active at university

How to stay active and exercise at university

Starting university can be exciting, nerve-racking, wonderful and terrifying. As with any big lifestyle change, it can also have a big impact on your physical activity levels. Elite gymnast and uni student, Izzy Tolometti, explains how to stay healthy and exercise once you’re at university.

The problem

The transition from high school to university means a step into adulthood.  For some people, this can be exciting.  Starting a new chapter in your life, meeting new people and of course, going out and drinking way too much!  For others it’s scary.  You’re moving away from home, somewhere you don’t know, which means leaving your friends and family. Whether you’re excited or scared, one thing that we all experience when we move from high school to university is an increase in our sedentary behavior and a decrease in our physical activity levels. This is especially true during the study period.

The reality is that studying at university takes a lot of time out of our day leaving little time to allow us to be active. Being in a new location and not knowing anyone can also stop you from going into a new gym or sport club to help us be active. Some of us even want to get active or improve our health but we don’t even know how, right?

What is physical activity?

The term ‘physical activity’ can be misinterpreted.  Physical activity is defined as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure”.  So physical activity is anything from walking to participating in a sport. You don’t have to go to a gym or participate in a sport to be physically active.  Just walking to your classes or going out for a walk or run as a break from your studying is classed as physical activity. So really, we all do physical activity in our lives; the amount and type you do is totally your choice. Being at university creates a lifestyle where we must make more decisions independently and, in this case, you can choose whether to walk to university or catch the bus.

My tips for staying active while studying

I’m a full-time student at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland.  I’m also a competitive gymnast at international level. Along with my usual classes at university, I train roughly 24 hours a week.  So, as you can imagine my schedule is pretty much wake up, go to university, go to training, go to sleep and repeat!  It can get pretty intense and hard at times, but it’s what I do, and I make it work.  I always try and make time to see my family and friends as that’s important to me (and of course make room for some me time!).

Think of the benefits

Being physically active benefits us not only physically but mentally. It might even help you to study better! I always find that if I get stressed out or need a break from my studies, going to training helps clear my mind and gives me a break from that part of my world. However, simple things like going for a walk are also a great way to clear your mind.

Try a sport

I’ve found through my gymnastics it has helped shape me into the person I am in today. The sport has made me more confident, mentally tough and independent. If you do physical activity you will eventually see improvements in your physique or feel those changes within you. Keep in mind the improvements won’t come straight away. It takes time to get that bikini bod! Love doing a sport? Why not join your universities sports club? That way not only are you being active, but you’ll make friends for life and this will benefit your social health.

Making time

Finding time can be tricky, but if you really want to get fit then all you need to do is be organized and plan out your activities.  I keep a planner and before a new week I write down all my training times and what studies I will be doing on each day.  Don’t forget to give yourself a day off though! Try and avoid temptations by taking the easy route and try and push yourself to take those stairs!

Find a friend

It can be really daunting doing all this alone and some of us might not be confident enough to walk into a gym. But just remember most of the people in the gym started in the same position as you.  Taking friends to the gym with you or going out for walks with friends can make it more enjoyable and more motivating!

Ask for a student discount

As a student, money can influence our decision to go to the gym. Just remember, you don’t have to go to the gym to be physically active! Walking, running, sports in the park with friends and bodyweight circuits are all great ways to move more. If you do want to go to a gym or fitness club, don’t forget to ask for a student discount. Most offer really reasonable prices for uni students or offer off-peak membership which you can use during the day.

Getting started

We get it – it can be hard to exercise at university. When you’re not in the habit of being physically active, it can be a hard pattern to break. Remember to start slow and be patient. If you’re unsure where to start, chatting to an exercise scientist will help you to develop a plan and may help to keep you on track. To find a qualified exercise professional near you, click here.

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Written by Izzy Tolometti. Izzy is a studying Applied Exercise & Sports Science at Robert Gordon’s University in Scotland and is an elite gymnast competing at the international level. She recently represented her country at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.