4 Healthy Habits for Back to School 2021

Danielle Costello Sep 28, 2021
Young parents saying goodbye to their little child near school

Back-to-school time is all about switching gears and acclimating to new routines. There are forms to fill out, supplies to buy, and decisions galore. Young children are excited to spend time with classmates every day. College students can't wait to soak up the fun and freedom of living on their own. Parents are busy adjusting to new schedules and priorities. And everyone is feeling just a little bittersweet over leaving behind the long, sunny days of summer vacation. 

Amidst all the busyness of a new school year, healthy habits can easily go by the wayside. Core health factors like nutrition, exercise, and sleep can get pushed to the bottom of the daily to-do list. Or not. It depends on how parents and students choose to approach this season. Back to school can be a great time to set new, healthy intentions. 

This year, back to school looks a bit different than usual, both literally and figuratively. Amid the challenges the pandemic has created, there are avenues to help students, whether school age or college age, move through the year with healthy minds and bodies. Below are four easy ways to do just that.

Back To Basics: How To Stay Healthy Through The School Year 

Hand Washing 
This one screams "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." While hand sanitizer has risen to new heights of use over the past year and a half, it's simply not the most effective way to get rid of germs on your hands. Nothing does the trick like good old fashioned hand washing. Plus, there are some safety concerns regarding hand sanitizer use in younger children, particularly toddlers who might be tempted to ingest it but also older children who might, for instance, suck their thumbs. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, we should wash our hands for at least 20 seconds.  
I have two little boys, ages 9 and 5, who, like many kids, have become accustomed to me reminding them to wash their hands. I can't say there aren't any eye rolls involved, but I'll take that over inviting illness into their bodies via those fingers they can't seem to keep out of their nose, mouth, and eyes. (I don't believe I ever touched my face this much when I was a kid, but I'll have to ask my mom for confirmation. I'm sure she'll tell me I was the most hygienic, well-behaved child of her dreams.) To mitigate pandemic anxiety, I tell my boys that hand-washing is a good habit all around because it helps us avoid other things like stomach bugs and regular colds that can make us miss out on fun. To up the fun factor while ensuring proper washing, have your kids sing the Happy Birthday Song twice through! 
Focus On Fiber 

Fiber tends to get overlooked, especially when it comes to the diets of school-age children. This shouldn't be the case, because fiber is important at all ages. It’s important to give children a healthy diet, including as many plant-based foods as possible. For example, choose a whole-grain breakfast cereal to start the day and include a couple of portions of fruit and vegetables in their lunchboxes, as well as some whole-grain options. This will give them fiber to support good digestive health—remembering to complement these foods with a drink, such as water or milk, as these will help with healthy bowel movements too.  

For younger kids, one of the most important functions of fiber is how it supports proper digestion. Digestive health can be particularly important in regard to overall wellness. When we don't have regular bowel movements, we can feel crampy, sluggish, and generally unwell.  

College students who are on the go and might feel added stress due to tests, projects, and side jobs are especially in need of a healthy diet and lifestyle. When the body is stressed, one of the ways it can respond is to slow down digestion, leading to constipation.

Keep in mind, eating more fiber may help some people, but not all.  The best choice is to focus on healthy eating, choosing a diet that includes a variety of food groups, such as whole-grain cereals and plenty of fruit and vegetables. Introduce high-fiber options gradually. Take time to eat mindfully, and include non-alcoholic drinks to keep up hydration.  

Fiber can be easily incorporated into the diet through a variety of foods, like whole-grain breads, cereal, cereal bars (look for low-sugar options); oatmeal; and fresh or frozen berries and vegetables. Another great way to boost fiber intake is by adding it to smoothies or shakes, like Complete by Juice Plus+, available in Dutch Chocolate or French Vanilla.

Don't Wait To Exhale 

While breathing is part of the autonomic nervous system, there's a type of breathing that doesn't come naturally. And most of us don't practice this breathing that can help reduce stress, slow the heart rate, and lower blood pressure. Deep breathing might not happen automatically, but we should make it a part of our daily wellness routine. 

This practice can be especially helpful for students. Younger children are notorious for holding their breath when they're visibly upset (aka tantrums), but we probably all do it from time to time. When we're under stress, we not only don't breathe normally but we also breathe in ways that actually make us feel worse. Learning to breathe deeply during intense moments—or even in regular intervals throughout the day—is a simple tool to help students better deal with whatever comes their way during the school year. 

  • Regulate body temperature 
  • Keep joints lubricated 
  • Prevent infections 
  • Deliver nutrients to cells 
  • Keep organs functioning properly 
  • Improve sleep quality, cognition, and mood
While I've always prioritized my health, I can't say I prioritized hydration to the degree I do now. When I was nursing my first son, I began experiencing incredible thirst, and from that time (nine years ago) forward to today, I began carrying a water bottle with me. I've noticed that elementary schools encourage students to bring water bottles to school. This is a new development since my childhood—a very welcome one, at that. 
College students may not remember to stay hydrated given they're new to being on their own and in charge of their own health. Staying hydrated is an easy fix. There are multitudes of water bottles on the market that can fit any college student's tastes, from outdoorsy to chic to sporty. Most bottles can clip right onto a backpack with a carabiner or fit easily into a side pocket. In addition to plain water, coffee and tea can also count toward daily fluid intake to support good hydration.  
With good hygiene, fiber intake, deep breathing, and hydration on their side, students—whether young or grown and flown—can head back to school with healthy habits on their side.
  1. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/prevention/Pages/Hand-Washing-A-Powerful-Antidote-to-Illness.aspx
  2. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
  3. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/the-importance-of-hydration/
  • college
  • Hydration
  • back-to-school
  • healthy habits
  • family