Fitness experts share how to build a workout routine as a busy college student

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People working out at a gym with a view. Making time to exercise can be difficult for college students. Image by Emily Morford.

Personal trainers and fitness experts gave advice on how students can add exercise to a busy college semester.

According to research by Mohammed About Elmagd of RAK Medical and Health Sciences University, regular exercise can help individuals stay healthy, energetic and independent as they age.

“Physical activity and exercise can reduce stress and anxiety, boost happy chemicals, improve self-confidence, increase the brain power, sharpen the memory and increase our muscles and bones strength,” Elmagd wrote. “It also helps in preventing and reducing heart disease, obesity, blood sugar fluctuations, cardiovascular diseases and Cancer.”

Mandy Christensen, a professor in the BYU Department of Exercise Sciences, said that a busy class and work schedule can make it challenging for students to fit in exercise.

“I would say that time is always the biggest obstacle for anyone who’s trying to exercise, and certainly college students have a lot of demands on their time,” Christensen said. “How do you overcome that? I think it’s individual and specific, but I think the biggest thing I would want to tell people is that anything you do counts and everything you do counts.”

Heather Scruggs, a BYU Student Wellness Instructor and Nutrition Counseling Coordinator at Integrative Health Group, said students with packed schedules may benefit from adding exercise to their calendars.

“It can be hard to find time to exercise if you don’t pencil it in,” Scruggs said. “If exercise is a priority then make it a priority by scheduling a time to do it, otherwise the day slips by and then it’s too late or you are too tired to exercise.”

Ingrid Roundy, who has a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education from BYU and works as a prenatal and postnatal exercise trainer, agreed that college is a stressful time with many things to balance. She suggested a daily planning method for adding in a workout.

“Whether you’re an agenda-type planner or not, I recommend quickly reviewing the activities of your day either the night before or the morning of,” Roundy said. “Think about the places you have to be and when and find 30 minutes of time where you can squeeze in a workout. Make it one of your priorities.”

Roundy said if those 30 minutes are not a priority, they will get filled with something else. She added that after a year of getting in those 30 minutes, individuals will see an increase in happiness and health. 

“If a workout doesn’t happen — because some days it won’t — don’t hesitate to squeeze in a few small exercises at night,” Scruggs said. “Something is better than nothing, so maybe when you’re brushing your teeth, you do a walk squat and then a few push-ups before bed.”

Roundy shared this workout for anyone else looking for a quick way to exercise on a busy-day. It can be difficult for college students to fit exercise into their schedules, but experts agree that something is always better than nothing. (Made in Canva by Emily Morford)

Roundy shared a similar sentiment, explaining the importance of being flexible and adaptable with one’s time.

“Be open to fitting in your exercise … whenever you get a bit of time,” she said. “Even if you only end up having 10-15 minutes at night before your preferred ‘bed time,’ go for a small walk or turn on some music and crank out some push-ups.”

Christensen explained that it’s more important to do something rather than nothing at all. She emphasized the importance of consistency.

“I always tell my students that it’s consistency that brings success, not perfection,” Christensen said. “And so, I would say just be consistent in what you’re doing and also give yourself some slack. Those times when you miss it, it’s okay.”

Scruggs said exercise can help with improving mood and energy levels, reducing stress, better quality sleep and better overall health and strength. She said prioritizing exercise is important, especially for those benefits.

Roundy explained that muscles weaken if they are not worked. She said many studies show exercise to be as effective as therapy and medication when it comes to mental health and exercise can also improve efficiency in studying and serving others, Roundy said. 

Christensen added a psychological perspective to the mix of exercise benefits, saying individuals feel better about themselves when they are physically active. She explained that much of this comes from getting better sleep and feeling better in general.

“You get all those happy hormones that are produced when you exercise,” Christensen said. “Your mood improves and your cognitive functioning improves.”

Roundy said 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week is beneficial.

“I recommend getting a variety of strength and cardio in during the week, and don’t forget to stretch,” Roundy said. “If you don’t take a little bit of time to stretch after each exercise, you will most likely get injured and have to cut your exercise goals short while you recover.”

Scruggs shared that workout splits, or the types of exercises an individual usually assigns to each day of the week, should be personalized.

“When it comes to exercise splits, types and things like that, I personally don’t like to give a general recommendation,” Scruggs said. “Exercise is so individualized. The best kind of exercise is the one a person will do, so unless I know a person’s interests, their experience and resources, I hesitate to recommend anything.” 

Scruggs further explained that though students often want an easy, recipe-like answer, individuals have to discover their own passions and develop skills to get there. She said that this is a process that takes patience, grace and persistence until one finds the right balance and system. 

However, for those creating their own exercise splits, Scruggs recommended rotating which area of the body is worked each day so the same thing isn’t worked back to back. She claims that this method creates balance and allows healing.

Whether someone is creating an exercise split, deciding to become an avid hiker or creating a marathon plan, the key to success in exercise is finding something that is enjoyable for the individual, Christensen said.

“If you don’t enjoy doing it, it makes it so much harder to [exercise],” Christensen said. “Finding something that you love is the most important thing, and then again just the consistency of doing it regularly, which doesn’t mean every day necessarily — it means whatever your schedule will allow.”

Christensen urged students to be kind to themselves, especially with how toxic she said the fitness industry can be.

“Just be happy with who you are and be healthy with your body, because the health that you can achieve is going to be different than someone else’s,” Christensen said.

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