Today I'm happy to introduce you to one of my best friends, Oren. Getting and staying healthy is something that a lot of college students and people everywhere struggle with. Oren is a fitness fanatic and is here to share with you some of his top 5 tips for getting healthy and fit for college students everywhere!
The hardest thing about college isn’t the courses, but rather it’s staying healthy. From the emotional toil of only being able to schedule a 10 minute call once a month with your best friend back home to the physical toil of the 10 back to back Cool Ranch Doritos Locos tacos you inhaled after your buddy shouted that infamous ‘YOU WON’T’, it seems as though everything in ‘the best years of your life’ are determined to leave you permanently damaged.
However, there’s one incredible tool right at your fingertips that helps you mitigate the damage and recover from the trauma: being fit. Here are five top tips for creating and maintaining fitness and to get healthy in college.
1. Schedule Walks into Your Routine
Ignore the girl in your 8:30 AM Intro to Economics class who says the only way to really get healthy is to wake up two hours before the class and do hill sprints with a weighted vest; walking is a great low impact and high benefit tool to increase your physical and emotional fitness.
There’s a lot of research out there on how regular brisk walking helps to maintain a healthy weight, prevent and manage various cardiovascular conditions conditions, strengthen your bones, improve your mood, and increase balance and coordination. Walking is one of the best things you can do for your body.
In college, scheduling walks into your routine can have a couple added benefits. For one, getting outside is super great. Being able to enjoy your campus and local community without having a set place and time to arrive somewhere can be very zen and relaxing. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to find cool new cafes, bars, or small shops that you’ve never checked out before.
Use mapmyrun.com to constantly plan new routes and keep track of the work you’re doing. Another great benefit of taking scheduled walks is that it gives you time to call your parents! If calling your parents is a chore, then being outdoors and feeling like you’re bettering yourself can help counteract the constant nagging of ‘you need to do laundry more regularly’ and ‘make sure you’re on top of your classes’ and ‘don’t drink that much wine on a Tuesday, who are you, Caligula?’
Who knows, maybe even if your parents know that you’re exercising they’ll even nag you less. Or at least buy you new Nikes.
I would recommend starting by trying to incorporate four walks a week of either 30 minutes in length or 1.5 miles in distance. Add that up and by the end of the week you will have exercised for a full 2 hours or 6 miles! That’s some serious work! You’re a champ.
Make sure to write down and schedule your walks just like you would a meeting or a class, that way you hold yourself accountable and can’t make any excuses. Nothing works unless you do.
2. Train with Weights
‘Everyone wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy ass weights!’ Now, your goal might not be to get such wide shoulders that you can no longer fit through normal doors, but Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman’s statement still stands in the rather modified ‘everyone wants a good body, but nobody wants to do anything but run on the elliptical.’
I’m going to immediately throw out the notion that lifting weights makes girls ‘bulky’ or ‘manly’ (Cupcakes, not bicep curls, make you bulky. And regardless, the female body normally cannot produce enough testosterone naturally to look like a bodybuilder, and it’s the same way with guys even though they already produce more biologically. That’s why testosterone as a supplement is banned in many athletic competitions and why bodybuilders take such high dosages) so this advice is unisex.
The benefits of weight training are endless. Having more lean muscle mass helps to burn more calories during every day activities, weight training is mood enhancing, bearing heavy loads increases bone density (especially important for women), athletic performance increases, it helps to fight cardiovascular diseases, your balance improves, clothes start fitting better, and your sex drive goes up.
Literally everything is better when you lift weights. One of the great things about most schools too is that they have a free gym for students (and weird alumni).
When starting a resistance-training program as a beginner, I typically recommend training three times a week.
One day would be ‘Upper Body Pull’ targeting the back, biceps, rear deltoids, and traps, one day would be ‘Upper Body Push’ targeting the chest, triceps, shoulders, and one day would be ‘Lower Body’ targeting the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Make sure to include one of the ‘Big 3’ lifts on each of these days (Deadlift, bench press, and squat, respectively), and include cardio (like your walks) and direct abdominal work in on the days you are not weight training in order to avoid overworking yourself.
Bodybuilding.com is a great resource for exercises, programs, motivation, and other tips. The first two to three weeks can leave you really sore, but the soreness will go away quickly and after about a month you will start to notice some real differences in the way you look, feel, and move.
3. Set a Nightly Cut Off Time for Your Eating
‘Losing weight is easy. Just don’t eat.’ It’s easy to confuse being healthy with losing weight (especially when you hear about all sorts of celebrity diet fads such as the jello and lettuce diet or the vodka and nothing else diet), but being fit doesn’t just mean being skinny. It means losing weight in a healthy way.
First of all, you want to make sure that the weight you lose is fat and not muscle (muscle is heavier than fat, so it is actually possible to be heavier but be much, much leaner than where you started), you want to maintain energy and mood throughout the day, and you want to stay emotionally and physically healthy throughout the whole process. One great trick to help with this (which can warrant a whole article just on its own) is following a simple intermittent fasting technique.
Intermittent fasting is essentially not eating for a period during the day. The (ultra simplified) idea is that your body takes something like 4 to 6 hours to digest the food in your stomach, and once it is done digesting it will move on to your fat stores for energy instead of drawing from the food being digested.
By increasing the length (to an extent) that you don’t eat, you are increasing the time that your body is burning fats for energy. One of the key features of IF though, instead of starving yourself, is that you eat all of the calories you need for the day (or a slight deficit) during the smaller eating window.
You don’t eat less. You just eat in less time and over fewer (but much larger) meals.
If you think about it, everyone does some intermittent fasting during his or her day through the form of sleeping. The easiest way to experiment with intermittent fasting is to just set a time each night that you will not continue to eat past, as its easy to avoid those tempting Pop-tarts and pizza slices while asleep.
For example, if you stop eating at 8 PM, you are done running on digested food by 12 or 2AM, which leaves you in a fasted state until breakfast. Terry Crews is a staunch believer in Intermittent Fasting, and, on top of having abs that you could literally wash your clothes on, he still retains the energy and mood necessary to kill it on an Old Spice commercial.
4. Bring a Buddy to Exercise With You
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. Tiger Woods and all of those waitresses. Every great champion has a great training partner, and a good teammate can push you to new highs when you need it and rein you in when you’re going to hurt yourself. Some studies even suggest that having a training partner can even DOUBLE your performance. So go grab your friend and schedule some workouts!
Once again, make sure to schedule your workouts together, forcing you both to stay accountable and stay on the grind.
Also a good tip: If you are a beginner, then try to find someone with a similar level of fitness as you or stronger than you, never grab a training partner who’s weaker. A stronger and more experienced partner can teach you and give you some goals to work towards, and a similarly fit partner can give you someone to really compete against. A weaker partner, however, can hold you back as a beginner; especially if they don’t give the same 100% that you do during workouts. An old adage goes: If you’re the strongest person in your gym, find a new gym.
One thing to always keep in mind is that a bad workout is always better than no workout. If your training partner flakes out like the weak little sissy that they are (no excuses), then you better still get your butt to the gym and sweat so hard someone could bottle it and sell a six pack as an intraworkout electrolyte supplement.
Let Eminem and Lil’ Wayne be your training partners (Or Lady Gaga and Britney), and push yourself hard. I do not recommend, however, ever attempting to set a new PR (personal record) on any lift without a partner there to spot and assist you if you can’t complete it. Safety first, the goal is get fit not die trying.
5. Drink More Caffeine
Caffeine is great. It’s so great that it helped me stay up until 4 AM writing this very post. Now, while that might not be a particularly healthy use of caffeine, there are still plenty of ways that using it can increase your fitness.
Coffee has developed much of a cult following among college students, so I’m sure many of you are already avid consumers, but do you know the health and fitness benefits that it can give you? (NOTE: Everyone reacts differently and responds differently to different doses of caffeine. Be careful with this one, and know your body.)
First off, caffeine makes working out fun. There’s a reason preworkout supplements are the second most popular after protein powder, and that’s because stimulants can turn a low energy and exhausted dredge to the gym into a trip to EDC while wearing light gloves and rolling on Molly. Well, not quite that intense, but it GETS THE PEOPLE GOING.
Caffeine raises your heart rate and increases your alertness, making it much easier to make it to your workout while simultaneously avoiding many of the chemicals found in commercial preworkout powders.
A second huge benefit is that caffeine can also be performance enhancing. It is so effective, that large doses of caffeine (like really large, you’ll probably never consume that much in one sitting ever) are actually considered a banned substance in many sports.
It can increase your pain tolerance and dramatically increase reaction time, helping you to move a little faster, lift a little heavier, and sweat a little more.
I would recommend starting with lower caffeine beverages before working out, and cycling off of caffeine often to avoid developing a tolerance or psychological or physiological dependence on the stuff to exercise. Over time, going to the exercise can and should be fun for its own sake, and you should no longer need a slap to the face to get to it except on the most grueling days (like, for example, if you just had a final. Or if your roommate sexiled you all night. Which, hopefully, is not a regular occurrence.).
I hope these five tips leave you motivated and excited to increase your own fitness. Make sure to set achievable goals, track your progress (maybe in a super fancy planner), and keep going through the rough patches. The only way to get better is consistent effort over time, so keep fighting the good fight.
The views, opinions, positions, research, analyses, strategies or other information discussed here are my views and are for informational purposes only. Also, I am not a doctor or physician. You must get your physician’s approval before beginning any nutrition, fitness, or exercise program. These recommendations are not medical guidelines but are for educational purposes only. You must consult your physician prior to starting any fitness program or if you have any medical condition or injury that constrains physical activity.
About the Author:
Oren is Junior at Occidental College. Oren has worked as a martial arts instructor (holding a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do), competes in obstacle course races, is training for a powerlifting meet, and loves to rock climb. Follow him on Instagram @OrenTorten to follow what he’s up to.