Young adult with a cold at university

Freshers’ flu: how to stay healthy at university

What is freshers' flu and how can you avoid it? Dietitian Emer Delaney explains why university students are likely to get sick in the autumn, and what they can do to stay healthy.

The start of university is a busy time for young adults – meeting new people, finding their way in the world and sharing germs that their immune systems have not experienced before. Coupled with a poor diet, reduced sleep, increased stress and colder weather, this can lead to the dreaded ‘freshers’ flu’.

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Freshers’ flu is a term used to refer to a cold-like virus, with symptoms including a sore throat, cough, high temperatures and fevers. It’s likely to affect university students in the autumn term, but the close promiximity to new germs can also cause teachers to fall ill.

How to beat it

While there is no cure for the common cold, regular hand washing, keeping hydrated and taking regular pain relief with paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. A comforting drink with added honey, such as lemon and ginger tea, can also soothe sore throats and plenty of rest and sleep are key.

Two cups of lemon and ginger tea on a white background

1. A healthy diet

Eating well at university can be a challenge. Being responsible for shopping will be a new experience for many, as will preparing and cooking meals. Students are often tempted by cheap and convenient meals, but processed food can have a lower nutritional value.

It’s all about finding the right balance and keeping the ‘not so healthy’ foods such as burgers, pizzas or noodle pots for occasional use.

Beans, pulses and lentils are all extremely healthy foods bursting with fibre, vitamins and minerals. They’re an excellent source of protein and cost significantly less than most meats and fish. You don’t have to spend a fortune on fruit and vegetables – frozen or tinned are often just as good as fresh and are a fraction of the price.

A vegetarian one-pot, such as our double bean and roasted red pepper chilli, is a great place to start for fibre and nutrients. For comfort food when you’re unwell, try a bowl of chicken noodle soup or make a batch of orzo and tomato soup and share it with your housemates. Swap a baked potato for a healthier sweet potato for extra vitamins, and top it with our big-batch bolognese for a budget-friendly dinner.

Big pan of vegetarian chilli with kidney beans and vegetables

Discover more ideas for student cooking:

2. Stay active

University is a great time to try different sports. Keeping active is a great way to meet new people, and it may also help to boost the immune system.

3. Limit your alcohol

Students drinking pints at a picnic table

No doubt alcohol will feature regularly during Freshers’ Week, however students should remember to be safe and stay within the recommended alcohol limits. Students should have no more than 14 units a week – that’s no more than six pints of average-strength beer (4% ABV) or seven medium-sized glasses of wine (175ml, 12% ABV) a week.

Exceeding limits or recommendations is very harmful to health and could put you at risk of having accidents. Remember not to drink on an empty stomach, keep hydrated, and aim to drink one glass of water after every alcoholic drink – this is a great way to keep hydrated and limit excessive intakes.

What to do when you get ill

When students do get sick, the first rule is hand hygiene. Remember to wash hands regularly during the day to minimise the spread of germs.

Rest, keep warm, take regular pain relief – paracetamol will also help to treat any fevers. Eat regular meals made up of low GI carbohydrates such as brown pasta or wholegrain bread; include lots of beans, pulses and lentils, vegetables, oily fish such as tinned mackerel or herring; include fruit and nuts as snacks and keep ‘ready meals’ to a minimum.

Learn more with our guides…
Student kitchen essentials – what to buy for university
How to get rid of a cold
Essential recipes for university
What do vitamins do?
Top 10 vegan student recipes

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Have you experienced freshers’ flu? Tell us how you stayed healthy in the comments below.