College is a great time to get started with a fitness routine. But honest truth? Fitness doesn’t have to be as formal as you may think.
Sure, there are benefits of putting together a new exercise program that excites and challenges you—and we have tips on how to do that to help you get started, if that’s what you’re into. But there are also a whole host of rewards that come from simply moving your body. And one way to do that is to start walking.
“Walking can check a lot of boxes—the physical, the mental, the emotional,” Lisa Nichole Folden, DPT, a licensed physical therapist and wellness coach in Concord, North Carolina, previously told SELF.
Let’s break that down: Walking is considered a form of cardio, since your heart rate increases when you’re striding moderately or briskly. This brings a bunch of physical benefits, including better markers of heart health, improved balance, and better workout recovery. Take your walk up campus hills or inclines, and you’ll maximize the cardio aspect and add in some muscle strengthening.
But for many of us, the mental and emotional benefits of walking are just as important, or even more important, than those physical ones. Walking—especially when done outside in nature—gives us time to chill out, recharge our minds, and find connection among our community. Bring a friend or two into the fold, and it becomes a new way to strengthen or develop social bonds.
So yeah, there are tons of reasons to lace up and get walking, as long as your area is safe enough to support foot traffic and you’re able to do so without any pain or exhaustion. In fact, when SELF staffers were asked about the one thing they did to bring fitness into their lives as college students, the vast majority mentioned that they starting walking. Read on to find their best tips for getting going.
1. Take a course for credit.
“My college had a PE-course requirement, and while there were a lot of ambitious options—like horseback riding and self-defense—the only one that worked best with my schedule was ‘fitness walking.’ I made fun of myself often for taking the easiest, um, route (as did my boyfriend at the time), but it ended up being the highlight of my week. We often walked outside on nearby nature trails, which was such a nice physical and mental break from being cooped up inside cramming information into my brain.
And it was also a great way to make friends. Chatting while strolling is probably my favorite way to bond, and I’m still in touch with one of my walking classmates today. It also taught me that physical activity doesn’t have to be grueling to be beneficial, a lesson that made exercise more inviting and played a role in my eventual, reluctant love affair with moving and sweating. You gotta walk before you can run, ya know?” —Cathryne Keller, associate wellness director
2. Embrace podcasts.
“I wish I hadn’t waited until my senior year to embrace walking as a mode of transportation on campus. Yes, a 45-minute walk might sound long, but if you add in music or podcasts or a friend heading the same direction—and when said walk takes you through a beautiful, safe, tree-lined campus—the time actually flies by. Walking might not work for every class (and you might prefer to take the bus one way to save time), but don’t rule it out as an option if you haven’t tried it yet.” —Rachel Miller, editor-in-chief
3. Reap the energizing benefits of walking as exercise.
“I was fortunate enough to attend college in Washington, DC. My school didn’t have a traditional campus: It was in the heart of the city, and school buildings were mixed in with government offices and apartments. Being from the South, I was used to taking my car everywhere, so it was definitely a culture shock learning I could walk from my dorm to class without having to hike along the side of a highway.