Staying fit after college can feel impossible. The freshman fifteen continues to accumulate and leaves the journey to peak fitness an insurmountable climb. You’re busy trying to get steady work and affordable housing. The last thing you want is another element of stress. And frankly, being healthy can be expensive—gyms cost money, and chicken ain’t as cheap as ramen.
Smart eating, finding time for exercise, and being healthy are more difficult now that your body is no longer able to magically shed those I-stayed-in-bed-binge-watching-Harry-Potter-and-eating-guacamole calories. Exercise can be dull, lonely, and incredibly frustrating.
So what are you to do? What are the best solutions to staying healthy after college? What are the cheap solutions to staying healthy after college?
1. Don’t read, use, or even touch fitness magazines.
They’re bad for you. Honestly. They come up with whacky fads, poorly-designed exercises, and baseless science to convince you to buy something. Just don’t.
2. Stop making New Year’s Resolutions. Start developing habits.
Resolutions often prey on our insecurities and set us up for failure. Instead, make a list of habits that you can gradually change and track. For example: I will increase my water intake 4 ounces per day until I can make the recommended 11-15 cups per day. Or, I will reduce nightly ice cream scoop to three times per week. Perhaps, I will walk 50 more steps per day until I reach 5,000.
Habits can be hard to develop and easy to lose, but they lead to much greater long-term health benefits. They require us to regularly make choices about how we want to live. Habits help us to overcome excuses and the relegation of our health to a secondary category. You have to prioritize to succeed, otherwise the excuses easily pile up.
3. Love yourself.
Compare and despair. Whenever I walk into a gym, I scope out my strongest competition. I look at mirrors and despise them. Despite my ability to easily squat over 500lbs, I still look at myself and say, “Shit, you’ve gotten fat.”
Shaming yourself and allowing others to shame you only makes working out harder. If you are naturally heavier but want to be strong as all get out, go for it! If you just can’t put on muscle but love running, got for it! Work out because you love yourself and want to be healthy, not because you’re afraid of the alternatives.
4. Find a safe place.
Gyms can be incredibly unwelcoming. Frankly, gyms frequently reject women, LGBTQ, differently-abled, and inexperienced persons. Men try to relegate women to cardio equipment. Bros try to establish dominance. Novices struggle to find space to practice.
Thankfully, there are awesome organizations like Women’s Strength Coalition working to build safe spaces and communities. Look for places and communities to train with that will be welcoming, generous, and allow you to be yourself during your workout.
**An incredibly important note for folks like me (ie. large, male, confident lifters, lots of privilege) – we must work to make fitness a more welcoming space. We often take space that doesn’t belong to us. I can go into most any gym and complete my workout in total comfort and ease. We must do a better job of recognizing how we make fitness uncomfortable for others. We must also recognize our own limitations, that we are not the gold standard of fitness.
5. Find fitness friends.
Finding friends post-college can be hard enough, let alone those who will hold you accountable. Community centers have tons of adult rec-leagues that have spots for “free agents” and those new to the area. Or show up to November Project and just go running.
Signing up for a league or joining a group will help make you more accountable, as well as be that support for somebody else. Whatever it is though, find friends who will support your goals.
6. Your workout isn’t just about you.
Massive disparities in health and fitness haunt our communities. We often frame our well-being in terms of only ourselves, but health and well-being is a community issue. Committing to others positively impacts the community as well as our own well-being.
You can become a coach or aid at a youth camp. You can run with organizations like Girls on the Run or Back on My Feet. You can “get swoll” to support Lift4Life and fund equipment and nutrition for low-resource communities. Find an organization or cause you want to support and make them part of your health goals.
7. Stop drinking so much.
Post-college social life frequently revolves around alcohol. It’s not healthy for you. All that alcohol dehydrates you, adds excess calories, and (if you’re like me) leads to consuming awful amounts of deep-fried-deliciousness.
Seriously, you just have to find alternative methods of socializing—my preferred methods are hiking, board games, and frisbee.
8. Eat right. AND EAT!
You have to. Your metabolism starts to decrease around age 25, changing how much and what you should eat. Weight loss obsessions often want us to eat less, but that can be dangerous and actually lead to muscle loss, thus making us looking a tad flabbier. Not to mention, external stressors change both our eating and digesting patterns.
These are where developing good habits comes in. Find a friend who can split costs, planning, and meal prep. Change a meal a day from awful to healthy. And make sure you eat! Even if you’re rushed, feel stressed, or think you don’t have time, few things throw off your metabolism, make you hungrier, and make you more unhealthy than skipping a meal. Lastly, dieting typically doesn’t make you lose weight – adding muscle does.
You have to. If you were anything like me, you pulled lots of all-nighters in college and were pretty awful about getting sleep. Poor sleeping patterns increases weight gain, reduces energy and metabolism, and decreases your ability to exercise. Not sleeping ruins your fitness.
Almost nothing increases your well-being like getting enough sleep. Set a designated time when your phone and other tech goes off or into airplane mode. Spend 10 minutes doing deep breathing exercises before bed and your well-being drastically increases.
10. Put down your mobile device.
Using tech before going to sleep increases cortisol in your brain, making you more awake and alert. It also makes you more anxious. In your waking hours, technology increases isolation while decreasing your social interactions and the accompanying happiness.
Reducing your overall screen time will improve your health: it gets you up and going, encourages social interaction, and allows your brain to better transition to sleep, and reduces all the ads for unhealthy junk.
11. Find the cheap options.
Hiding behind a tree or trying to participate in fitness classes from afar? Can’t afford the fancy gym membership? Check out resources like your local community center or the YMCA.
For example, in Milwaukee, our local community centers offer eight weeks of dance fitness classes for forty dollars. Community centers often have great adult rec-leagues. The YMCA offers fantastic programs at low prices that benefit the wider community. And what’s cheaper than free? (Besides getting paid). Go hiking, running, walking, or play outside!
“Working out is boring. I hate sitting on the treadmill. Lifting is dumb.”
Your workout doesn’t have to be running, lifting, or doing yoga. Playtime is incredibly important, including for adults. I’m gonna say it again—rec-league. It increases endorphins, improves social interactions, and makes you happier. As my rather competitive sister notes, play even makes us more ethical.
“I just don’t have time to do everything.”
That’s right – you can combine prayer and fitness as well. You may want to try Ignatian Yoga. Or you might want to just do an examen while you lift weights. Perhaps a prayer while running is more your route. Whatever it is, these healthy habits make for a stronger mind, body, and spirit.
Looking for more advice about how to transition away from college? Check out TJP‘s After College series!
Cover image courtesy US Air Force, found here.