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Staying Healthy on the Heights

By Debra Bradley Ruder

The singular stresses of college life can make even the most focused undergraduates feel overwhelmed. Parents can help by encouraging their students to pay attention to their physical, emotional, and social well-being, and to make reasoned choices about how to live balanced lives. Knowing where to turn for stress release or help—whether that’s the gym, health services, or in bed for a nap—can make a crucial difference in succeeding in a college career.

Boston College offers a rich array of programs and services to help students maintain their physical and emotional health—from nutritious food choices to fitness classes to health talks and fairs. Resident hall directors, clinicians in Counseling Services, doctors and nurses in Health Services, faculty advisors, and clergy are among the many skilled and compassionate adults available to talk with students, offer advice, and help if necessary.  

But BC students can be terrific sources of information as well. Here, a few share their experiences—and offer tips. 

Health Coaching

Shortly after she heard about the student Health Coach program during her freshman year, Katelyn Kennedy A&S ’15 signed up for training. She’s since helped dozens of fellow undergraduates find ways to improve their eating habits, manage stress and scheduling, exercise and sleep more, or discuss their concerns about relationships or alcohol use.  

One of roughly 70 certified student health coaches at Boston College, Kennedy works with students who request an individual health plan, or “IHP.” She meets with them for confidential, one-on-one conversations in the Office of Health Promotion, where she listens carefully, asks open-ended questions, and tries to put her peers at ease. The sessions last about an hour, she says.

An applied psychology and communication major from Newark, Delaware, Kennedy encourages the students she coaches to set a few specific and realistic goals, such as waking up 15 minutes earlier to have breakfast, inviting a friend to try a fitness class together, or going to the fall-semester Student Involvement Fair.

The value of an IHP conversation, Kennedy says, is that it gives students the opportunity to “sit down with someone and say, ‘This is really driving me crazy,’ or ‘really can’t cope with this now.’ As a health coach I’m here to help you; I’m focused on you for that time. Especially freshman year, you can really use this to get your feet on the ground.”

Last year, more than 200 students met with BC health coaches, and some 2,600 attended group health programs led by volunteer health coaches like Kennedy.

BC Students’ Top Tips
on Staying Healthy:


1. Get up and move, even
if it’s a walk around the reservoir.

Sleep as much as you possibly can at night; have
a regular sleep routine and take occasional naps.

3. Plan ahead and be
aware of upcoming
deadlines and dates—
because otherwise you’re going to find yourself swamped.

4. Get involved, but don’t overcommit yourself.
Find something you’re interested in and go
for that.

5. Drink juices made with fresh fruits and vegetables.

6. Remember that the
word “diet” means your
daily eating habits—not a deviation from your norm.

Having a Mentor

As Kyle Hulburd CSOM ’17 grappled this fall with decisions about choosing a major, pursuing an off-campus job, and whether to study abroad, he knew exactly what to do.

“Go talk to Darcy,” he says.

“Darcy” is Christopher Darcy, an associate director of residential ministry. The two met last year through Kairos, a religious retreat program, and stayed in touch. Hulburd considers Darcy more than a mentor. “I see him as a genuine friend,” the sophomore says. “I can talk to him about absolutely anything. He’s kind of my go-to guy for any advice I need relating to school or not school.”

Having a mentor on campus—whether a professor, staff member, or another trusted adult—can help students stay grounded and seek out critical guidance that will enhance their academic careers.

Hulburd and Darcy don’t meet at set times and places. Instead, Hulburd might text his mentor to see when he’s free to talk. “Other times, if I’m walking by his office and his door is open, I’ll chat with him for a little bit.”   

Having an adult confidante gives Hulburd, who comes from Alamo, California, and plans to study marketing, extra peace of mind when challenges arise. Once, for example, while he was volunteering on a suicide hotline, he took a call from someone in serious distress. He and Darcy discussed it afterwards.

“He asked me how I was feeling and let me decompress,” Hulburd recalls. “If I’m ever going through a tough time, he’s always there.”

students playing basketball

Playing Intramural Sports

Team sports are a great way to blow off steam, get exercise, and spend time with friends, says James Bourque CSOM ’16. Intramurals helped smooth his transition to college. “In high school I was a three-sport varsity athlete, and then all of a sudden I wasn't playing any varsity sports,” he says. “I have participated in intramurals every semester since freshman year and have played soccer, flag football, basketball, volleyball, hockey, and softball.”

What’s more, says Bourque, a Wakefield, Massachusetts, native, who studies finance and information systems, “intramural sports have been a great way for me and my group of friends to spend at least one hour together each week competing and having fun against some of our classmates.”

Last year, nearly 3,500 students (along with some faculty and staff) played on one or more of the 765 intramural teams. Intramurals can be co-ed or single sex. Their level of competitiveness varies. But their focus is games; participants don’t practice.

Hania Oleszak A&S ’16 competed in high school volleyball and has continued her passion for the sport by playing and refereeing volleyball games at BC. Refereeing volleyball, says the biology major from Setauket, New York, is a fun way to earn money, see another side of a game, and expand leadership skills and confidence.

“Intramurals also keep me active and let me indulge my competitive edge,” says Patrick Moran CSOM ’16, a marketing and operations management major from Riverside, Illinois. “I believe it's a healthy outlet for students to drop their school or extracurricular work and de-stress for an hour or so once a week.”

Personal Training

As a personal trainer at Boston College, Ryan Western A&S ’15 says she has the best imaginable student job on campus.

“You meet the nicest people and get to work with a wide array of students, faculty, and staff,” says Western, of Mendham, New Jersey, who is one of 15 certified personal trainers at the Flynn Recreation Complex (known as the Plex). She coaches three to six individual clients, helping them get the most out of their workouts. “I make sure every movement is safe and as effective and efficient as it can be,” says Western. She also teaches multiple group fitness classes like Spin.

Clients request a personal trainer at the Plex and buy a package of 5–15 sessions, and Western tailors a program to their individual health and fitness goals. It typically includes weight and cardiovascular conditioning for strength and endurance—lifting, sit-ups, treadmill running, and the like—and may involve some challenging circuit training.

In addition to building her communication skills (“You have to be comfortable talking to every type of personality”), being a personal trainer motivates Western to stay in shape, she says. She usually exercises twice a day, and although her day starts early and ends late, “I have tons of energy. I always feel super awake.”

Western, a communications major, loves sharing health tips with clients. Among her favorites: find a workout partner. (See sidebar for more tips.)