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The Minnesota Daily

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Opinion: Get off the couch

There’s no excuse to not exercise.
Image by Wejdan al Balushi
As difficult as it may feel, forcing yourself to exercise can transform your college life.

It’s a typical afternoon in the life of a University of Minnesota student: You’ve sat through lectures since 9 a.m. and finally made it back to your apartment with your feet aching after walking over miles of concrete. Your thoughts are swirling and your body feels ready to shut down, but you still have a heavy load of assignments to complete before the end of the day. 

Then the narrative changes. In an act of rebellion against your homework-loving professors, you lace up your gym shoes and trudge to the Recreation and Wellness Center.

As you begin your workout, each stride on the elliptical feels like climbing a mountain. Your legs are screaming for a memory foam mattress, but you push on. As you settle into the groove of the music blasting in your earbuds, your body loosens up.

Suddenly, you’ve never been moving so quickly. Your heart is pounding, your breath shaky. The machine takes hold and you want to keep moving with it until your chest explodes. A tingling sensation ripples across your skin, an energy that seems to lift your body off the cardio room floor and into the heavens. 

When you return to your apartment, sweaty and stinky, you sit down at your desk and power through math problems and readings with newfound vigor. You marvel at the subtle beauty of confidence intervals in your statistics homework and gawk at the thoughtful prose of your literary nonfiction book. 

Life, you realize, isn’t so bad after all.

It confounds and concerns me when people fail to include exercise in their daily routine. Sure, heading to the gym might feel like the worst possible decision after a long day of classes, but I’ve never regretted making the effort. 

Yet, for many students, exercise is a concept saved for New Year’s resolutions. You’ll start going to the RecWell next semester or whenever you aren’t so bogged down with chemistry homework. You’re already exhausted anyway, so why tire yourself out even more?

Amber Walker, cofounder and head trainer of Happy Human, a company providing in-home personal training in the Twin Cities area, said aerobic exercise can actually increase your energy level.

When you push yourself to the point where you are slightly out of breath, you stimulate chemical reactions in the body that can promote mood, improve sleep and wake you up.

“A general uplift is often the case for people who are getting regular aerobic activity,” Walker said. 

Walker said some of her clients carve out moments during the day to get their heart rate up, like taking the stairs to a bathroom on another floor, which provides a small boost of motivation. As your cardiovascular system becomes stronger, small activities like rushing to class or work become easier, making your body better equipped to handle stress. 

As college students, many of us walk to class, but physical activity only counts as aerobic exercise if you feel out of breath, according to Walker. In other words, strolling over to your morning lecture (unless you plan on running) won’t cut it. 

Walker said finding an activity that makes you happy and tires you out is crucial for developing a sustainable exercise routine. I love the elliptical, but if you hate cardio machines, you’re better off trying something else. 

“If you’re forcing yourself to do something and you hate it the whole time, your body is likely to interpret that as a bad stress,” Walker said. “Don’t use movement as punishment. Use it as a joyful expression.”

Adam Justin, the president of the Minnesota Running Club, said his organization encourages students to enjoy spending time with friends while exercising consistently.

“We’re having that time to do something that we all love and turn our brains off a little bit,” Justin said.

We all know how difficult it can be to drag ourselves to the gym, so relying on the encouragement of friends can be a powerful motivator. 

Justin said he sees a significant benefit to running with other people.

“I found that having a conversation while I’m running with somebody I know makes other things hurt less and kind of takes your mind off some of the difficulties,” Justin said.

The University offers many intramurals, club sports and fitness classes that allow students to engage in physical activity while building community. No matter who you are, there is a space on campus where you can enjoy exercise.

So why are you still slouching on the sofa? Even if you’re cramming for finals, you can certainly take 10 minutes to run around the block. 

You may not levitate off the ground, but I promise you’ll feel a bit lighter.

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  • Mark Hove
    Apr 18, 2024 at 9:06 am

    Feeling lighter sounds great!