The student stereotype has you reading this in your pyjamas in the middle of the afternoon – before letting  yourself sink further down into the sofa to nurse that thumping hangover -but whether this is true or not, many students think exercise is an ideal that doesn’t quite gel with their lifestyle.

Students are living increasingly hectic lives, trying to balance their studies with a demanding social life. This can mean that following an exercise routine can quickly drop down pretty far on the priority list and health takes a backseat.

Perhaps you don’t feel like you have the time or you’re simply adverse to the thought. However it’s time to realise that exercise is the key to juggling all the demands of a full student life! Regular exercise, along with a healthy diet, will make sure you body is fighting fit to cope with whatever you throw at it, from all-nighters to exam stress.

I’m young. Can’t it wait?

So you’re wrinkle-free and can still run up a flight of stairs. Surely exercise can wait until things start to sag and expand right? Wrong.

The perils of student life can quickly take their toll. From poor diet and excessive alcohol intake, to stress and a demanding workload, your body is being attacked from all sides. You need to make sure you’re fit so that you can work hard and play hard to your heart’s content.

What are the benefits?

Maintain a healthy weight

As your 2am diet of chips starts to affect your waistline, your body image alone may get you exercising. However it’s important not to wait until the effects start to show. You’ll soon learn that getting those extra pounds off is much harder than putting them on.

Reduce disease risk

Maintaining a healthy weight will help protect against heart disease and diabetes, amongst a whole host of other health problems. Although many diseases usually manifest in later life, there’s no time like the present to start reducing your risk and prevent a fast descent into a wizened old fool. Exercise also boosts your immunity, so it’s perfect for fighting off Fresher’s Flu.

Increase your energy

Along with helping you to maintain a healthy weight, exercise will also give you more energy. Regular activity increases strength and endurance, which will help you get to that lecture at 9am. Your body requires routine maintenance to work at its best, and often you won’t realise how bad you felt until you start to feel better.  Exercise delivers more oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Improve mental health

As people get old and jealous they forget what a stressful time student days can be. Juggling deadlines, trying to achieve that damn potential and navigating through exams can put enormous pressure on you.

Although it can be difficult to motivate yourself at first, once you’ve started a physical activity you’ll soon feel much better than vegging out in front of the TV. Exercise releases endorphins and decreases the stress hormone, cortisol, which will naturally improve your mood. It’s the best way to alleviate the dark days of exam depression.

How much exercise should I do a week?

The recommended level for adults, starting at 19 years old, is at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. In addition you should be doing muscle-strengthening exercises on two or more days that work all of the main muscle groups.

As a young adult you need to ensure you’re doing sufficient exercise for your age. 18 year olds are still growing and developing and therefore are expected to do at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This should be a mixture of different moderate-intensity activities, including muscle-strengthening activities on three days a week.

It might sound like a lot at first sight but once you look you’ll find you have plenty of time. Any equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous level activities is suitable and it should fit seamlessly into your routine.

What’s moderate-intensity exercise?

These are activities that raise your heart-rate and cause you to sweat.

Such as:

  • Fast walking
  • Riding a bike
  • Hiking
  • Skate-boarding
  • Basketball
  • Climbing the stairs

What’s vigorous-intensity exercise?

This is exercise that causes you to breathe fast and hard. Your heart-rate will have increased significantly and it will be difficult to speak without stopping to breathe.

  • Jogging or running
  • Fast swimming
  • Football/Rugby
  • Aerobics
  • Martial Arts

What are muscle-strengthening activities?

These are exercises you might associate with the gym, but they can be anything that is done in sets and repetitions. Try to do activities in 8 or 12 repetitions and two or three sets.

  • Lifting weights
  • Yoga
  • Sit ups and push-ups

Where can I exercise?

Have you looked outside recently? There is a whole world outside lecture halls, libraries and pubs that you can jump about in.

Student facilities

Many universities or colleges have sports facilities which are free or so heavily subsidised it’s rude not to use them. Booking classes in advance is a great way to develop a routine and the class environment may spur you on to fitness, even if it’s just because you’re too embarrassed to stop.

As a student there will be a club available for every sport under the sun. Joining a club will impose a strict routine on your exercise, if you struggle with will-power, and they have the added benefit of coming with lively social scenes.

Sports centre

Local sports centres will also offer additional classes and facilities, if this is more convenient or you just don’t want your classmates to see you sweaty and red.

Anywhere, anytime

Exercise doesn’t have to be constricted to clubs or the gym. Make sure regular activity is part of your life so that it doesn’t seem like an additional burden on your time. There are all kinds of exercise that you can slot into your everyday life. Soon you won’t even remember it was once hard work.

Walk to lectures, instead of taking the bus. No excuses, unless maybe it’s hailing. Use the stairs instead of the lift. Revel in that smug feeling and make others feel guilty as you bound up the steps. Carry shopping home from the supermarket. Distribute the cans of beans evenly and you have a DIY muscle-strengthening activity, literally at your fingertips.

Exercise should be fun and dancing is part of that. No side-stepping is allowed though. Move those limbs and work off those drinks.

How do I exercise during exam periods?

Exams can make anyone feel like they’re about to lose the plot. Normal life goes out the window, replaced by feverish revision at coffee-stained desks. It’s important that you don’t sacrifice your health during exams. Neglecting your diet and exercise routine will have a negative effect on your ability to perform to your potential.

Don’t think of exercising as time when you could be studying; think of exercising as time to recharge your batteries so that periods spent chained to your desk are more productive. It’s important not to overload yourself and getting out of the house or library will be essential for this. Keeping up with your usual exercise routine will help you to avoid stress. It will keep your mind as active and agile as it can be and give you the energy to remember that equation, or drag forth that quote from the dark recesses of your mind.

Exercise should be an important part of your life and just because you’re a student doesn’t mean you can forget that. Western societies are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles, accompanied by all the health problems this causes, so don’t become a statistic or a stereotype. Incorporate exercise into your routine and soon you won’t be able to remember how you coped without it.