for STDs - at least once a year if you're sexually active, and anytime you have a new sexual partner. 

If you're not sexually active, you should start getting tested as soon as you decide to become sexually active. Even if someone says they're a virgin, you never know what someone else's sexual history truly looks like until you see a negative result on their STD test! 

More than half of all people will have an STD at some point in their lives, so even if you don't think you have one, it's super important to make sure! After all, wouldn't you much rather tell that cute guy "I've been tested and I'm good to go" than "I don't think I have any but I'm not sure"?

HPV, aka human papilloma virus, is the most common STD by far - and it's especially dangerous for young women, since it can lead to cervical changes and eventually even cancer. Luckily, there's an additional step you can take to prevent the spread of HPV besides getting tested and using a barrier: the Gardasil shot! Most people my age and younger received the full series of shots long before they became sexually active, but if you haven't already been vaccinated against HPV, you can still get it anytime before your 27th birthday.

7. Practice self-care.

I'm a firm believer that your mental health is just as important as, if not more important than, your physical health! Poor mental health puts you at risk for a whole host of diseases, which is why - as the World Health Organization writes - "there is no health without mental health!" 

Mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia have been linked to increased death rates from heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses and more. Personally, I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression, and I can attest that these illnesses can take a physical toll, from lower energy levels to relentless aches and pains. So, taking care of your mental health should always take priority, since it will ultimately improve your physical health in the long run! 

If you haven't read my post on self-care, here's a few good reasons why you need to commit to start taking better care of yourself today:

  1. Self-care is a sign of respect for your mind and body. To show yourself how much you care about your own personal well-being, including your physical and mental health, take as little as 30 short minutes out of your day for self-care!
  2. Stress takes a toll on your body...and self-care is an amazing way to relieve stress! After all, what better way to relax than doing the things your mind, body and soul love to do?
  3. You'll feel so much better after a little self-care. If your life has been missing that brightness and motivation lately, taking a little time for self-care might just be the thing to help you get back in the game.

8. Say no at least once a week.

In my opinion, the biggest health crisis facing Americans today is stress. It's proven that chronic stress knocks years off your lifespan, places you at higher risk for cardiovascular diseases and increases your risk for obesity, Alzheimer's and more.

I know I've felt the physical and mental effects of stress in my own life, so I can attest to how important it is to carve out a break in your week. There have been times during an especially busy semester of my life when my only free night of the week was the one night I looked forward to the most.

In college, it can be incredibly tempting to say yes to every offer that comes your way - especially your freshman year, when you're self-conscious and worried you won't make friends if you don't go out every. Single. Night.

However, as someone who's survived it, I can promise you you WILL make friends even if you say no to going out on a Wednesday or Thursday night. So, I encourage you to say no to something at least once a week to preserve your valuable alone time - as they say on airplanes, put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others!

9. Limit your drinking.

Real talk, you guys: I'm not about to tell you that you should never drink ever, because that's simply not realistic...unless, like me, you're on antidepressants that could kill you if you drink :)

Seriously, though: I urge you to be aware of two things when it comes to drinking: what you're drinking and how much you're drinking. You not only need to know how much alcohol you're drinking, but you should also be aware that alcohol really isn't that good for you - many types contain lots of sugar, calories and other not-so-great-things for your body - so try to enjoy it in moderation!

You'll likely hear a lot of advice about drinking before and during college, but I promise we're all just looking out for your safety! Personally, here's the advice that helped me the most my freshman year and beyond - I promise it won't be as cheesy as Alcohol Edu:

  • Never, EVER drive drunk. 'Nuff said.
  • Set a limit. When I go out, I never have more than three drinks. For me, my body hits a natural wall where I stop feeling good and start getting tired. That's how I know that I'm on the downhill and I need to be done drinking. 
  • Pour your own drinks. Everyone knows a friend (or frat boy) who over-pours. That's why I'd 100% recommend mixing your own drinks. You can even measure out your alcohol in a shot glass first so you know exactly how much you're drinking of what!
  • Never lose sight of your drink. Even when you go into that gross frat house bathroom, make sure you have your drink within your line of sight at all times. As much as I'd like to tell you that getting drugged and raped is unlikely, sexual assault is a real problem that requires vigilance and outreach to address - so, until Joe Biden's advice to young men becomes the law of the land, don't lose sight of your drink!
  • Know what to do in an emergency. I know this isn't fun to talk about, but it's important nonetheless! If a friend or even someone you don't know ever drinks so much that they collapse or become unresponsive, it might be a sign of alcohol poisoning. My best advice in this situation, TBH, would be to call 911. A lot of people I know would be too afraid of getting in trouble to call the authorities, but personally, I'd rather risk punishment than risk a dear friend's life. (Plus, in some places, you might even be protected from prosecution for underage drinking if you get caught for saving someone's life.)

10. Learn what you like.

Finally, I'm going to finish off the list the same way I started it: with sex! (Cue the song from Pitch Perfect.)

As awkward as this is to discuss on the Internet (TBH, I can't believe I'm typing this sentence right now), learning what you like in bed is SO important for your mental health. I know that sounds weird, but really! If you're someone who's sexually active and in a serious relationship, you won't believe what a difference it makes in your relationship dynamics when you understand your own sexual preferences. When you're in-tune with your body, you're able to tell your partner exactly what you want, instead of expecting them to read your mind. Better communication during sex = fewer arguments and more orgasms. (On a side note, I'm fairly confident that this is the answer to world peace.)

Obviously, the best and most classic way to learn what you like is to explore your body in private. Solo sex is a great way to learn what you like and try new things - after all, you're probably more relaxed in your own bed than you are in a stranger's, or even your boyfriend's. The goal is then to you  take those new "skills" you've learned and apply them to your sexual experiences with partners later in life.

The last piece of advice I'll leave you with on this topic is to simply learn as much as you can about sex, and don't be afraid to discuss it. Ask your friends questions! (They're your friends for a reason: they better be able to keep a secret.) Or, check out YouTube channels and websites - heck, even porn . While they might not be 100% scientific or realistic, at least they'll get you more comfortable with your sexuality and give you the vocabulary you need to express your own desires.

I actually learned a lot from Laci Green and Hannah Witton, two sexual health YouTubers with tons of informative videos. In fact, Hannah's channel also turned me on to a second amazing website called OMG Yes, a paid subscription service designed for women to learn how to access their sexual pleasure in different ways. For $40.00, you get lifetime access to a bunch of videos and even interactive simulations to show you new ways to enjoy sex, whether with a partner or on your own.

What's the most important thing you do for YOUR health? Let me know @haleymarieblog or in the comments below!

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