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Dorm Room Workouts

The Freshman 15 is an Elective, Not a Requirement

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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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
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Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
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 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.

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Member Comments

  • I am living in a small apartment, these are great, except that the downstairs neighbor is a noise fascist! I cannot walk let alone try any activity without a knock at the door and a disturbing discussion about quiet hours. Are there any cardio activities that are quiet or am I doomed to have to go outside for this? - 10/3/2014 1:23:36 PM
  • Great article - 9/23/2013 9:00:42 PM
  • ANIMATOR606432
    Jumping rope is the choose at my dorm currently. It's not HUGE but it's big enough to where I can jump rope with a decent amount of space. The issue I have is eating. It's not that I even eat to much, it's that I have to eat SO early that I end up hungry at strange hours in the night.
    Add that to the fact that i'm working out as well and i'm worried that I won't lose any weight. I don't snack very often, and I limited myself to the desert bar. Maybe i'll have 2 or three oatmeal cookies. Sometimes I pig out eating lactose free soft served ice cream and cake. - 9/16/2013 9:01:32 PM
  • Great article. My college years was the bomb. I didn't start putting on weight until I got married and had children. - 9/16/2013 7:28:32 PM
  • I actually took gym classes in college (something I swore I'd never do when I left high school). I did fencing and self defense. We had a great gym and it was pretty far from my dorm so it was good exercise just getting there.

    - 9/16/2013 11:44:46 AM
  • Although I am very far from my college years, I plan on taking from this when I am traveling this summer! - 6/6/2013 6:09:02 AM
  • I was probably my most fit ever when I was in college. The gym we had was state of the art, and my friends and I went every other day or more. There really is no excuse when you are in college, especially with a gym available to you. My dream is to have that available to me now! But alas, I am doing home workouts instead (which are working good too). - 3/19/2013 9:44:06 AM
  • Now how much of that weight is from actually eating rather than all the calories taken in by the binge drinking that college is also notorious for...? - 1/13/2013 8:37:45 PM
  • When I was in college, I actually lost 15-20lbs during my freshman and sophomore years. The school had a free gym that was within walking distance and fresh fruit in the dining hall. It wasn't until I got married at the end of my junior year that I started gaining my weight back.

    I sure do miss that gym! If you're lucky enough to go to a school that has free gym access for students, you should definitely take advantage. I usually went in the morning, after the athletic teams were finished and before the rest of the students were even up yet! - 10/12/2011 9:29:31 PM
  • Most colleges have gyms that are free for students to use. They also offer fitness classes for free or little charge. I was pretty good about working out in college. The problem for me wasn't until after college. - 3/9/2011 12:36:49 PM
  • This article was awesome. Anyone with the Freshman 15+ can appreciate that. SparkPeople has been amazing with helping me drop that Freshman 15!!! - 12/14/2009 2:01:12 PM
  • This article is great for anyone in tight spaces or even anyone living with families/roomies. - 11/7/2009 8:02:40 PM
  • BECOMINGCAROLYN
    I think the freshman 15 rule assumes you've eaten healthily and been active at home. I actually managed to lose weight when I went to school. It was only a handful of pounds, and I sometimes had to be cautious of the dessert bar, but it wasn't hard. I went from a lifestyle of convenience foods to a dorm cafeteria where I could chose exactly what I wanted in addition to walking everywhere.

    Plus, knowing my own tendency toward boredom eating, I never kept food in my dorm room. I saved all my eatings for meals in the cafeteria, and kept myself from snacking while studying/hanging out/etc. - 11/7/2009 11:53:43 AM
  • CATHEITE
    Target is another great store for inexpensive exercise equipment and workout dvds. I've found a lot of wonderful things there on clearance. - 10/25/2009 9:09:05 PM
  • CATHEITE
    Target is another great store for inexpensive exercise equipment and workout dvds. I've found a lot of wonderful things there on clearance. - 10/25/2009 9:09:04 PM
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