We’ve all heard of the ‘Freshman 15.’ It’s something every college student would prefer to avoid. While diet plays a huge role in college fitness, so does exercise. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to fall of track with an exercise routine while you’re in a new environment, on a tight college budget, and busy being a student.
A study by Northwestern University pointed out that over 60 percent of students report not getting enough physical activity. The adequate amount of physical activity is defined as “three or more days of vigorous exercise for at least 20 minutes, or five or more days of moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a week.” Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, when you’re busy, stressed, and in a new environment, the thing you need the most–exercise–is often the first priority to be left behind. In another study conducted by McMaster University, it was found that most students in their first year of college participate in significantly less exercise than they did the year before. It’s clear that college students don’t make time for exercise, and rationales usually amount to time, money, or simply lack of interest.
Colleges are aware of this trend and there are many resources available to you, as well as ways you can take it upon yourself to be an active person without sacrificing much time or money. We talked to Chantelle Russell, Associate Director of Physical Education at the University of Oregon, and Personal Trainer Andrea Collatz to come up with and ways to be active on a college budget and reasons to stay motivated.
How you can exercise on a budget
Use campus resources
This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many helpful fitness resources colleges offer that many students don’t know about. Many colleges have an on-campus gym or rec center, as well as numerous other programs.
Russell described the UO rec center as more inclusive even than your standard gym, focusing on “the ability of our rec center to be really inclusive of what movement and/or fitness can look like. To us, it’s not just about going to the gym, which is stereotypically your weights and your cardio equipment, but really how can people move their body and do things that they enjoy doing so in a playful manner,” said Russell. “Our goal is for [students] is to find something they can do lifelong.”
As part of this, Russell explained that the facility offers many educational resources to go along with the facilities and the program. This includes fitness orientations, demonstrations for certain activities like rock climbing on the rec center’s rockwall, and swim lessons
Your campus may also have fitness events outside of the gym or rec center. The UO rec center partners with residence halls as well as the wellness resource center on campus to offer yoga or dance classes in different spaces. Russell said this makes fitness “not just about the gym.”
See also: Making the College Transition for more help on utilizing campus resources and adjusting to college life.
Bodyweight and other simple exercises
If you don’t have access to or can’t make it to the gym, there are many ways you can work out your body, with simply the weight of your body. Collatz recommended a bodyweight routine that includes simple exercises like planks or squats. Small equipment investments she recommended were things like resistance bands, a kettlebell, or single sets of dumbbells.
“Resistance bands are really cheap to buy. Those are great to add into a workout for your legs, you can add them to squats, [and] you can do upper body movements with them,” said Collatz.
There is also the option to use objects around your dorm or home as weights, such as cans or water bottles.
If you live close enough to a park that you can utilize the area for your workouts, definitely take advantage of this. There are many activities you can do in a park.
“If you have a park bench you can use it as a step or as an incline to do incline pushups or situps,” said Collatz.
Cardio in a park may include running or cardio circuits, where you can default to things like jumping jacks you learned in P.E. class. Of course, if you have access to something like a bike or rollerblades, these can be other fun ways to workout in the park.
Use free online resources
Not sure where to start and don’t want to ask? Luckily, we’re in 2018 and there are plenty of free resources available online or in the app store. There are tons of workout videos on YouTube, fitness apps that show you what exercises to do and how long to do them, and fitness planning websites.
Collatz explained that these resources can guide you through exercises so you don’t feel overwhelmed. She said there are “apps you can download that are training you and showing lots of good workouts and circuits that you can do, [as well as] sites that actually give you a planned workout ahead of time so you can print that off and do it on your own at home.”
Use what you learned in high school athletics
If you were involved in a sport in high school, you have a few options to continue utilizing what you already know and enjoy. You can sign up for an on-campus club for the sport and be held accountable by your peers to coming to practices and games, and will have fun doing it! While these clubs may have a membership fee, it’s usually a one time fee and a relatively small amount, depending on how much equipment your club will need.
If you don’t want to participate in a club, you can still utilize the exercises you learned in your high school sport. For example, if you played soccer, you can do the running drills you were taught in a field or park.
What to do if you’re totally new to fitness
If you’re totally new to fitness, start by going to one of those apps or websites like we mentioned before, and look for beginner workouts. Or, you can ask someone at your school’s fitness center about beginner workouts. Start here, then build your way up as you get used to form of certain exercise.
“As a beginner it’s important to not overdo it that’s how you injure yourself,” said Collatz, who recommended keeping things simple to start out.
Another resource you have in college is an abundance of peers, and exercising together is a great way to get to know your new classmates, dormmates, and roommates. If you aren’t so sure what to do when you workout, recruit a friend who you think knows a thing or two.
“It’s always good to have a workout buddy to help keep you accountable and on a consistent schedule, so if you know someone whos pretty familiar with working out and can help you with your form and help you with exercises, that’s good too,” said Collatz.
This will also make exercise more of a social activity that you can look forward to. Of course, not everyone enjoys the same exercises and has their own preferences, so as a fitness newby, find yours by trying out different options. Experiment with different modes of exercise and find what you enjoy. If you truly enjoy your chosen exercise type, you’re much more likely to stick with it.
Why you should exercise in college
The exercise–or lack of exercise–habits that you form in college are often the habits you’ll carry with you for life. College is likely the first time you are the one that is responsible for your health and wellness, and your outlook on the importance of healthy living is now up to you. The association you make with exercise, be it a stress reliever, an important part of everyday life, or a burden, can have either a positive or negative affect on your health during and after college.
There are many reasons it’s important to exercise, and many pertain to relieving issues one finds in college other than weight gain. Exercise relieves stress, so while exercising when you’re stressed may not be your first instinct, it can actually help you get your head on straight.
“What I hope students start to understand is when they get busy and stressed out the last thing they should drop is their exercise. It’s the thing they need the most,” said Russell.
In turn, exercise can help alleviate mental health issues like depression and anxiety, which continue to be a growing area of concern on college campuses. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “exercise can work quickly to elevate depressed mood in many people.”
Regular exercise contributes to your overall health, which means you’re less likely to get sick. Illnesses are also a common problem on college campuses, especially in dorms where an illness can quickly affect the entire building. Harvard reports that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the most effective way to ward off illness.
Finally, a bigger picture idea of why you should exercise and get involved with peers and your campus while doing it is to connect.
After conducting numerous studies, UO came to the conclusion that “students that get involved in campus and students that took a PE class their freshman year had higher persistence. It helps them build connections and build relationships not only with each other and other students, but also with faculty members,” said Russell, who attributed this to “an increased sense of belonging on campus.”
Reports from this study turned up several interesting tidbits about fitness and belonging.
“The rec center is one of the spaces on campus where a large percentage of freshmen students reported feeling like they belonged,” said Russell.
This is due to the social compatibility and the relationships build in getting connected to campus in a healthy way. Russell said that being involved in this community aids students in “dealing with conflict amongst your peers and team building. All those things happen through sport and movement.”
There are endless reasons to exercise, but also endless excuses why we as a society don’t exercise enough. While college students tend to be on a tight budget, lack of funds is no excuse–there are many ways to exercise that cost little to no money. Forming exercise habits that are suited to you and your interest in college is a great way to get on track for a healthy and active life.