In a new environment on campus, teens have full control over their own schedule. Along with the freedom to go to class comes the option to skip class. This freedom also applies to changes in their health routine (did someone say, "Freshman Fifteen"). They can go to the gym, indulge at the all-you-can-eat cafeteria, stay out late and they may just even dare to skip leg day!
Recommitting to healthy living as a college student isn't as hard as it seems. With the help of Alex McLean, International Fitness Presenter, certified exercise instructor and personal trainer, we put together six tips to reshape the way you think about student fitness.
1. Think Small
The biggest mistake most people make when thinking about fitness is looking at it as an "all or nothing" proposition. College students face lots of transition not only at the beginning of the year, but during finals, holiday breaks and even coming into a second semester. Even when things are hectic, Alex suggests asking "How can I make small changes that will make big impact?"
For those who have a fitness routine, this could be simply frequenting the campus gym. Don't underestimate the power of small commitments to movement:
Create your own rule to make one small change and see how it can add up over time for big impact. Your rule can be funny or memorable, but make only one at at time until it's totally in your normal routine. Also, make sure it's something you'll confront on a daily basis so you have a shot at making it a habit sooner rather than later.
2. Think Routines
Once you start thinking small, you're prepared to start thinking about coupling fitness with daily activities. Keeping a commitment to fitness is easier when you link a new healthy action to an every day action. Some great ideas for students include:
Take a 5 minute walk as a study break
Do 10 push ups when you put your pjs on
Drink a glass of water before taking a bite of breakfast
Do 10 jumping jacks in between each Netflix episode (we know you're binge watching)
Do a neck stretch every time you read a text using an emoji
Ready for a bigger routine challenge? Save yourself some time by skipping the gym, but still getting the workout. Watch this video for a few quick ideas!
3. Think Drink
To increase overall health set some goals specifically about water intake. One clever way to accomplish this is to fill a jug each morning with a few hourly increments.
"People mistake hunger for being dehydrated"
This breaks a larger commitment down into smaller goals. Besides, the extra trips to the bathroom will help you get your study breaks and steps in. If you're in and out of class all day, consider bringing a small, refillable water bottle and set three or four reminders during the day when that container needs to be refilled. With 15-minute notifications before you need to refill, you'll have the chance to polish off the remaining water and stick to your goal.
4. Think ZZZ's
Young adults, in particular, tend to forget that proper sleep is essential to optimal fitness. Need help getting your full 8 hours? Use the "Bedtime" feature on your iPhone to set reminders of when you need to hit the hay in order to get a full night of rest.
"College students tend to think more about the quality of the workout instead of the quality of the recovery period."
While a full 8 hours might seem impossible to a busy college student, naps can be a better way to get the kind of sustainable rest your body needs. Even a ten minute nap once or twice a day helps your body recover and process food more efficiently.
5. Think Reward
There's so much technology that gives you powerful endorphin-inducing rewards for achieving micro goals. Studies on wearable technology show small encouragements have a profound effect on helping people stay on track with their health and fitness goals. Even if you don't have a smart watch, you can use the principles of positive gamification in your favor! A simple reminder preset on your phone can trigger activity and reinforce a belief that a healthy lifestyle is achievable without relying on your memory as your personal trainer.
"I've retrained my brain that activity is a reward for my hard work of sitting still. Before I sit down for a longer stint of work at my desk I set a few reminders to give myself a 10 minute activity break as a reward for each hour of work. Over time, I've retrained my brain to believe that getting moving is a reward and not an obligation."
6. Think Tribe
For students new to a college, the idea of making new friends can be daunting. On the other hand, Alex points out that, "a college campus can also be a pretty open environment to find others with whom you have something in common." Find your people and make an activity connection. Have a MWF psychology course? Find a group from that class and meet up 10-minutes before to add in a short walk or quick game of frisbee.
For a more overtly sporty crowd, check into college intramural games, Spartan race training groups or even walking clubs. Whatever you do, whether organized by you or the administration, look for active ways to make new friends who will support your health goals.
Getting fit and staying fit in college is totally possible with a few small changes and a new perspective on your health. Total body fitness is not just a reality for those engaged in extreme workouts or time-intensive commitments– it's for everyone! Every busy life can incorporate a combination of moving more, eating smarter and developing daily habits to make great decisions on a regular basis.
More about the co-author:
Alex McLean has been teaching group fitness since 1995. He started as a dancer and master class presenter for the Reebok® Performance Team and Nike® Culture Shock. Currently, Alex is an educator for three global brands: TRX®, Schwinn® Cycling and Strong by Zumba™. He has appeared in multiple video and print projects. You can reach him on your favorite social media platform: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.