In the United States there is an infamous epidemic that targets first year students known as the freshman 15. These are the average 15 lbs (7 kgs) that many students tend to gain in their first year of college. A study by Web MD even found that on average, a fourth of a college freshman gained at least 5% of their body weight (an average of 5 kgs). Despite the importance of focusing on academics, especially in your first year of attending a university, one of the biggest problems on college campuses today is how many students tend to neglect their physical and mental well being. As a student you often have to balance academics, jobs/internships, and staying involved in extracurriculars. This leads many students to neglect their own health which can then lead to consequences far worse than just gaining a few pounds like depression, anxiety, and burnouts.
Incoming students should find a way to stay active during their time in college, whether this is through clubs sports, group fitness classes, or simply just going to to the gym. Not only will this help keep the freshman 15 off, but there are also dozens of other health benefits that come with staying physically active.
In addition to feeling leaner and healthier, working out also does wonders for your mental health by helping clear your mind and helping to alleviate any stress or anxieties. Now that I have made the habit of working out at least 3 times a week if I ever go a week without working out I get very anxious. This has effectively made me prioritize my physical fitness and mental well being. These brief few hours a week give you time to focus on YOURSELF, something most students tend to overlook. For the brief hour I am working out I am not thinking about school, work, or anything else but achieving my goals in the gym.
Additionally, working out helps teach discipline. Although it takes time to build the habit, after a while working out simply becomes part of your lifestyle regardless of how busy you may be. This has helped me prioritize the tasks I need to complete and motivates me to finish an assignment so that I will have time to go to the gym after. I also know many people who are motivated to wake up earlier to have time to workout. Although I have never been able to incorporate early morning workouts into my lifestyle, I recommend people who feel they are too busy during the day or tired in the afternoon to try this.
Staying active in college can also be an immense boost to confidence and can help you feel better about yourself and your appearance. For me, working out has helped my self esteem tremendously and made me feel better about myself inside and outside the gym. In fact, I feel the most confident in the weight room, a place that I was once afraid of entering. Confidence is one of the most important qualities to have in order to be an effective leader and can be useful whether you are in a gym, classroom, job interview, or anywhere else.
Another benefit is the opportunity to get to know others in a casual environment outside of the classroom. From group fitness classes to club sports these are all great chances at meeting people who have similar interests while also working towards a shared goal. Group fitness classes can be a great way to begin your own fitness journey because these classes are taught by an instructor who helps guide you through the workouts while also providing motivation. On the other hand club sports can be another way of staying fit and working in a team or simply to try a new sport that you may have never played before but have always been interested in.
If you are really set on starting to work out but may have never done so a good place to start is by taking a gym class through your university that counts for class credit. At my university students are required to take at least two gym classes in order to graduate and there are dozens of classes offered making it a much more enjoyable experience. However, with this there is also the pressure that you must put in the work and attend or risk a failing grade.
Prior to attending college I had started working out fairly casually at a local gym simply running on cardio machines and attending group fitness classes mostly just for fun and to get a bit of a workout in. It was not until college that I took a weight training class my first semester of college and discovered a love for lifting. This was when I began to take working out much more seriously by going 4-5 times a week and have been doing this for almost three years now. Without taking the class I would not have been as knowledgeable in weight lifting and would have been much more intimidated in the weight room, especially as a woman. This summer I will also be taking a kickboxing class that I am also really excited for. Working out does not have to be painful if you choose to do something that you are interested in and truly enjoy.
Another more conventional way to stay fit is to simply start going to the gym. Most universities offer an on campus gym that is “free” (covered by tuition) that are often well equipped, spacious, and offer various amenities from dozens of cardio machines, several weight rooms, and even saunas. Those new to fitness can pay a bit more for a personal trainer to help guide them through the gym and various exercises to help meet their fitness goals.
Finally if none of these suit your interests there are also student organizations and school sponsored events aimed at fitness, wellness, and recreation. For example, for those who prefer the outdoors, my university offers an outdoor adventures program where several times a year students can pay a small fee and go on outdoor treks to various locations ranging from hikes to kayaking at nearby lakes. It is important to stay active doing things that YOU enjoy, so if running on a treadmill makes you feel miserable then look for other opportunities like these to meet others while also staying active and enjoying the outdoors.
Being a student can be an extremely hectic time, but it is always important to find time to do things that you enjoy and keep your mental and physical well being in balance. Although I have never been athletic, you do not need to be a college athlete in order to reap the benefits of physical fitness! Through working out in college I was able to find an outlet that allowed me to escape the stresses of school while also gaining a sense of confidence in myself that I never had before. Even now while abroad I have made sure to find ways to stay active despite not having the easy on campus gym access that I once had. Spend just a month consistently staying active and in no time you will see your body and mind thanking you!
An intern at the Fulbright Commission in Brussels, Citlali Rubio is a junior at North Carolina State University majoring in Political Science and International Studies with a concentration in Global Relations. The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the views of the EducationUSA Advising Center or of the U.S. Department of State.