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
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.
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:
- Family time
- Time management skills
- 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
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.
Ask a Teen Health Question: