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As you may know, I am crazy about encouraging everyone to make movement a big part of their daily lives. It’s not that I think going to the gym or training for a marathon is bad by any means, but living a generally active lifestyle will serve you much better throughout your life than will training really hard for a 10k and then sitting on the couch for the remainder of the day, week or year.
Exercise science has shown us again and again the positive power of regular physical activity in a person’s life. Whether that leads to feeling better, having more energy, looking better, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, or having better focus – which are the things that I am pretty certain every student wants in their life – movement and exercise are amazing for every aspect of being a student. We’ll talk about how exercise directly affects the brain in a future episode but for now, let’s concentrate on how you can build your daily routine.
The problem is, of course, time. Most students take on too many activities every day. This can include classes, homework, research, studying, working, shopping, and perhaps even a little partying.
When the heck do you have time to exercise?
Is that what you think? Is that the narrative that plays in your head every time you look in the mirror? If it is, I am here to challenge you to break that belief down. I think you’re not tying hard enough. I think that you are not thinking outside of the (CrossFit) box.
We all have time to exercise. We all have time to get up and move our bodies everyday. The trick is to make it a priority and to build it into your day. If you simply can’t imagine that, I think you need to look at the amount of time you spend on Snapchat, watching Netflix, eating avocado toast and whatever else you millennials do. You owe it to your body and mind, not to mention your friends and family, to make exercise one of your top priorities. You both need to do it and deserve to do it.
We’ve been led to believe that in order to be physically active, get the ripped body that we want, or to whip our cardiovascular self into shape, we need to dedicate 45-90 minutes to going to the gym but some of the busiest and fittest people I know rarely step foot in a gym or exercise for longer than an hour a couple times a week. Another common belief that we have is thinking that low level activities like walking don’t count. That a ten minute workout isn’t long enough to make a difference. That we have to change into expensive workout gear for it to count as exercise. Well, that is rubbish.
Ways to Make Time
To help you get started or to help you dial-in your already existing routine a little further, here are some ways to make time for exercise — even when you don’t think you have time.
Let’s start the day off on an active note. After your alarm clock goes off, tuck your knees to your chest and wrap your arms around your knees. Now, just rock slightly from side to side. This will wake up your spine and stretch your legs a bit. After doing this stretch for about 30 seconds, straighten your legs and move them from side to side (keeping your back on the mattress or futon). This will loosen your back and also engage your core. You can finish this quick routine with 10 to 15 crunches in bed. Great! You aren’t even out of bed yet and you have already primed yourself for a better movement day.
Another one for your morning routine (the time you spend in the house, apartment or dorm before you leave for class), every time you touch a doorknob do 10 squats. If you are like me, you touch about 6-8 doorknobs on average during your morning so before you even eat breakfast, you may have already done about 60 squats and that is more effective for waking you up than a cup of coffee!
During your drive to school or while you’re sitting on the bus or subway, do at least 5 sets of 15 ab flexes. This is where you squeeze your abdominal muscles as though you’re trying to touch your ribs to your stomach, hold for a couple of seconds, then release. You can do this literally until you are red on the face.
One barrier to exercising during a busy school day is squeezing in time for a full 45-60 minute workout with a warm-up, cool-down and hopefully a shower. But quick 10-minute workouts are surprisingly effective, and can be injected throughout the day. You can do them in the morning when you wake up, after lunch, between classes, and after dinner. For some awesome 10-minute workouts, check out the Get-Fit Guy episode about the most effective 10-minute workouts you can do practically anywhere.
This one is fun to do with some friends or classmates who are also looking to stay fit. Pick a “fitword of the day” like “book.” Now, whenever anyone in your group says the word book, you all drop and do ten push-ups. The next time that word is used, do nine push-ups, then eight and so on. If you manage to get all the way down to zero, pick a new word and start from scratch.
An easy way to stay mobile and active that we often forget about or overlook is just simply standing and walking.
An easy way to stay mobile and active that we often forget about or overlook is just simply standing and walking. Walk or stand whenever you can. Never sit on the bleachers during a football game. If it is not going to get you in trouble, stand in the back of the room during a lecture. Stand on the bus. Walk while you discuss your homework with classmates. If you have a meeting with a professor, suggest that you walk around campus while you chat. Get creative! According to the Mayo Clinic regular brisk walking can help you:
- Maintain a healthy weight,
- Prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes,
- Strengthen your bones and muscles,
- Improve your mood,
- Improve your balance and coordination.
The faster, farther and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits.
Maximize Your Workout
When you are deciding what workout you should do with the fifteen minutes you have between classes, here are four tips to keep in mind that will help you maximize your workout.
Tip# 1: Choose exercises that move as many body parts as possible. Choose things like walking lunges, burpees, push-up variations, jumping jacks, and other exercises that used multiple joints. If you want your body to transform quickly, you should focus on full body exercises that incorporate multi-joint movements.
Tip #2: Choose exercises that move body parts quickly. The act of moving explosively will ensure you burn more calories during the workout and for the hours following the workout. Include moves such as medicine ball slams and throws (you can use your largest text book instead of a medicine ball if you like), do lunge jumps, sprints or if you ride your bike to school (which I highly recommend), fast explosive cycling intervals away from each stop sign.
Tip #3: Choose exercises that you don’t usually do. If you choose exercises your body is unfamiliar with, you’ll burn more calories in less time, because your body won’t be as efficient at those exercises. So if you usually do push-ups, try doing a pull-up, or if you usually choose squats, try lunges instead. Don’t be afraid to mix it up–it will make your body stronger, more mobile, and it will sharpen your mental skills too!
Tip #4: Make it fun for you and your friends. Play Frisbee, soccer, or throw a football around. Ride your bikes around campus. Shoot hoops or hit a tennis ball around. When we have fun while we exercise, we get a similar endorphin boost that people get from long endurance exercise, except that boost is nearly instant, constant, and is often more intense. When we turn workouts into playtime, it stimulates both our brains and our emotions.
If you avoid letting it all go now, while you are young, you will have an easier time when you get to my age of fighting off the “dad body.”
Ok. I think you are probably getting the idea now that you really don’t have an excuse to not exercise. Being a busy student is not a reason to let your fitness slide. And let me tell you, if you avoid letting it all go now, while you are young, you will have an easier time when you get to my age (mid-life crisis territory) of fighting off the “dad body” which I hear is all the rage these days.
Give Me More
To finish off, here are some rapid fire suggestions to draw on when you feel stumped:
- Find several exercise programs you can do at home (on YouTube or a podcast) and do one of them a couple of times a week.
- Take regular walks while you are thinking, planning or pontificating.
- Instead of walking up a flight of stairs, increase your speed and the number of stairs you take. Take two steps at once and you’ll target your booty more.
- Dance! Dance around the house, dance with some music, go to a nightclub or see a live band. Just because you might be in a place that serves alcohol, doesn’t mean it isn’t good for you.
- Get up 20-30 minutes earlier several days a week and exercise before you start your day. Walk, run, stretch, or do yoga — anything that gets you moving and starts your momentum for the day.
- Join your school’s fitness center or join a sport team. This is often rolled into your tuition so take advantage of it!
- Choose an activity that you enjoy. If you hate running, don’t try to force yourself to do it. If you choose something you really like, you will find it easier to make time for it.
- Even if you live in a tiny dorm room, you have space for some resistance bands and a yoga mat. Find ways to use your furniture to workout. Even a door frame can be used as exercise equipment with a little imagination. You can use some of these tips for working out in a hotel room.
- Find other ways to get around other than driving or asking a friend or parent for a ride. Check out this post about Adopting a Carless Lifestyle for inspiration.
- If you really have difficulty fitting exercise into your schedule, consider buying a used treadmill. You can usually find used ones for sale online from well meaning Boomers who are now using them as a clothes racks.
- Make it a competition with your friends. Use fitness trackers and compare numbers throughout the day. Nothing is more motivating than crushing your friends. Am I right?
- Don’t aimlessly surf TV channels or the Internet because we all know that’s a surefire way to waste time that you could spend in more active ways. You don’t have to skip TV altogether but before you sit down, set a time limit and stick to it.
- When you do watch TV, make the most of it. Do some crunches, planks, sun salutations, squats, lunges or pushups while you’re watching. Commercial breaks are great cues to get up and move.
- And finally – always choose something over nothing. Don’t let the thought “well, I don’t have time for the workout I had planned so I guess I won’t workout today.” Stay flexible and always choose to use whatever time you do have as effectively as possible.
Fitting exercise into your busy student schedule takes effort, planning and forethought but it is well worth the effort. Make a plan, put it on your to-do list, put stickies on your fridge – whatever it takes. I dare you to try it for a month and I know you will find that it pays off, and in ways you never expected.