Thomas Jefferson once wrote that we should “give about two of them [that’s hours, people!], every day, to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong.” We all know how hard it can be to find time for exercise during college. Between academic and social obligations, our physical health is something we often neglect. It is important that we find time to be active; there is a great deal of scientific evidence pointing towards the cognitive benefits of exercise. New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds describes how, in a recent experiment performed on mice at the University of Illinois, mice who ran regularly were found to have more brain cells than those that were sedentary. The mice that ran for a couple weeks had about twice as many neurons as sedentary animals! This study reveals how exercise seems to “slow or reverse the brain’s physical decay,” which starts in your late twenties. So, if you exercise, you are actually “jump-start[ing] neurogenesis,” or the creation of new brain cells! Just like other muscles, you can strengthen your brain.
So, how do you get started? What exercises are best? How can you avoid injuries? Well, that’s where I come in. If you are struggling with picking the perfect exercise routine, this is for you!
Many of us–particularly women– exercise, but neglect strength training. Some women worry that they will become too bulky; this is very unlikely. Strength training helps you become more shapely and trim. According to the trainer Debbie Seibers, “three to four hours after a strength-training workout, you’re still burning calories.” Try lifting weights every third day and see how you feel!
Make Sure to Use Proper Form!
Many people do more harm than good when they lift weights. This is because they do not really know what they are doing. While men tend to pick a weight that is too heavy, women, worried that they will bulk up, pick weights that are too light. Both extremes can lead to incorrect form. According to a study published by The Journal of Applied Physiology, lighter weights can even be more effective at helping you gain more muscle.
Don’t hurt yourself. Many serious injuries are caused from lifting weights incorrectly. Disc herniations are very common; if you are in pain when you are picking things up, this may be why. Degenerative disc disease is also very common. Builtlean.com writer Kenneth Leung states that this is a “common term that doctors use to describe ‘excessive wear and tear on the spine.’” Leung goes on to say that disease can be worsened if you have poor posture; this includes your posture while you are lifting weights! Leung recommends focusing on hinging at the hips and engaging your core in order to keep your spine properly aligned.
Do your reps slowly! If you are patient and consistent, you will get results. I recommend spending a half an hour lifting weights a couple times a week. Also, if you decide to do cardio on the same day as strength training, I would lift weights first; this way you don’t tire yourself out! For images of correct weightlifting form, check out this page.
Running: Positives and Negatives
I used to be a runner in high school. Unfortunately, I am prone to knee injuries and had to stop. This is a very common problem among runners. Among the most common injuries are to the IT Band and the achilles tendon.
If you have an IT Band injury, you may feel pain “anywhere from your outside hip bone down to your knee.” In order to prevent these injuries, Leung states that you should keep your knees aligned with your toes and make sure your hips do not sway too much. Leung also recommends the single leg hip hinge in order to strengthen your glutes and hips. I also recommend using a foam roller when you are in pain; this will give you a deep tissue massage.
I know from personal experience how painful tendonitis can be. If you have an achilles tendon injury, you may feel pain in the back part of your heel, all the way up to the Achilles tendon. Unfortunately, these injuries take a long time to heal. Leung recommends resting first in order to decrease inflammation. Then, you should “gradually built up the strength in the calf muscle by doing heel raises.” If you are going to continue running, make sure to stretch your ankles and calves frequently. Leung recommends jumping rope as a warm-up, stating that it will help “strengthen the calves and keep you quick on your feet.”
Another major injury often caused by running is a hamstring tear. If you feel a sharp, shooting pain in the back of your thigh, you probably tore your hamstring. Leung states that this is often caused by “explosive activities like sprinting or jumping.” Unfortunately, it could take years for this to heal. It is important to warm-up in order to avoid this injury.
Sadly, for me, running is not an option; my body is too delicate and prone to injuries. I believe that you are either born to run or you shouldn’t do it. My sister has always been a runner and she usually has no injuries. My father is more like me: he ran all his life and now has horrible knee injuries. So, listen to your body! If it’s telling you to run, run! If it’s telling you to stop, find an alternative. For me, kickboxing was the answer.
Kickboxing: The Ultimate Exercise!
I found kickboxing shortly after I stopped running. It is a fantastic way to get out your aggression and it’s easy on your knees. In addition, kickboxing helps immensely with muscle toning, flexibility, circulation, stress relief, and coordination. The fitness instructor Samir Becic praises kickboxing because it is a full body workout. He states that kickboxing will help you “save time by combining your cardio and resistance workouts.” I love how efficient kickboxing is! According to Sammie Kennedy, CEO and creator of Femme Fitale, kickboxing alone “burns about 750 calories in an hour… add in jump rope and conditioning drills, and you could burn anywhere from 750 to 900 calories in an hour.” I always walk out of my kickboxing class feeling absolutely amazing. I was lucky enough to find a kickboxing class at college– maybe you will be too! If you’re interested, do some research and see if there’s a class on campus or nearby.
Strengthening Your Abs: Do’s and Dont’s
Ab exercises are my favorite. I usually spend about a half an hour every other day doing abdominal exercises. For great suggestions, check out this site. Make sure that you are doing the exercises correctly! I have seen plenty people waste their time by doing incorrect ab exercises. Many people think that the faster you go, the better the workout. In fact, it is actually better to go slower! For an extra burn, keep your head off of the ground during your abdominal exercises!
The Elliptical: Is it Worth it?
Many people–especially women– choose the elliptical over the treadmill. The elliptical is great because it is low-impact. I rarely feel in pain after working out on the elliptical. Livestrong.com comments that you can burn up to 400 calories in just 30 minutes of exercising on an elliptical machine. Although the elliptical doesn’t burn calories as quickly as a treadmill can, it is still a great workout; your whole body is engaged and you are able to increase your aerobic capacity. This will allow you to workout for longer periods of time. If you have any injuries, I recommend the elliptical!
Conclusions: Where Should You Start?
Before you begin exercising, you must know your body. Understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Getting in shape takes time and dedication. Above all, make sure you are having fun; you don’t want to feel terrified every time you go to the gym! Also (obviously!) if you can, you should workout outside instead. Especially after a long day of classes, you need the fresh air. Go for a run, a bike ride, a hike, or even do your ab workouts out on the grass. Good luck and happy exercising!