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15.5: The Importance Of Good Health Practices

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    As a student, you probably strive to maintain good grades, to have an active social life, and to stay healthy (e.g., by getting enough sleep), but there is a popular joke about what it’s like to be in college: you can only pick two of these things (see Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) for an example). The busy life of a college student doesn’t always allow you to maintain all three areas of your life, especially during test-taking periods. In one study, researchers found that students taking exams were more stressed and, thus, smoked more, drank more caffeine, had less physical activity, and had worse sleep habits (Oaten & Chang, 2005), all of which could have detrimental effects on their health. Positive health practices are especially important in times of stress when your immune system is compromised due to high stress and the elevated frequency of exposure to the illnesses of your fellow students in lecture halls, cafeterias, and dorms.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): A popular joke about how difficult it is to stay balanced and healthy during college. [“Choose Two” by Judy Schmitt is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.]

    Psychologists study both health behaviors and health habits. The former are behaviors that can improve or harm your health. Some examples include regular exercise, flossing, and wearing sunscreen, versus negative behaviors like drunk driving, pulling all-nighters, or smoking. These behaviors become habits when they are firmly established and performed automatically. For example, do you have to think about putting your seatbelt on or do you do it automatically? Habits are often developed early in life thanks to parental encouragement or the influence of our peer group.

    While these behaviors sound minor, studies have shown that those who engaged in more of these protective habits (e.g., getting 7–8 hours of sleep regularly, not smoking or drinking excessively, exercising) had fewer illnesses, felt better, and were less likely to die over a 9- to 12-year follow-up period (Belloc & Breslow, 1972; Breslow & Enstrom, 1980). For college students, health behaviors can even influence academic performance. For example, poor sleep quality and quantity are related to weaker learning capacity and academic performance (Curcio et al., 2006). Due to the effects that health behaviors can have, much effort is put forward by psychologists to understand how to change unhealthy behaviors, and to understand why individuals fail to act in healthy ways. Health promotion involves enabling individuals to improve health by focusing on behaviors that pose a risk for future ill- ness, as well as spreading knowledge on existing risk factors. These might be genetic risks you are born with, or something you developed over time like obesity, which puts you at risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, among other illnesses.

    This page titled 15.5: The Importance Of Good Health Practices is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kate Votaw.

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