Science-backed ways to sneak exercise into your day

Reading Time: 8 minutes Finding the time and motivation to work out can be tricky. Learn six proven ways to motivate yourself to get moving, plus how to sneak exercise into your daily routine.

FitnessU: How and why LISS workouts work

Reading Time: 2 minutes Find out what low-intensity steady state (LISS) is, plus all its benefits.

Gear up! What to wear when exercising in cold, heat, rain, or snow

Reading Time: 7 minutes Exercise outdoors all year using these tips on how to dress properly for the heat, cold, rain, or snow.

How to have an actively awesome summer: Turn your fitness dreams into reality

Reading Time: 8 minutes

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We tend to anticipate summer as if it’s a magical stress-free season in which we finally get to do all the things. In a recent CampusWell survey, nine out of ten students who responded said they plan or hope to be routinely physically active through the warmer months. But reality happens (even in this fantasy season), and unless you look out for your fitness, it may accidentally fall off your to-do list.

Behavioral research shows that when we make a plan, we’re more likely to meet our goals. What else helps? Doing what we enjoy. Involving friends or accountability partners. Anticipating obstacles and how we’ll get around them. Setting realistic goals. Here’s how to get into a summer fitness mindset that sticks:

Print the potent, powerful, practical plan for an actively awesome summer

  • Click the buttons below. Fill out your plan, thinking about the possibilities. As you do this, you’ll have ideas and gain clarity about what can work for you this summer.
  • Go back through your plan, highlight your best options, and figure out what needs to happen first (e.g., reservations, research, or getting gear).
  • If your summer divides into phases—e.g., six weeks interning, one week of vacation, four weeks working—fill out a plan for each phase.

Think about your summer surroundings and how you can use them to be physically active:

  • Will you be near the beach?
  • Is there a park with biking or walking trails nearby? Frisbee golf? Basketball hoop?
  • Climbing wall or adventure playground for grown-ups?
  • Will you have access to a pool? A public one? Or your nice neighbor’s pool (the neighbor who works all day so it won’t be weird)?
  • How about a river or lake? A horse ranch? Maybe a trampoline studio?
  • Or is there only farmland and vast nothingness?
  • Working in a cubicle with room (just) for bodyweight moves, like tricep pushups against a cabinet? Can you walk or bike to your job or internship?
  • Do you have any equipment—e.g., weights, an exercise ball, yoga blocks, a treadmill?
  • Do you have a summer gym or club membership? Can you go with a friend or family member as their guest?
  • What about weekends? Will your options expand? Will you be going on vacation this summer? What does that offer (e.g., fitness classes at a resort, or access to trails)?

Will you have lots of time, some time, or basically no time at all? Even if you have just a few minutes each day, you’ll still benefit from making a plan. Always put your fitness plans onto your calendar to protect that time.

My summer is…

  • Sporadic: I can likely manage 20 minutes in the morning and/or half an hour later in the day.
  • Inconsistent: My schedule will vary, so I need to look at my availability in those different circumstances.
  • Completely scheduled: GRE prep at 9 a.m., internship at 11 a.m., and then work from 3–8. (I live and die by my iCal.) I need ways to incorporate physical activity into my work day and the transitions between activities.
  • Hectic: I could heroically multitask while watching TV or making my English-muffin pizza, and I can make sure my time with friends and family involves physical activity.
  • Chill: I’m going to have time on my hands, and need to figure out how not to squander it.
  • Time out: I’ll have more time on the weekends or when I go on vacation, allowing for more ambitious plans.
  • Hazy: I don’t have firm plans yet, so I’ll keep my fitness options open and collect ideas.
  • Unconventional: I’m working night shifts; I’ll need to incorporate physical activity into that.

What do you actually like doing? Which physical activity has given you a smidgen of pleasure in the past?

  • Fitness class? Which one?
  • Swimming? Lake, ocean, or pool?
  • Weights? Jump rope? Tug of war? (fun fact: it used to be an Olympic sport)
  • High-intensity stuff, like Insanity® workouts?
  • Biking? Roads or trails?
  • Rollerblading?
  • Hitting your daily step goal?
  • Running? Roads, trails, or treadmill? With or without your neighbor’s dog?
  • Creative workouts at home (e.g., marching and lunging while watching TV)
  • Hiking? Backpacking? Climbing? Getting rugged?
  • Group sports (e.g., Ultimate Frisbee, basketball, softball, soccer)
  • Nothing. Help me.

Is there an activity that you’ve wanted to try? Can you give it a go this summer? (Yes, you probably can.)

For example:

  • A ropes course with zip lines and whatnot
  • Bouldering or rock climbing
  • A zombie run, Color Run, or obstacle race (maybe one that routes you through a sprinkler)
  • Outdoor yoga, hot yoga, or a yoga retreat
  • Boot camp or Frisbee golf in the park
  • Beach volleyball? Ultimate Frisbee? Flag football? Kickball?
  • A sprint triathlon, 10k, half marathon, or other event
  • A lifting or dance contest
  • Stand-up paddleboarding, water skiing, kayaking, surfing, whitewater rafting, sailing, or other cool watery thing
  • A hut-to-hut or tent-to-tent hike over several days
  • Aerial or pole fitness classes
  • Something that gets you out into the hills, like horseback riding, trail running, or geocaching
  • Throwing on 1980s ankle weights and rocking out to YouTube workout videos by Richard Simmons

Think about how much money you’ll realistically be able to spend on fitness this summer.

  • Can you afford a summer membership to a gym or club? (Don’t forget about student discounts.)
  • Could you purchase a wearable tracker? If not, you can probably manage a fitness app that tracks your activity and encourages you along the way.
  • What’s the cost of that yoga weekend or race entry fee?
  • Will you need gear? Would it make sense to acquire some free weights for those TV workouts, or can your cat serve as a 12 lb dumbbell?
  • Does your YMCA have classes at reduced prices for students?
  • What’s the rental fee for a paddleboard or kayak?

What has helped you be active in the past? What or who could help you this summer?

  • Can you recruit a friend or acquaintance to do this with you?
  • Will posting workouts on social media or blogging about your fitness adventures help keep you off the couch?
  • Are you into color-coded spreadsheets with daily or weekly goals?
  • Would it help if you had a reward system? What kind of rewards?
  • Do fitness trackers or apps work for you? Do you respond to a daily step goal, goofy award badges, and a leaderboard?
  • Have you embraced calendar reminders and alerts on your phone?
  • Do you follow physically active people on Instagram or Twitter?
  • Would committing to a race or other event help get you out there?
  • Do you need a group (e.g., a team or fitness class) with a set schedule?
  • What are the local options for making this social? Check out Meetup and the November Project. Ask your social media networks about informal teams and groups. Look at outdoor organizations for guided hikes and explorations.
  • Have you checked out online fitness videos ranging from Insanity® to yoga?

November Project

Appalachian Mountain Club

Meetup

What do you want to achieve this summer?

And what can you realistically achieve this summer?

Which moderate goals will help you get into a groove you can maintain in the fall?

For example:

  • Train for a specific race in late summer or fall (don’t wait to sign up for your spot)
  • Learn 5–10 new yoga poses
  • Be active every day (active can be a 10-minute walk)
  • Swim the width of the lake and back
  • Complete a set of 10 pushups without stopping
  • Get to 10,000 steps, five days a week
  • Skinny-dip in a high-altitude lake
  • Go for a bike ride every weekend
  • Try a new HIIT routine every week
  • Run four track laps without stopping
  • Make it up and down Mt. Washington in a day

What demands or inconveniences could get in the way of your summer fitness plan? How can you keep moving anyway?

  • Do you often stay up late? Could you go to bed earlier and wake up for a quick morning workout?
  • Has your bike been neglected in the garage for a year? Does it need a tune-up, lights, or a lock?
  • How can you safeguard your time for staying active?
  • Did you want to try backpacking but don’t have cooking equipment? Could you borrow or rent what you need? Or sell your old gear to fund new stuff?
  • Working all summer? How can you use the workspace (desk, floor, stairs)? Can you walk, bike, or run to work (even part way)?
  • You’ll be tired by the end of the day and may look for excuses. Can you arrange a squash game or hoops session with friends in the evening?
  • Are you caring for someone else this summer? Can you swing a half-hour to do yoga in the yard or run a few laps around the block?
  • Will your summer involve transitions? What fitness goals and activities can help you keep moving through those phases?
  • Do you live in a zombie-infested neighborhood? Could you whip up a stronghold around your house to keep them out?

Which activities? We know what you’ll do this summer

Activity + % of students who expect to do this frequently or regularly in summer

Hiking or walking 70%
Bodyweight moves (e.g., crunches, squats) 64%
Strength training 56%
Cardio machines  56%
Running 51%
Swimming 44%
Yoga/martial arts/gymnastics 44%
Team sport (e.g., soccer) 42%
Dance 37%
Biking or cycling 33%
Boating or water activity 33%
Solo/pair sport (e.g., tennis) 33%

Source: Student Health 101 survey, February 2016. 1,500 students answered this question. Not representative of students nationally.

Students’ stories: Students tell us what they’re up for

“Summers are great for hiking (to a camping spot, a fishing hole, or just for the view at the top), swimming (in a lake, in a pool, to get to an island to hang out on for the day), water sports (water skiing, wake-boarding, tubing), beach volleyball, surfing, body boarding, scuba diving.” —Olivia W., fourth-year undergraduate, Montana Tech of the University of Montana“I picked up archery a couple of summers back and have returned every summer since. This year, I already have plans to pick up paintball/airsoft, and the way I’ve been introduced to that was very physical. I’m excited!”
—Max S., fourth-year undergraduate, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minnesota

“I had a summer internship near campus. I started rock climbing at the indoor gym, and I loved it! It was physically demanding but really fun, and that kept me going back. For the first time, I started to see my muscles grow, and I felt good about myself and about my physical wellbeing. I got to know a lot of people. That summer was so important to me because I finally found a physical activity that I loved and that helped me learn to love and take care of myself.”
—Nicole H., first-year graduate student, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York

“I want to learn to surf, but I’ll also be stacking hay bales for work as well as going for a family run, playing some pickup sports with friends, working out with my old football team, or finding a trampoline park or gym to mess around in.”
—Bryson S., first-year undergraduate, Old Dominion University, Virginia

“I have tried hiking more, and I incorporated fishing. Instead of getting in a boat, I decided to hike to a stream or river into the woods, stopping to fish now and then. The breaks give me downtime that is positive. I really lose track of time and distance that I have gone.”
—Emily L., third-year undergraduate, University of New England, Maine

“Freeletics [individualized high-intensity training via an app] has been an awesome thing. It helps me work out in my lab. It just needs 2×2 meters of space and you’re good to go! It is quite literally a community and we help each other out.”
—Rishabh T., second-year graduate student, Creighton University, Nebraska

“Obstacle course races! I do quite a few of them over the summer now, after [getting] hooked two summers ago!”
—Rachel S., fourth-year undergraduate, Oregon Institute of Technology

“I’d like to get back into the routine of doing outdoor boot camp workouts. Being around other people really keeps you motivated. Running events are fun, whether a 5k or half marathon with friends and family.”
—Ben G., fourth-year undergraduate, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Pennsylvania

“I have joined a Bikram yoga studio. I began commuting [by bike] to work last summer (6-mile round trip). I even joined a CrossFit studio. I’m training for a half marathon, and this summer I would like to focus on building muscle.”
—Vikas B., third-year undergraduate, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland

FitnessU: Indoor cardio for any fitness level, any space, and any time (Part 1)

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For all of us in the western hemisphere, it’s winter. For some of us, that means cold. With most of our holidays behind us and a new semester in front of us, it can be hard to dig up the motivation to get moving. While we can’t guarantee a workout that’s as comfortable as your couch cushions, we can promise you a small-space, highly effective cardio routine for those days when leaving your home is just too much to bear. So whether you’re lucking out on some sun-soaked coast this January or curled up under a foot of snow, this workout will get your heart rate up and your sweat on—no travel time required.

This month, our trainer gives you part one of a two-part series on creating indoor cardio magic. We’re building the basics with a beginner routine that works for everyone, even if you’re just getting started.* Run through it at least once a week and come back for part two to see just how far you’ve come. You’ll be back to relaxing soon, we promise.

*Disclaimer: We love exercise, but we’re not so into injuries. You probably feel that way too. To lower your chances of getting hurt, focus on form over rep count and modify as needed. You’ve got this.

Warm-up

Whether you’re all about the fit life or just starting to get active, this warm-up will gently get your heart rate up so you can safely move on to the workout.

Workout: Building your fitness foundation

This routine will help you build up your fitness base while getting your sweat on, and it works for all levels. Remember that it’s OK to take breaks, modify moves, and lower your rep counts.

Cool-down

You did it! Take the sweat sesh down a notch and stretch everything out. This will slow your heart rate and help prevent muscle soreness.

Video content by Roger Allcroft, Certified Personal Trainer

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Your fall fitness fix: How & why to make it happen

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Moving much? Ninety percent of college students say physical activity makes their life better (two-thirds said much better), according to a recent CampusWell survey. Consistent physical activity means more energy, better mood, and less stress. But research shows that many of us struggle to be active through life transitions—like going to college.

Good news: Students who believe they can make it happen are more likely to be active, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of American College Health. How can you build faith in your own intentions and goals? Behavioral research shows us: Incorporate activities that work for you, keep your goals realistic, and create a specific plan that anticipates likely obstacles.

Student Health 101 joined up with Bette Vargas, a college fitness trainer, to guide three undergraduates through this process. To see their strategies and plan in full, click on their images. In half an hour, you can make your own fitness plan and set yourself up for a dynamic, low-stress semester.

Bette Vargas Bette Vargas is a certified personal trainer at the University of California, San Francisco.

We all want to stay active—what hurts and helps?

You know the value of planning your physical activity
In our summer survey, two out of five returning students said they had already planned their fall fitness schedule. Close to that number of students were actively planning it. Most of the rest said they hoped to be physically active through the fall semester, but hadn’t yet figured out what that would look like.

Why planning is important
For many students, starting college comes with a drop-off in physical activity, research shows. That’s the biggest reason why some students struggle to maintain their fitness and manage their weight through school, according to a 2016 study in BMC Public Health.

What gets in the way?
With so many demands on students, physical activity tends to fall off their to-do list, says a 2015 study in the Journal of American College Health. In our survey, two out of five respondents said aspects of college life (most frequently, assignments and tiredness) make it difficult for them to be as physically active as they’d like.

What helps?
On the other hand, almost half the survey respondents said access to fitness resources (such as the college rec. center) make physical activity easier. Peer influences are also helpful, students said. This aligns with the research. The physical activity habits of college women tend to carry over to mid-life, and the “supportive social atmosphere” of school fitness programs is likely a key factor in setting students up for long-term success, according to the Journal of Exercise Physiology (2009).

Source: Student Health 101 survey, May 2016; 1,500 responses. This survey is not representative of students nationally.

“Varied workouts rock—varied schedules, not so much”

Sonya M.

Sonya M.

Fourth-year undergraduate
Northern Illinois University

“Physical activity makes me feel strong and agile, free yet in control. I strive to look forward to working out, and I do that by finding variety. The challenge is that every day is different. Things are constantly popping up, in between nursing school and clinicals.”

My strategies

  • Find a workout buddy
  • Work out early 
  • Work out at home

Bette Vargas

“To include the camaraderie of your friends, why not plan a fun event like a hike, swim/pool party, or bike ride? This way, in a stress-free environment, you can talk about how to support each other. You may enjoy taking a variety of group classes to alleviate boredom.”

How I’m going to rock it

Here’s what works for me:

  • Find a workout buddy “Having a friend or family member hold you accountable really helps with motivation.”
  • Work out early “I find it a chore to keep thinking about my workout later in the day.”
  • Work out at home “When I’m strapped for time, I’ll find a blood-pumping workout video on YouTube or Pinterest.”

So here’s how I’ll get moving:

  • I’ll recruit a friend to try a new class at the rec. center once a week.
  • I’ll check my changing schedule each week and reserve two or three days for morning weightlifting or cardio at the gym, before I head to clinical.
  • In nice weather I’ll take my dog for a jog or bike for 30 minutes; in rain or cold I’ll search for a fun online workout video.
  • On weekends I’ll practice advanced yoga for 20–60 minutes (it’s easy to lose track of time, since it’s my favorite!).

“Switching the environment and variety of my workouts will help me stay interested. And waking up early will guarantee I get my workout in for the day, so I’m not fretting about it later.”

ALERT! Are morning workouts realistic for you? Many college students are night owls. How can you make physical activity convenient and enjoyable for you?

“I want to be a powerful athlete—and I want it now”

Wengang X.

Wengang X.

Fourth-year undergraduate
Rutgers University, New Jersey

“Daily workouts help me gain muscle, power, and strength, and bring me one step closer to my dream of being a great American football player in my home country of China. It can be a challenge to fit everything in, and when I don’t see results after a crazy workout I wonder, ‘Am I wasting my time?’”

My strategies

  • Find inspirational music and videos
  • Stay positive through frustration
  • Work out at home

Bette Vargas

“Be patient with your development, and keep it simple. Crazy workouts may be counterproductive because you run the risk of injury. Gaining muscle is a long, slow process and will require patience and dedication. Positive change comes when the body is at rest. Speak with the athletic trainer at your school regarding an exercise program for the specific position you would like to play.”

My breakthrough training plan

Here’s what works for me:

  • Find inspirational music and videos “I listen to ‘epic music.’ My favorite band is Two Steps from Hell and my favorite video is Eric Thomas’s How Bad Do You Want It series.”
  • Stay positive through frustration “I sometimes get in the mind-set that if I can’t make it to gym or don’t see fast results, I’m a failure.”
  • Work out at home “This can save me some time so I can focus on my studies.”

So here’s how I’ll get moving:

  • I’ll go to the gym four days a week, alternating between lower body and core and then upper body. Weekends will be my rest day.
  • I’ll log my progress in a notebook, which will help me see my improvements and keep me from getting frustrated.
  • I’ll recruit a friend to come with me one day a week, especially when I need an extra motivation boost.
  • When I’m strapped for time or if the weather is bad, I’ll use apps. The Big Six and Convict Conditioning are great and don’t require equipment.
  • I’ll share my progress on social media so my friends can provide feedback and encouragement.

“I know I still have a long way to go before becoming a football player. With support from friends and family, I’ll be able to eliminate the unrealistic expectations about gaining a large amount of muscle in a short period of time.”

ALERT! Support from others is key to developing healthier routines. Tracking your workouts and progress helps a lot with maintaining motivation.

“Missing a workout’s a bummer—but I can be active en route”

Taylor R.

Taylor R.

Fourth-year undergraduate
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, New York

“When I need to relieve stress from studying, I throw on my boxing gloves. Biking or taking a long walk around campus also helps calm my mind. Staying active makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. But between classes and multiple jobs, I usually rely on a canceled meeting to get to yoga. At the gym, I feel uncomfortable, like people are watching me.”

My strategies

  • Get it in my schedule
  • Work out at home
  • Walk or bike where I can

Bette Vargas

“For some people, a missed session brings discouragement and can spell doom for their workout regime. Be gentle with yourself. Keep it in perspective and get back to it the next day. And walking or biking instead of driving incorporates activity organically. Remember that you have every right to be in the gym. Plus, the people who you think are looking at you may just be staring into space waiting for their next set!”

My moves for staying chill

Here’s what works for me:

  • Get it in my schedule “Seeing it in writing makes it feel like an obligation I can’t miss.”
  • Work out in my room  “I’ll search YouTube for a cardio or yoga video to get in a quick workout.”
  • Walk or bike where I can “I haven’t had a car in the past year, so I rely heavily on walking or biking everywhere as my exercise—whether downtown to get food or to campus for class.”

So here’s how I’ll get moving:

  • I’ve scheduled gym sessions for Mondays (my free night) and Wednesdays (I have time during the day).
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays are busier, but a home yoga session will help me unwind.
  • Friday mornings are free, so I’ll either head to the gym or take a fun fitness class.
  • Keeping in the habit of walking everywhere, I’ll avoid taking shortcuts and increase to a brisk pace.
  • Two weekends a month, I plan to get outside for a hike or bike ride.

“My plan seems realistic for my schedule. I’m very calendar-oriented, so if I can make working out a planned event, then I won’t have the excuse of not having time. It’s also that I do what I enjoy, or else I’ll become bored or frustrated. Enjoying biking and walking helps me plan to do them more often.”

ALERT! You don’t need to be active every day. Realistic plans and goals are key: Once a week is better than never. Scheduling anything into the calendar makes us more likely to do it, research shows.


Your best instagram

“I plan to stay fit this fall semester by training for the an event in Hawaii. Lots of swimming, cycling and running will be involved as I prepare for the race!”
—Anthony Chan, graduate student, St. John’s University, New York

Follow us on Instagram and don’t forget to use the hashtag #fitforfall

[survey_plugin] Article sources

Bette Vargas, certified personal trainer, University of California, San Francisco.

Crozier, A. J., Gierc, M. S., Locke, S. R., & Brawley, L. R. (2015). Physical activity in the transition to university: The role of past behavior and concurrent self-regulatory efficacy. Journal of American College Health, 63(6), 384–385.

Godman, H. (2014, April 9). Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved from
            https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

Hultquist, C. N., Duckham, R., Stinson, C., & Thompson, D. L. (2009). College physical activity is related to mid-life activity levels in women. Journal of Exercise Physiology, 12(4), 1–7. Retrieved from https://www.asep.org/asep/asep/JEPonlineAugust2009Hultquist.doc

Kemmler, W. (2016, January). Impact of exercise changes on body composition during the college years: A five-year randomized controlled study. BMC Public Health, Retrieved from https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-016-2692-y

Kwan M. Y., Cairney J., Faulkner G. E., & Pullenayegum, E. E. (2012). Physical activity and other health-risk behaviors during the transition into early adulthood: A longitudinal cohort study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 42(1), 14–20.

Student Health 101 survey, June 2016.