Whether you’re concerned about your weight or you just want to be healthy, keep your body moving. Exercise is a great way to get your blood flowing, reduce stress, stay or become fit, strengthen your muscles, reduce your risk for some diseases and cancers, and maybe even increase your lifespan. It can clear the mind and help you retain information, which is great when finals are looming.
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How much exercise do I need?
The CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services' 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans maintain two general exercise recommendations for adults between 18 and 64 years old.
- Cardio: Getting your heart rate up with moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (or a combination of both) will increase the strength of both your heart and lungs and increase your endurance. Cardio, too, can help improve your cholesterol levels, control your blood sugar, and maintain your weight. You may also experience a mood boost, an energy boost, and a decrease in stress and anxiety if you fit cardio in regularly. Aim for:
- Between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week (e.g., brisk walking, water aerobics, swimming, bike riding on level ground), or
- Between 75 and 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week (e.g., running, bike riding on hills, basketball), or
- A combination of moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. One minute of vigorous activity is said to have equivalent health benefits to two minutes of moderate activity.
- Muscle-strengthening: This type of exercise has benefits that are quite different from cardio: strengthening your bones, managing chronic pain, and improving your balance. The CDC and Department of Health and Human Services suggest working all major muscle groups at least twice a week (e.g., weight training for resistance and strength, endurance exercises, push ups, sit ups, yoga). If you have access to a gym, this is easy. Machines are built specifically to work certain muscles. If you don’t want to use machines though, you can use free weights or your body weight to work out different muscle groups.
If you have a physical disability, exercise can be a great way to stay healthy, but talk to your doctor before following the CDC workout recommendations. He or she can help you develop a workout routine specific to your body and abilities.
You don’t have to do all of your weekly exercise in one day; in fact, it’s recommended that you aim to exercise three days a week. Even this, you can spread out in intervals if you want. As long as you’re getting your 25 to 50 minutes, it doesn’t matter if you do 10 minutes after every meal or 50 minutes in one go. You also don’t have to limit yourself to the minimum recommended time. If you want to do more than 300 minutes of moderate activity or 150 minutes of vigorous activity each week, you’ll enjoy even more health benefits. Just make sure that you’re letting your body rest when it needs rest and maintaining the proper form when you exercise to avoid injuries.
Most importantly, reduce the amount of time that you spend sitting or laying down each day. Inactivity is linked to cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and increased mortality. Even if you can’t exercise every other day, standing up for stretch breaks and increasing the amount of time you spend moving can have health benefits. While you can’t just stand up and wander around in the middle of a lecture, you can take regular breaks while you’re studying or doing homework to allow yourself time to move.
How can I make sure I get enough exercise on campus?
- Walk to class. Don’t dawdle; scurry to your next class. Ten minutes is enough to get the blood flowing before you have to sit in a 90-minute lecture.
- Take a stretch break. If your professor stops the lesson to give everyone a break, don’t stay seated. Get up, drink from the water fountain, stretch your muscles.
- Take the stairs. Live on the fourth floor? That elevator sure is tempting, but climb the stairs instead. It will only take you a couple of extra minutes, and you’ll get your heart rate up and burn more calories than you would if you took the lift.
- Ride your bike. Not only is bike riding the fastest way to maneuver through those windy college paths, but you’ll be burning calories too. If you don’t have a bike, consider getting one from your local classifieds or Craigslist. Your bike doesn’t have to be fancy, especially if you plan to use it on a relatively flat campus. Register your bike with campus security in case of theft. Some colleges offer “bike share” programs. You may have to pay a small fee, but you'll be able to access shared bikes whenever you want.
- Park intentionally far away. If you need to drive to campus because of where you live, or if you just use a car to do errands around town, park farther away than you normally would so that you have to walk just a bit longer to get to and from your car.
- Play collegiate sports. You don’t have to be a Division I athlete to play ball in college. Intramural and club teams are open to any students who want to play.
- Study at the gym. Bring your book with you and read in between sets or while plugging away on the elliptical machine.
- Play an impromptu sports game with friends. Shoot hoops or throw a Frisbee. It’s a study break and a workout built into one. Plus, you might as well take advantage of all of that green space on campus.
- Take field trips off campus. Go hiking, swimming, ice skating, or dancing. Your college town and its surrounding area have parks, pools, skating rinks, and clubs to help you stay active while having fun.
- Follow YouTube workout videos. Save this one for a rainy day. You don’t even have to leave your room. Invest in a yoga mat to give yourself some support when you’re finishing a set of crunches. It rolls up to fit easily into even the tiniest dorm room.
- Take a gym class for credit. Need motivation to exercise? Work out for class credit. Many colleges offer gym classes for pass/fail credit. That’s to say that you don’t have to hit an ace in every match to ace your tennis class. Come to class with an open mind to learn more about the sport. You’ll leave with a new skill and your daily workout completed.
- Use your gym membership. While everyone else is shelling out $40.00 a month to join a fitness center, college students already took care of their fees by paying tuition. Take advantage of your college gym while it’s available to you. Once you graduate, you’ll have to start paying to use the treadmill.
- Get a wearable exercise tracker. Buying a Fitbit or an Apple Watch isn’t going to make you work out, but an exercise tracker can be motivating. Set an attainable step goal (most trackers default to 10,000) and challenge yourself to hit it each day.
- Schedule your workouts like they’re classes. If you have a daily planner, integrate your workouts into your schedule a few days each week. Once they are written down and the time is already budgeted, it’s easier to make yourself hit the gym.
- Enlist a friend. If you’re struggling to exercise on your own, ask a friend if they’ll be your workout buddy. You don’t have to use the same machines or do partner workouts at the gym, but having someone else hold you accountable, even if it’s just to walk to the gym together, will make it harder to back out of a workout.
Page last updated: 03/2019