The change in seasons delivers a slew of finals, a series of college application due dates and, for some, time-demanding jobs.
“Our teens have so many things going on in their lives right now that they need to remember to take care of themselves,” said pediatrician Dr. Sheref Unal.
Rochester High School freshman Maddy Hatch dances four times per week, has additional pom pon practices or games three nights per week and is active in her church’s youth group. During finals week, she’ll have eight tests to study for.
Maddy said she’s nervous about her first finals as a high school student, but the activities that take up so much of her time help her beat stress.
“It’s definitely like an outlet for me,” Maddy said about dance. “If I got stressed out, I definitely wouldn’t quit dance.”
As crunch time nears, doctors hope students remember not to forego the basic pillars of health, including exercise, while educators continue to try to embed lifetime healthy living habits.
Schools promote healthy habits
Students in the Springfield School District focus on overall wellness throughout their academic careers, said Rick Sanders, a vice principal at Springfield High School and District 186 coordinator of physical education and health.
In health classes, students discuss stress management and mental health. Physical education teachers also get students moving — even if it’s simply walking while receiving instructions. District officials have also worked to expose elementary students to fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We hope through education they make the choice that’s best for them,” Sanders said.
The physical education program at Chatham’s Glenwood High School focuses on fitness, with teachers offering activities like P90X, yoga, self-defense training, weight training and plyometrics.
Children start learning healthy habits early on in the Chatham district. Today’s children may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, according to the American Heart Association. Shelley Ebener, a wellness teacher at Glenwood Middle School, said that’s why education is crucial.
“Children need to learn the importance of developing a healthy lifestyle and good habits at an early age so they are able to avoid some of the health issues facing our current population,” Ebener said.
Ebener’s wellness class focuses on nutritious food, daily exercise and stress relief.
Through the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Glenwood Middle School increased intramural sport options and students selected healthier cafeteria meals and drinks, said Beverly Rios, the Glenwood Middle School nurse. Rios said the results are noticeable in improved health, and students and teachers are sick less and the former receive better grades.
“The activity does help with their brains, increasing their knowledge level and being more aware,” she said. “You have a healthier mind and healthier body.”
As winter approaches, Bowers, a Koke Mill Medical Associates pediatrician, encourages high schoolers to bundle up and get outside or to try Wii Boxing — something to remain active.
Even shopping at the mall torches calories. Teens, and adults, should also force themselves to work a bit harder by parking far from store doors and taking stairs.
“Make things inconvenient,” Bowers said.
Getting active causes the body to release endorphins, which cause happiness. It also creates more energy and boosts the immune system.
Shoot for 30 minutes of exercise at least five times per week, said Unal, an assistant professor at SIU School of Medicine.
To help defeat stress, high schoolers should strive for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, Unal said. Doctors say teens should not shake up their sleeping schedules while on school breaks or when cramming for finals.
To sleep better, high schoolers should unplug. Texting, watching TV and playing video games all stimulate the body. That stimulation makes it more difficult to sleep restfully.
Sleep is essential to “recharge the batteries so to speak,” Bowers said. “If you sit down and play ‘Call of Duty,’ you’re really getting hyped up.”
He suggested reading or listening to soft music as bedtime nears to help the body and mind decompress.
Studying for finals and celebrating holidays can wreak havoc on diets. On average, teens should consume around 2,000 calories per day. High schoolers should maintain steady diets and eat regular meals. Include dairy, meat, or other proteins, and fiber at each meal. Unal said it’s OK for growing teens to eat five or six small snacks throughout the day — just be sure the options are healthy, like nuts or other high-protein sources.
Instead of skipping the cookie tray altogether, Bowers said, opt for just one treat and then turn to fruits and vegetables.
Despite faster metabolisms, teens shouldn’t throw caution to the wind when eating, both doctors said. As people enter their early adult years, they’ll put on weight if they maintain the same caloric intake and level of exercise.
Avoid turning to energy drinks or relying on caffeine during finals. It’s possible to become addicted to caffeine and stimulants.
Making healthy choices
Come crunch time, teenagers will be saddled with tests, work and a number of other worries. While some seniors completed their college applications and are exempt from finals, those students still have plenty to cross off their to-do lists.
“What will be stressful is the teachers packing in all of the last-minute tests that determine quarter grades. I deal with it by trying to do a little every day so it all doesn’t pile up. Easier said than done,” said Jordan Lucore, a senior at Springfield High School.
Doctors also say students should create schedules so they don’t become overwhelmed, especially when the stress piles on. It’s also important for high schoolers to receive regular checkups and get the proper immunizations. Teens generally get the least medical care of any age group, Bowers said.
Stressed teens should talk with someone instead of turning to alcohol or drugs if the burden feels unbearable.
“There’s nothing wrong with sitting down and having a conversation with friends,” Bowers said. “Spend some time with family.”
Alissa Groeninger can be reached at 788-1542.
Burn calories while having a blast
Exercise doesn’t have to mean painful running and smelly gym weight rooms. Try some of these fun approaches to balance your mind and torch fat this winter.
Sledding (and climbing back up the hill)
Yoga classes with friends
Looking good, feeling good
Working out doesn’t just slim your waistline — it boosts brain function and provides other benefits.
Physical activity causes the body to produce endorphins, which lead to peacefulness and happiness.
These endorphins can boost self-esteem and help people with mild depression.
Exercise can help people sleep better. Just don’t get hyped up too close to bedtime.
The body will function more efficiently and create more energy. Exercise reduces fatigue and stress.
Achieving exercise or athletic goals can give people a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Even short-term exercise programs can help boost the immune system, which protects the body from infection and plays a role in helping the body respond to stress in a healthy manner.