SparkPeople advertisers help keep the site free! Learn more
College life opens new and exciting opportunities for young adults. Leaving the comforts of home for the first time to live with a total stranger in a room the size of a closet; making your own choices about where to go, when to return, what time to go to bed and who to spend time with; assuming more financial responsibility for books, groceries, and entertainment; oh, and there's that learning thing too.
Most colleges and universities require incoming freshman to live in the dorms, which means a couple things when it comes to your health:
You have little choice when it comes to your food since you're using a meal plan and usually don't have access to a full kitchen.
Your space is limited, which also limits your overall activity (three steps to your desk, one step to the fridge and a few steps to the hall bathroom).
What you are able to do in your room, whether staying up to study or waking up early to workout, is somewhat dependent on your roommate's feelings and schedule.
This combination of limited food choices, small space, and late nights can lead to the notorious "Freshman 15". According to recent research, the odds are against you after move-in day:
Cornell University researchers found that college freshman gain half a pound per week on average. That's about 11 times more weight than the average 17-and 18-year old will gain, and nearly 20 times more than the average weight gain among adults.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) found that both male and female college students eat approximately 500 additional calories between the hours of 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Research from Washington University in St. Louis confirms that most college students do gain weight. This research team reported in the Journal of American College Health that about 70% of students gained "a significant amount of weight" between the start of college and the end of their sophomore year.
But the dreaded college weight gain is NOT inevitable. Sure, some young adults are still growing in height, bone structure, and weight. But taking a preventive approach (rather than trying to crash diet or over-exercise when it's too late) is your best bet. Making healthier food choices, getting plenty of sleep, and increasing your daily activity (walking instead of taking the shuttle) will help. But one of the most important things you can do is exercise for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week. Your exercise plan should include three main components:
Cardio (aerobic) exercise burns calories, trains your body to use more fat as fuel, strengthens your heart and lungs and helps relieve stress. Aim for 30-60 minutes, 3-6 days per week.
Strength training helps you maintain and build lean muscle. If you aren't strength training regularly, you'll lose muscle (about half a pound per year) and your metabolism will slow down along with it. Fit in a full body workout (about 8-12 exercises) twice per week.
Stretching, or flexibility training, can help you improve your fitness level in other areas as well as reduce your risk for injury and joint problems later. Stretch after every workout and when you need a relaxing break.
You college recreation center will likely have all the options you need to stay healthy and fit: cardio machines, fitness classes, personal trainers, weights, a pool, an indoor track and more. But on those busy days (or late nights) the gym might not be an option. Here's what you CAN do with little or no money right from the comfort and convenience of your own (little) room.
(FREE!) Even though you might feel corny by yourself, you can "design" your own workout for your small place. Try a combination of any of the following low-impact moves, always trying to get both your arms and legs involved:
Marching in place
Stepping up and down the stairs or running the stairs in your building
Side steps (step touch)
Jogging in place or high knee running in place
Grapevines sideways, forward and back
Kickboxing moves (front kicks, squats, side kicks, punches)
Turn on your favorite music and just dance!
($) If space and ceilings allow, jumping rope ($6) can torch big calories. If you don't have room for a rope, mimic it with your hands and wrists. Jump in place, skip, hop on one foot, etc. to get your heart pumping.
($$) Workout videos or DVDs ($10+) offer a lot of variety for a very low investment. Some workouts can be done in a small space, such as low impact aerobics, kickboxing, cardio Pilates, belly dancing, and more. If you need more room, grab a couple of friends and take your video to the lounge area of the dorm.
Strength Training Options
(FREE!) You can use your body weight for resistance to work several major muscle groups. Try these exercises that link to illustrated demonstrations (you'll find even more body weight exercises in the Fitness Resource Center):
($$) For just a few more dollars, a good set of dumbbells ($20) and even a stability ball ($25) can round out your workout plan, giving you even more strength training options. Put your chair into storage and sit on your ball instead and you'll strengthen more than your mind while you study, plus it doubles as exercise equipment when you need it.
(FREE!) Use what you have. Most stretches can be done while sitting or standing, so you don't need any special equipment. SparkPeople's Stretching Guide will help you get started, whether you want to take breaks at your desk, or use more space and time for a full body routine. Consider using your dorm furniture to help increase your stretching capacity: prop up foot up onto your chair, desk, or bed to stretch the hamstrings more deeply; use the walls for stretching your arms, chest, and calves.
($) Invest in a yoga workout video. This form of exercise not only stretches and strengthens, but it also helps relieve stress and calm that busy mind, preparing you for a more restful sleep or energized day.
($$) Consider buying a yoga mat ($20) or padded exercise mat ($25+). Both can be rolled up or folded away easily, and they will make stretching (and other floor exercises) much more comfortable.
Dorm life doesn't have to be a doom. For little or no money, the single room that multitasks as a bedroom, study, kitchen and lounge can also become your own personal gym. Leave college weight gain at the door. In just a few minutes a day, you'll see a toned, healthy, and relaxed body and mind. What better way to experience college life?
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health promotion and education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.
SparkPeople, SparkCoach, SparkPages, SparkPoints, SparkTeams, SparkDiet, SparkAmerica, SparkRecipes, DailySpark, and other marks are trademarks of SparkPeople, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
SPARKPEOPLE is a registered trademark of SparkPeople, Inc. in the United States, European Union, Canada, and Australia. All rights reserved.