Ten Healthy Habits of High School Juniors

by Dr. Ann L. Engelland

(September 18, 2008) Starting junior year? Overwhelmed with AP courses, drivers ed, SAT prep, exams, conversations at the dinner table about college, pressure to do community service, long field hockey practices, recovering from injuries, tons of homework, inadequate sleep and pressure to get better grades? And that’s just your own life. Not to mention that Dad might lose his job, Grandma is sick, there is a war in Iraq, and people are dying in floods down South.

Junior year stress comes in different levels: the underlying global angst of our times, compounded with the demands of family and community, and the quiet personal pressures of wanting to do well, get into a good college, and make something of one’s life.

The last thing you need or want on top of all this is ten days out of school for mono or strep throat! Following are ten common sense ways to develop or promote good habits that can make a difference in your health. Start today!

One: Get immunized. Of course, in our country we don’t worry that teenagers are going to get measles, polio or mumps if they were immunized as small children. But in addition to these “baby shots” there are some vaccines which come later on. Following is a short list of “shots” every junior should have had:

  • Tetanus/whooping cough: This is the new, improved, updated version of the “tetanus shot”. Under the brand name Adacel, it is a booster against tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis). It is pretty unlikely to get tetanus but whooping cough is actually common and can cause a lingering, debilitating cough in anyone who does not have protection.

  • Flu: flu shots are recommended now for everyone. An easy, inexpensive and readily available vaccine, this one should be given in the fall, before flu season starts. Although it does not provide 100% protection, it can mitigate the flu should it hit.

  • Meningitis: most teens will have had this vaccine by the time junior year rolls around, but it is worthwhile checking that they are protected against this potentially fatal and disabling disease. If the vaccine Menomune was given more than five years ago, a booster is called for.

Two: Wash your hands. The best way to prevent the common cold and other contagious diseases is still conscientious hand washing with warm water and soap. Purell or other wipes can do, but they aren’t as good at getting the germs and grime from under the fingernails.

Three: Don’t share your drinks or food. All contagious diseases from mono to meningitis are transmitted in this way.

Four: Exercise! Physical and mental health depend on good physical fitness. Getting your body moving is a fabulous stress-reducer and helps you avoid the added stress of putting on unwanted weight due to a lack of exercise.

Five: Girls - manage your menstrual cramps effectively. Don’t miss school or under-perform because of cramps, mood swings, or other discomfort. If the usual remedies are not working, get some help from your health care provider. (See: Menstrual Cramps Got You Down?)

Six: Treat head injury seriously and conservatively. Even a simple “ding” or seemingly minor bump on the head can cause brain injury which requires rest for healing. Poor healing and returning to play too soon can jeopardize a whole year academically, socially and athletically.

Seven: Manage your stress! There is very little doubt that stress can alter the immune system and make us more susceptible to illness. Each person needs to find and practice tools that help bring down blood pressure, respiratory rates and speed of thought. I always ask my patients what works for them so they learn to identify these as tools that should be practiced on a daily basis and used in times of need. Here is a partial list of what I have heard from them:

  • Prayer
  • Exercise
  • Laughter
  • Family time
  • Time management skills
  • Friends
  • Sleep
  • Journaling
  • Yoga
  • Massage…a dollar a minute at most nail salons…great for neck stress.

Eight: Sleep! Do not underestimate the power of sleep for good mental, emotional and physical health. If you are able to nap for even 30 minutes after school, try it a few times a week. Some claim that a late day nap is worth much more than its equivalent at night. Brains and some bodies are still growing and maturing during junior year and some of this growth happens at night. Seven to eight hours is not an unreasonable goal.

Nine: Spend some time with adults. Grandparents, family members, teachers, mentors, fellow volunteers and coaches can often lend a perspective to life that is hard to keep when the daily pressures are so consuming. When the going gets tough I remember that my mom kept her hands warm on her mile-long walk to school by carrying a baked potato in her pocket. Somehow that helps me.

Ten: Think positively. Try to put a “half Buddha smile” on your face. Making a smile with the facial muscles can actually send positive and even happy messages to your brain and change your outlook. Being positive will make you more efficient, clear-headed and more fun to be around.

Dr. Engelland has a practice in Mamaroneck devoted to Adolescent Primary Care. She now accepts Aetna and Hudson Health Plan. Dr. Engelland can be reached at 698-5544 or AnnEngellandMD.com

Have a teen health question? Use the form below to send it to Dr. Engelland. Please note: Dr Engelland cannot respond privately to individual queries online. Comments are welcome and anonymous questions may be answered in future columns. Serious medical problems should be referred to your own physician.

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