Looking after your physical health at uni
Help and advice
Staying healthy and physically fit boosts your mood, concentration and energy. And can help you keep on track with your studies.
These are our tips to maintain your physical health at uni.
When you start uni
If you move to a new city, you should register with local medical services when you arrive to make sure you can get timely care and treatment when you need it.
At the beginning of the academic year:
- register with a doctor
- register with a dentist
- find out how to access uni support services
- find out where your local minor injuries unit is
- find out where A&E is, just in case
Find your nearest pharmacist, GP surgery and other services on the NHS website. You'll need to fill in a form online or in person to register with a GP. Call or visit your chosen surgery to find out the best way to sign up.
Make sure your doctor knows about any prescriptions you need. Register with a local pharmacy when you arrive and confirm that your prescription will come through on time.
You can see a GP for emergency treatment for up to 14 days if you're unregistered but you'll need to register if your treatment lasts longer than this.
Keep a first aid kit
Make a small first aid kit to keep at home. Include plasters, pain killers, allergy medication, tweezers, antibacterial wipes and cold relief. If you're ill or have a minor injury, it's better to be prepared at home than have to go to the shop.
During your studies
Your health is linked to a range of factors. Being healthy doesn't mean cutting out things like desserts or rest days. Looking after yourself means balancing your lifestyle, listening to your body and paying attention to things like what you eat and if you're unwell. You can enjoy treats and days off in moderation.
Your productivity will take a hit if you're tired, stressed or unwell. Taking care of yourself means you'll feel better day to day and be able to perform your best during your studies.
Choosing the right foods will help boost your mood and energy, and help you sleep. Start the day with a good breakfast, eat regularly throughout the day, and opt for healthy snacks.
Try to build a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, protein and fibre. Missing out on one food group or vitamin can have big effects on your body. If you buy fresh fruit and veg, keep it on the counter or at the front of the fridge so you're reminded to use it.
Home cooked food tends to contain less sugar and salt than take aways or ready meals, and it's cheaper, so cook more of your food at home.
Food hygiene is important when you're cooking at home. This means storing, preparing and cooking your food safely.
Stay safe in the kitchen by washing your hands regularly and before you cook, and using protective equipment like oven mitts and an apron when dealing with hot food. Make sure that food is fully defrosted before you use it and cooked throughly.
You should only reheating leftovers once.
Keep your food safe by storing food in sealed containers and keeping perishables like milk, meat, sandwiches and ready meals in the fridge. Don't overload your fridge or it could stop working. Keep cooked and raw food separate, with cooked food stored above raw foods like meats.
Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated is important – even mild dehydration can limit your concentration, impact your mood and make you feel tired or unwell.
Make sure you drink at least 2 litres of water a day. Water helps refresh and hydrate you, unlike caffeine or alcohol. Take a water bottle to lectures and refill it on campus.
Monitor your alcohol
If you drink alcohol, keep track of how much and what you drink. Stick to your limits and don't leave your drinks unattended. Buy your own drinks or go to the bar with anyone who offers to buy you one. You don't want to wake up tomorrow and find out your drinks were stronger than you thought, or that you were mixing drinks unintentionally. Drink water in between alcoholic drinks and drink a glass of water before you sleep to minimise hangovers.
Physical activity supports your fitness, wellbeing and mental health. And is great for short-term stress relief.
You can exercise socially or on your own – consider joining a society or club for regular activity with new people, or going out for walks alone for some peace and quiet. Walking with a friend is a great way to explore the local area, have a chat and take a break.
If you start doing a lot more (or a lot less) exercise, remember to change your diet accordingly. Try not to reduce your calories and vastly increase your exercise at the same time – this will stress your body and you'll feel fatigued and tired. Your body produces energy from the foods you eat, so make sure you eat enough to give you the energy you're using.
A good sleep routine has a huge impact on your health and wellbeing. Sleeping helps your body recharge, rest and heal. Getting enough sleep means you'll be refreshed and prepared each day.
Try to get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Balancing sleep with the excitement of university can be a challenge, but it's worth it to feel energised and perform your best during your studies.
Tips for sleeping well:
- control your bedroom – decide whether you want to listen to music, soothing sounds or silence, how much light you need to sleep, and how warm you want to be
- build an evening routine – a lot of people enjoy calm activities like reading or meditating before going to bed
- turn your phone off or put it on silent and out of reach overnight
- exercise during the day so your body is tired
- avoid caffeine and food soon before bed
Take a break
University life can be exhausting. Overworking can have a huge impact on your mood, mental wellbeing and productivity, and could lead to burn out or getting ill.
Look after yourself and have a break when you need it. Give yourself time and space to relax by doing something that you enjoy and relaxes you.
If you get sick
Most of the time, you'll recover from colds, flu and similar illnesses on your own. If you catch a bug, let your housemates and tutor know and avoid going out until you've recovered. Give your body time to get better by resting at home, drinking plenty of water and eating healthily.
Below is a list of people to reach out to if you're unwell at university. If you aren't sure who to speak to for medical help, phone NHS 111. They'll give you advice and direct you to the right service.
If you have coronavirus symptoms
If you, someone you live with, or someone you have been in close contact with shows coronavirus symptoms, you should stay home.
Main coronavirus symptoms:
- a high temperature
- a new, continuous cough
- changes to your sense of smell or taste, including loss
Stay at home and use the 111 online coronavirus service for advice. Keep others safe by not visiting places like your GP, pharmacy or local hospital.
Who to speak to when you feel unwell
Pharmacists can issue prescriptions, help with a range of health issues and minor illnesses like coughs, colds and rashes, and give you advice about over the counter medicines. Your pharmacist can also help with emergency contraception and incontinence supplies.
You don’t need an appointment to speak to a pharmacist and can walk in on the day to speak to someone. A lot of pharmacies have consultation rooms if you’d like to speak to someone in private.
You should speak to a pharmacist if you have:
- a sore throat or cough
- a cold or flu
- hay fever
- stomach complaints or diarrhoea
- a skin condition or rash
- aches and pains
Your GP can diagnose conditions, prescribe medications, help you manage chronic issues, and refer you to other medical services.
You should book an appointment with your GP if:
- You have an ongoing problem
- Your symptoms are not urgent or life-threatening
Speak to your dentist if you have toothache. If you aren’t registered with a dentist, call 111 for details about emergency dental services in your area.
Call 111 when you need medical help for a non-life-threatening situation like a broken bone, or if you aren’t sure who to contact about your medical issue. The service runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Calls to 111 are free.
You’ll speak to an advisor who will ask you questions about your symptoms to figure out how to help you. They might refer you to another healthcare professional or service, give you advice on how to treat your symptoms, or arrange an ambulance for you. They can also give you information about local services.
If you are in an emergency situation, call 999.
Walk-in centres offer medical advice and treatment without an appointment for conditions and injuries that don’t need A&E, or if you can’t wait for an appointment with your GP.
Not all cities have walk-in centres. Find your nearest urgent care centre at the NHS website.
Walk-in centres can help with issues like:
- skin concerns including cuts, rashes and minor burns
- broken bones
- bites and stings
The Minor Injuries Unit treats non-urgent health issues. Not all cities have Minor Injury Units.
You should go to minor injuries if you have:
- a broken bone
- an infection
- minor burns
- a minor head injury
- back pain
The Accident and Emergency (A&E) department is for emergency situations and life-threatening emergencies. A&E is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
A&E covers issues including chest pains, blood loss, severe illness, loss of consciousness, breathing difficulties or choking, and major trauma.
You can go to A&E yourself without an ambulance if you need to. Bring a friend with you if you can.