Encouraging Your Student to Exercise in College

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Parents are the encouragers.  We encourage our college students to study, to make friends, to get involved in activities at school, to get to know their professors.  Consider adding to your list encouraging your college student to get enough exercise.  According to a study done by researchers at Ohio State, as many as 52% of college students do not exercise.  The study also found that students differ in their response to social support for exercise, with women responding most to support of family and men responding more to support from friends.  However, whether your student is a male or female, consider asking about how much exercise he or she may be getting.

There are many reasons why students may not get enough exercise in college.  Although it is possible that students are spending too much time studying to fit exercise into their schedule, it is more likely a combination of many activities that crowd their schedule.  Students are spending time studying, working on or off campus, socializing with friends, and participating in campus activities.  They may have erratic schedules.  They may be overreacting to their dislike of high school gym class and viewing formal exercise as being back in the high school gym.  For some students, it is possible that friends provide a disincentive by viewing exercise as unimportant or “uncool”.  Many students who were active in high school – either participating in sports or walking to and from school and/or jobs, may not realize how much less exercise they are getting now.

There are many benefits of regular exercise – especially for college students.  Of course, exercise can be an important factor in preventing the “freshman fifteen” which may be a result of the combination of less exercise and poor food choices.  In addition, however, exercise can improve circulation and help students think clearly, improving their academics.  It can help students sleep better, reduce stress, provide energy, and help students feel better about themselves by giving them control over their bodies.  One study done by Tufts University indicated that students who exercise are generally happier.  Another benefit of exercise in college may be that it helps students establish life-long habits that will benefit them for years to come.

Your student may feel that he can’t fit exercise into his schedule or he may not be motivated to try.  There are a few things that you can suggest or remind him of to help him consider adding a bit of exercise to his routine.

  • Most colleges and universities have beautiful, often state-of-the-art exercise facilities available for free for students to use.  At many schools this may include a pool, tennis courts, racquetball courts.  Remind your student that after college she will likely have to pay if she decides to join a gym or workout facility.  Encourage her to take advantage of what is free while she has the opportunity – to take advantage of her tuition money at work.
  • Remind your student that exercise does not need to take place in the gym. He may choose to participate in intramural sports offered on most campuses, play tennis or pick-up basketball or football with friends, go for a run, hike, ski, or generally get active.
  • Encourage your student to take advantage of having many friends around by finding others to exercise with.  They can encourage each other to participate and continue. spurring each other on.  Exercise can become a social event.
  • Your student might investigate classes offered at the college – either for credit or for fun.  Classes are often offered in yoga, pilates, tennis, golf, badminton, racquetball, or other sports.  These may also be skills your student will want to have in the future.
  • Remind your student that exercise does not need to happen all at once.  A busy student might find ways to fit exercise into his schedule in bits and pieces.  A few minutes of running now, a short basketball game later, and a bike ride to work will all add up.
  • Exercise can be intentional but “hidden”.  Remind your student to walk to class instead of driving or taking a shuttle, take the stairs instead of the elevator, bike to work, park further away from her building, etc. 
  • Your student might prefer to exercise in her room, perhaps using weights, exercise ball, exercise bands, yoga, video programs or Wii.

Most importantly, encourage your student to find some form of exercise which he enjoys and which is sustainable over the long run.  He will establish lifetime habits, will feel better, and may even be happier.

(pic by Sebastian Fritzon)

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