OMRF physician and researcher, Eliza Chakravarty, M.D., knows a lot about science and medicine. As the mother of a high school senior, she also has some idea what it takes to keep a teenage student happy, healthy and productive:
To make A’s, catch more Z’s
Teenagers need as much sleep as preschoolers—8-9 hours every night.
“Sleep is such an under-recognized component to good health,” said Chakravarty. “Lack of sleep causes problems with concentration, and it’s also linked to poor mood, reduced cognitive health, cardiovascular risk factors, and decreased immunity. It’s a big deal.”
And, she added, 8 hours isn’t just for school nights. “Weekends count, too. Consistency is key.”
Say hi to hygiene
Handwashing can keep you healthier. While you can’t eliminate every germ, it’s especially important to wash after spending time in classrooms and before eating. While hand sanitizer is a good substitute when a teen’s on the go, soap and water works best.
“There’s no reason to be a germophobe,” said Chakravarty. “Our bodies are built to handle everyday bacteria. Just take little precautions to limit your student’s exposure and encourage handwashing, and they’ll be healthier.”
Take your best shot
Even healthy teens should get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available, said Chakravarty. “The sooner they get it, the sooner they’ll develop immunity to the virus,” she said. “And if they aren’t fans of shots, remind them that getting a shot is much better than getting the flu.”
And, no, they cannot get the flu from the shot, Chakravarty emphasized.
Cheetos and Oreos are not lunch
Junk food is fine for an occasional treat. But it shouldn’t make up the majority of a teen’s diet.
Encourage teens to eat nutrient-dense foods like lean protein, almonds and fruits to keep them from hitting the vending machine or drive-through window. Chakravarty’s favorite? Bananas. Besides being easily portable and backpack-friendly, “They have their own packaging, won’t get your hands sticky, and they fill you up,” she said.
Move it, move it
Just like sleep, exercise is critical to health. It can also help relieve stress that comes along with homework and exams, said Chakravarty. Staying active helps a teenager think more clearly and have more energy, and it also leads to better sleep.
“Exercise makes students function better in every way,” she said. “Make sure your teens choose an activity they enjoy, and it never hurts to find a group or team to keep them accountable. It’ll make exercise more fun, too.”