It’s that time of the year when we start settling into the routine of the spring semester. The days are getting longer and so are the to-do lists. It’s about this time when many of us who made New Year physical activity resolutions start to give up. I want to urge you to be creative, flexible and forgiving when it comes to setting fitness goals.
As a graduate student, your brain may be getting a good daily workout as you work toward your academic goals, but there are countless enjoyable and creative ways to build physical activity into your daily routine as well. One secret to success with any exercise plan – especially for those who find it difficult to stick with a traditional routine – is to stretch the imagination before stretching other body parts.
Many of us have a very rigid conception of ‘exercise’ that involves participation in a ‘formal’ exercise program or joining a gym or fitness club. This kind of exercise almost always involves wearing special clothes, traveling to an exercise facility, spending money, and finding time in a busy schedule to fit it all in.
With this mindset, it is not surprising that many people fail to achieve the 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week recommended by the Center for Disease Control. The health consequences of that failure can impact our overall wellbeing and actually be life-threatening.
Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for many physical and psychological conditions including low self-esteem and depression. Regular physical activity can also have social benefits. Some people enjoy participating in group exercise programs where they have a chance to interact with fellow exercisers of all ages and abilities. Others enjoy working out with a close friend or partner.
Regardless of whether you choose to be active for health or social reasons, incorporating more activity into your everyday life can be an excellent way to improve your overall quality of life and add fun into the new year.
Try to come up with creative and enjoyable ways to build physical activity into everyday things that you already do. For example:
- Add a loop of brisk walking around the Quad when you are on campus or walk with a colleague over lunch.
- Buy an inexpensive step counter and log the number of steps you walk each day. Some people find that simply jotting down the number of steps they walk every day on a wall calendar or diary provides that additional motivation needed to help stick to a program. You might even start a friendly competition with fellow graduate students in the department next door.
- For those with sedentary work – like dissertation writing – remember to get up at regular intervals by taking a trip to the water fountain or taking a brisk walk outside – or on bad-weather days – walking up and down the stairs of the building instead.
Whatever you choose to do, do not set unrealistic goals.
My advice is to try to do something physical on most days of the week. Also, learn to read your body’s signals. On days that your body feels tired or weary, choose less strenuous activities, or take the day off. Once we learn how to read our body’s signals and respect its needs, we get a better sense for how to adjust our activity programs to the ebb and flow of our everyday lives.
If you fall off the wagon and experience a few lazy days, don’t beat yourself up. You can always pick up from where you left off. It’s never too late to start over. You can renew your commitment to an active, healthy lifestyle on any day of the year, not just January 1st.
Wojtek J. Chodzko-Zajko, PhD, is Dean of the Graduate College, Interim Dean of the College of Media, and Shahid and Ann Carlson Khan Professor in Applied Health Sciences. His primary research interests are in the area of aging and health. He spends his free time entertaining and being entertained by his three young children.