Working in a Workout

Forget couch potatoes. The life of the typical university student is just as inactive. Readings, assignments, and essays take up so much of your time that exercising barely seems an option. And if you work an office job during the day and come home to studying at night, you have no choice but to spend most of your day sitting.

You’ve heard countless times about the benefits of exercise. You probably don’t need an expert to tell you that hours spent sitting bent over a desk studying can strain and weaken your muscles and lower your general physical health. But with a full schedule of juggling school, work, and family obligations, how can you possibly add fitness to the mix?

Good news! Even if your time is very limited, it is quite possible to integrate some sort of exercise or fitness routine into your schedule. The following pointers have helped me make fitness a habit despite my many competing responsibilities.

“¢ Start out low-key. Enthusiasm for long, high-intensity workouts will wane quickly if you wake up the next morning unable to move. Walking is a great low-impact activity to start with, and it’s also relaxing. As winter approaches, the weather might not be ideal for walking outdoors, but some gyms and community centers offer indoor tracks. Alternatively, certain shopping malls open early for mall-walkers.

“¢ Be flexible. An all-or-nothing approach is likely to result in abandoning your fitness resolutions. Yes, doing the recommended 15 minutes of cardio might be ideal, but if you only have 10 minutes for exercise, even a short workout is better than none. There are a number of books and DVDs available which can lead you through a 10-minute workout. Or, you can just do a shortened run or bike.

“¢ Take advantage of small blocks of free time. Although, I like to work out for a 40-minute stretch every day, sometimes it’s just not feasible to take 40 minutes at a time. Instead, I divide my workout up into two or three parts. Don’t give into the temptation not to bother, because you can’t do it all at once. Splitting up your fitness routine is beneficial too.

“¢ Plan workouts into your schedule to make sure you will end up doing them. This works best if you schedule fitness time as a study break. Getting some physical exercise during a break is an excellent way to rest your brain while strengthening your body.

“¢ Vary your workouts. It is easy to get bored doing the same routine every day, and boredom quickly leads to burnout. Moreover, by varying your workouts you will end up using and strengthening different sets of muscles. Try alternating running, using exercise machines, working with hand weights, and doing workout tapes for some variety.

“¢ Distract yourself if necessary. Some people are happy just concentrating on running or using the cross trainer, but others need to focus on something else. While you are exercising, try reading a book, turning on the radio or television, plugging in a movie, or listening to an audio book. Better still, if possible, distract yourself with some lighter course reading, or study-related CDs or DVDs. During law school, I used to work out on the elliptical machine for an hour while I read for one of my easier courses. It made the time pass faster and got two things done at once, so I didn’t have to worry about exercise eating into my study time.

“¢ Take your workout outdoors (weather permitting). Getting some fresh air might be just what you need to clear the cobwebs from your over-stimulated brain. Walk, run or take up a seasonal sport like cross-country skiing.

“¢ Find a workout buddy. Just as a study buddy can help keep you accountable and motivated in your studies, a workout buddy can help you stay on track with your fitness plans. Better still, if you walk, run, bike, or hit the fitness machines with a friend you will likely have more fun, which will also make you more likely to continue exercising.

“¢ Take a once-a-week exercise class at a local community or fitness center. Not only is working with others a motivator, but you will also have the advantage of the instructor’s expertise to help you make sure you are “doing it right.”

“¢ Set up your own workout center. There is no need to spend hundreds of dollars. You can purchase a used treadmill, exercise bike, or an elliptical machine at a garage sale or from the for sale ads in the local paper for much less.

“¢ Run in place. If you cannot find an inexpensive exercise machine, or you don’t have room for one, and the weather is too bad to go outdoors, run on the spot in front of the TV. It may be a little unconventional, but it has worked well for me.

“¢ Dance. Put on some lively music and dance freestyle in your living room. It will not only be a great workout, but will also be a fun diversion and a chance to express yourself creatively.

“¢ Be creative. Invent ways to incorporate fitness into your daily life, especially if you cannot manage to squeeze exercise time into your day. For example, park further away from the grocery store to give yourself a longer walk.

“¢ Do stretching or toning exercises at your desk. While stuck in traffic, I used to do the following exercise. Sit up straight, feeling your abdomen supporting your upper body. Take a deep breath in through your nose and breathe out through your nose. As you breathe in again, pull your bellybutton in towards your spine. As you breathe out, pull those muscles further in and then straight down. Then take another deep breath in and out as you relax. This simple exercise did wonders for my stomach muscles.

“¢ Don’t forget to exercise your eyes. This is particularly important if you spend a great deal of time staring at a computer screen. One of the most common eye exercises is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes look at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

When it comes to working out on a limited time budget, the most important thing to remember is that every bit counts. Making the effort to maintain some kind of fitness routine “? no matter how small “? will be worth it in the long run. You will probably feel better and perhaps even think more clearly. Even if you are unable to commit to a full-blown exercise regimen until after graduation, by implementing regular exercise on a small scale now, you will have put in place good fitness habits that will serve you well in the future.