Joanna Hughes :
While the demands of academia can often feel more intense than a full-time job, some other commitments are of equal importance. One item deserving your time and attention? Your health and wellness. Not only can prioritizing exercise help you avoid falling prey to the "freshman 15," but it also offers countless benefits, including everything from increased energy to better cognitive function. While squeezing in your workout can be easier said than done sometimes, these six tips can help you find time for fitness.
1. Clean Up Your Room
While cleaning up your room may be one thing that falls below exercise on your to-do list, the former can help you with the latter. Between homework, social media, video games and other distractions, the student lifestyle can be dangerously sedentary, particularly when you factor in an increasing body of research indicating that extended periods of sitting can wreak havoc on your health. Luckily, even something as simple as cleaning your room can have health payoffs.
Building time in your study routine to get up and move around is vital, and can be accomplished by even the most simple tasks, like brisk vacuuming or doing laundry. And while domestic chores may not exactly be fun, there's nothing like the feel of a clean room.
A side benefit? Scientists at Princeton University have determined that a clutter-free environment can improve your ability to focus and process information. In other words, picking up is good for your body and your brain!
You don't have to run a marathon to improve your fitness. More than 2,000 years ago Hippocrates declared that, "Walking is a man's best medicine." That early hypothesis has since been confirmed by a breadth and depth of research indicating benefits related to everything from lowering cardiac risk factors to alleviating mental stress. Walking is even linked with lower death rates! Not only is walking a great way to boost your health, but it is also accessible to people of all levels of fitness.
When you don't have time for a dedicated workout, walking offers a beneficial alternative. When headed to class or for a social engagement, skip driving or public transportation and lace up your walking shoes instead. Walking also offers a more immersive way to discover and explore your surroundings. An activity tracker can help you set and meet goals. While 10,000 steps a day is a common target, some experts recommend shooting for 16,000 steps daily as an ideal weight management technique.
Don't like to walk? Biking offers an equally active way to get where you need to go while reaping fitness benefits.
3. Plan Ahead
Want to improve your chances of following through on your workout plans? Strategically schedule working out into your daily routine. Gym-goers looking to maximize their workouts may want to check out the gym to see when it's least crowded. (Fewer people mean free machines and less time waiting around.)Many college campus facilities are empty before 11 in the morning, so early birds can not only jump-start their mornings with a workout, but can also enjoy easier access.
Planning ahead also involves some self- awareness. If you're not a morning person, committing yourself to predawn workouts may lead to excessive use of the snooze button and ultimately unfulfilled plans. Instead, take time to consider when you are most likely to workout, and schedule your trips to the gym during that time. One last tip for the gym-bound? Consider multitasking. Instead of listening to music when you lift weights or use the elliptical, listen to a podcast or course recording instead.
4. Enlist a Workout Buddy
One study from Stanford University concluded that even a mere occasional phone call can prompt people to exercise. Imagine what working out with a real-live friend can do for you! Indeed, this is just one example in a growing body of evidence pointing to the importance of social support in helping people reach their fitness goals.
One of the simplest ways for students to cash in on the benefits? Find a workout buddy.
Working out with a friend can help you stay on track and accountable. After all, you may be inclined to skip a workout if it's just you, but would you really back out on a friend?
And then there's the social aspect. It's easy to feel isolated and overwhelmed when the demands of college start adding up. Working out with a friend not only offers enhanced motivation, but it also offers something else: company and commiseration. Sure, you could connect over coffee or a beer, but why not try exercising together instead?
5. Join a Club
Gyms aren't for everyone. Luckily, there are plenty of other options for people looking to stay fit in college, and you don't even have to leave campus to take advantage of them. From football and martial arts clubs to yoga and dance groups, colleges are full of like-minded, enthusiastic, active people who enjoy a diversity of extracurricular activities. Many of these are fitness-based.
Always wanted to try rock climbing? Rugby? Rowing? These activities and countless others are alive and well on college campuses. Most welcome students of all abilities, meet during student-friendly hours, and offer joint opportunities for building both your fitness and your social network.
6. Eat Well
Staying healthy is not all about exercise. Healthy eating is an equally important part of the equation. Unfortunately, many students subsist on steady diets of chips, ramen, and fast food options. Not only can this lead to weight gain, but it can also tank your energy levels, interfere with healthy sleep and prevent you from exercising. The result? A vicious cycle of unhealthy behaviors.
Consider these simple ways to improve your eating habits:
n Don't skip breakfast
Widely touted as "the most important meal of the day," breakfast is also the meal students are most likely to skip when time is tight. This critical morning meal has also been linked with everything from weight loss to energy, as well as the reduced likelihood of overeating or making poor food choices throughout the day.
n Drink water
Ample hydration keeps your body running at peak performance. Health experts recommend drinking between six and eight 12-ounce glasses of water every day. Step away from the soda and stick with water instead.
n Choose whole foods
College dining halls offer more healthy options than ever before. While it's easy to give into the temptation to grab and go, choose unprocessed foods like fresh fruits, whole grains, and veggies which offer ample vitamins and nutrients while filling you up on fewer calories.
Success in school-and in life-depends on finding balance along the way. These six tips can help you incorporate exercise and eating right into a well-rounded routine which will not only improve your fitness levels, but also your academic performance. Even better? These benefits will remain with you long after you leave the hallowed halls of academic and head out into the "real world."
(Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family).