How I Wish I Had Approached Exercise in College

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It seems like most people spent the college years in one of three camps.

In the first camp are the athletes, football players, and people who work out daily, religiously. I think it’s because they either have someone to impress or are among the small percentage of people who are disciplined enough to understand that exercise is an important part of remaining healthy.

Like many people, I wish I had approached exercise in college a little differently. Here's what I would have done if I had to do it all over again.

In the second camp are those who never once set foot inside the rec center, scoff at the buff dudes and strong women who spend some portion of their free time in the gym, and have a healthy disdain for all things college sports.

And in the third camp are people who occasionally went to the rec, maybe went on a sponsored rec trip once, but generally focused on their studies and used the distance to the gym as an excuse not to go most of the time.

When I was in college, I was in camp numero tres.

I remember going to the WSU rec center (which is a really, really nice building, by the way) to walk the upper-level track, use the weight machines, go rock climbing, swimming, or get on the elliptical. But it wasn’t consistent, I didn’t really have a plan, and my blood sugars during and afterward made it almost impossible to avoid stuffing my face with low snacks to catch or prevent a blood sugar crash.

My favorite activities there, though, were swimming and rock climbing.

But I didn’t go consistently.

Now that I’m more adulty, and know better, there are a few things I would have done differently if I knew then what I know now.

And It Starts With What I Ate.

To keep it brief, I would have started eating low-carb waaaaay sooner, which would have allowed me to work out without fearing a low blood sugar and needing to eat the kitchen post-workout.

Related to this, I would have gotten a blood glucose CGM (continuous glucose monitor) much, much sooner. It lets me see my blood sugar trends almost real-time and is a great indicator for when it’s time to stop—or time to ramp it up.

With those two things taken care of, the next thing to do is decide and commit to a schedule.

The best way to do this is to recruit a buddy to do it with you. I did have a climbing buddy in college—one of my roommates ended up being a better (faster) climber than me and it was a lot of fun. But we didn’t go as often as we should have, and we only went during our last year or so of college.

What Should Have Been Different?

With a committed schedule, it’s harder to brush it off to stay home bingeing Buffy the Vampire Slayer or watching three movies in a row and going to bed after midnight.

Spending deliberate time taking care of my body would have helped with my study skills and concentration levels. I honestly wish I’d known that back then.

There were times I got so frustrated with homework and my classes that I turned to the bag of puff Cheetos and watched an entire season of Archer in one night instead of cracking the books.

It feels like such a cop-out to admit that I wish I’d done it differently in college, knowing what I know now.

Eat better, work out consistently, “do good in school.” Going to the gym isn’t all about the gym. Food plays 80% of the role.

As they say, the second-best time to plant a tree is today.

So now, as an adultier adult than I was in college, I’ve somewhat finally gotten into the groove that I wish I’d had back then.

Food

Low-carb, all day, every day. Well, not “all day”, as I’ll elaborate in the next section. But definitely every day.

After a few weeks of low-carb (especially keto, which is less than 20 net carbs/day) the body starts burning fat instead of carbs for fuel. This is great because the vast majority of people have excess fat stores and this is really where the weight-loss happens.

I didn’t start low-carb for the weight loss, though, I started it for the good blood sugars.

In my life, everything is tied to diabetes, and I have to think of practically everything in terms of how it’s going to affect my blood sugars. Everything from air travel to how much sleep I got can affect it.

Like many people, I wish I had approached exercise in college a little differently. Here's what I would have done if I had to do it all over again.

Timing

Intermittent fasting, if you haven’t heard about it yet, is basically time-restricted feeding. The most popular time split, known as 16/8, means you fast for 16 hours and eat during the 8-hour window.

I’ve gotten to the point of doing mostly 20/4. That means I fast for 20 hours and eat during the 4-hour window. For me, that window is between about 7:30 AM and 11:30 AM, adjusting on either side depending on when I wake up and feel hungry enough to eat.

Outside that window, I don’t eat anything, unless it’s to bring my blood sugar up from a low. That’s why I keep a stash of Smarties pretty much everywhere.

So far, this hasn’t been a problem.

Exercise

Most of my weight loss (50 pounds now) happened basically without any exercise whatsoever. I’d occasionally go on walks, ski with my dad on winter weekends, and go on a few hikes during the summer.

But I absolutely did not have a regular schedule to exercise in college. And towards the end of 2018, I began to feel like it was time to implement one.

One of my 2019 goals is to achieve a healthy weight. To help with that, other than continuing with low-carb and intermittent fasting, I made a game plan for exercise.

There are two rock climbing gyms in my area. I picked the one I like better to join as a member. So far I’ve been going twice a week and I can feel myself getting stronger, as well as developing callouses on my hands!

Other things I’m planning include:

  • Trying out a jujitsu class
  • Running a 5K with my father-in-law (after completing a Couch-to-5K)
  • Alternating hiking and biking on weekends during the summer.
  • And, during the ski season, I go skiing.

Scheduling

What gets scheduled, gets done.

I wish I could say this is universally true, but it’s a reality that we sometimes need to move our to-dos around.

The trick is to schedule exercise conveniently so that it doesn’t take a big push to get going.

Commitment

Making it a consistent, recurring thing on the calendar makes it feel like another meeting I can’t miss. I’ll go to it even if I don’t necessarily want to.

That’s the thing about commitment—it takes all motivation and willpower out of the equation. If you commit to it, you’re doing it. Even if you don’t want to.

Future me feels better when current me does the things she doesn’t necessarily want to do, but knows will benefit future self.

Accountability

And finally, telling someone of my plans—even if it’s just my husband—makes me accountable to them. If I come home early on a Thursday night, the husband will ask if I went to the climbing gym. I’ll have to own up to say “no” and feel bad about it.

It’s worse letting other people down because we’re so numb to the feeling of letting ourselves down if that’s what we’ve become accustomed to over the years.

It also helps to join groups for accountability.

I’m in some hiking/running groups on Facebook. When it comes time to do those activities there’s an entire group that can hold me accountable.

My father-in-law is holding me accountable to the C25K I’ve said I’ll do. He’s offered to get me my first pair of running shoes and pay the cost of my first race.

Now, if that’s not a big motivator, I don’t know what is!

One clever accountability method is to make friends with someone at the gym—but don’t exchange phone numbers. Make a commitment to each other to show up for a workout at the same time. If you don’t feel like going, too bad! You can’t text to say sorry, so you’ll just have to show up and be true to your word.

The Earlier You Start, the Better It Is

As I said, I wish I’d done all of this in college, knowing what I know now.

But I can’t go back and change the past—I can only change my present and, by extension, my future.

My choices now are what drives my future success.

Excuse me while I go suit up for the rock wall.

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