Students face a unique challenge when it comes to staying healthy, maintaining fitness, and avoiding the freshman 15 in college. Those of us who look back fondly at our own college days will tell you that it is the land of the all-nighters, studying, hanging out with friends, parties, and reveling in independence. Learning to manage time, maintain a schedule, and practice healthy habits can sometimes be overwhelming. Unfortunately, the first thing to go is often exercise.
For years, we have heard about the freshman 15: the tendency to gain weight during the first year of college. Instead of focussing on the number the scale displays, we need to shift our thinking from weight gain/loss to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and acceptable level of fitness.
Building a healthy relationship with exercise for personal wellness is important for every individual, especially college students. There are countless benefits to gain from exercising and studies have found that students who maintain a consistent program have a better sense of self. Students report that they sleep better, have an easier time concentrating and balancing moods and emotions, feel more connected to their peers, experience less stress and anxiety, and benefit from an increase in energy levels.
Nine Ways Students Can Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle Through Fitness in College
1. Look at exercise as a lifestyle.
College is the perfect time for young adults to start thinking about exercise as an overall part of their wellbeing. The habits they form now will carry them through the rest of their life. Developing a love for fitness in college will become a part of who they are, not just something they do.
2. Come up with a plan.
The #1 factor in determining adherence to an exercise plan is time. It must become a part of your day. Some people find that scheduling it into their calendars keeps them from skipping it, while others find that exercising at the same time every day allows them to think of it as part of their daily routine.
3. Aim for consistency to avoid the freshman 15
Exercise looks different for everyone and the only way it will become a lifestyle is if you like it. Aim for five days a week of moderate to intense exercise for at least 30-60 minutes. The ideal exercise plan should include a combination of cardiovascular, strength training, and flexibility; however, sometimes it is difficult to incorporate all of those components, and the most important thing is that you just do something. Consistency in working out will help any student, and those who are already out of school, avoid their own freshman 15.
4. Sign-up for an intramural or club sports team.
Many students participate in intramural or club sports and maintain fitness year-round while in college. This is a great way to connect with other people, compete in a sport you love, and keep fit.
5. Join a gym.
All colleges have a student fitness center on campus that is usually included in the fees. This is a great option for students who like convenience, affordability and working out with other people on campus. Some students enjoy exercising off-campus and find that joining a gym in town gives them the ability to meet different people, work-out in a less crowded environment, and take a break from campus life.
6. Get involved in a community recreational club.
Many towns offer opportunities for students to join local groups that share common athletic and recreational interests such as biking, running, hiking, dance, and various team sports. A great bonus to joining one of these clubs is the ability to connect with the people in the community. College campuses provide an experience that is unique to the students on campus, while groups outside of the college world can offer students the experience of getting to know the area where they are living.
7. Utilize your surroundings.
College campuses are full of opportunities to build fitness into your day. Walk or run the campus, bike the trails, use the swimming pool and tennis courts, try a track workout. One of the best overall workouts on campus is one you can do at the stadium. In 30 minutes, you can complete a high intensity (HITT) session by utilizing the track and the stadium stairs:
- Walk the track for five minutes to warm-up
- Do two sets of 25 walking lunges followed by two sets of stadium stairs (walk or run)
- Do two sets of 25 jump squats followed by two sets of stadium stairs (walk or run)
- Do two sets of high skips followed by two sets of stadium stairs (walk or run)
- Complete two rounds of this circuit
8. Take a class the college offers as an elective credit.
Talk about a win-win situation. Not only do you get to exercise daily for an entire quarter, you also earn credit for your hard work. How about an invigorating yoga class after your Calculus class? College PE courses offer something for everyone.
9. Helpful tips once you’ve started.
- Exercise with a friend. College students are motivated by social interactions and might be more likely to exercise with a partner.
- Set a goal to compete in a race or relay. Pick a 5k, 10k, or half-marathon to train for or find a team of people willing to compete in a relay race. Having a goal to work towards is a great way to stay on track.
- Cardio equipment can sometimes be monotonous and boring, but there are many things to do while sweating it out to pass the time. Study, watch Netflix, listen to music, or read a book on your phone.
- Use fitness apps if you have no idea what to actually do while you are working out.
Instead of skipping exercise when time is tight, try a 20 minute HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout.
- Try working out first thing in the morning or exercise right after you finish classes for the day before you head home.
Your college years are some of the best times in your life. Have fun and treat your body right to avoid the freshman 15 weight gain. If you begin setting the foundation for a healthy lifestyle you will develop habits that can last a lifetime.
Photo credit (above): Yoav Shapira
Sara Lindberg is a wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counselor. Combining her 20-plus years’ experience in the fitness and counseling fields, she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves. When she is not running, working with teenagers, or driving her own kids crazy, she manages a Facebook page called FitMom. Sara has a B.S. in exercise science and a M.Ed. in counseling. She does not consider herself a writer, just a woman with a lot of random thoughts and access to a computer. She gains inspiration for her writing from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna.