The benefits of exercise are well known: it reduces stress, improves your mood, keeps your brain and body healthy, and even improves your sleep.

These powerful effects even include improved academic performance, as exercise has been linked to better grades and higher test scores.

For many high schoolers, participating in a sport is a surefire way to incorporate exercise into your routine. But college sports are much more competitive than high school teams. In fact, just 7% of high school athletes go on to become athletes at the college level. That means 93% of people who played sports in high school will suddenly find themselves without a regular exercise routine.

Establishing an exercise regimen on your own can be difficult. There’s no coach making sure you show up; there are no practices already scheduled into your busy day. The unstructured nature of college gives you greater freedom than you had in high school, but it can also leave you feeling adrift. Rather than heading to the gym after a full day of classes, it’s easier to go back to the dorm, order a pizza, and binge-watch Netflix until the wee hours of the morning.

As difficult as it can be to get started, exercise is worth the effort! A regular physical fitness routine is an excellent tool to keep you grounded and healthy. Also, by prioritizing your health now, you are building a strong foundation for a lifelong practice that will serve you well. If it seems challenging to exercise now, it’s even more so later on in life, when career and family pressures increase.

Regardless of whether you’re a former high school athlete or not, college presents the perfect opportunity to establish a new “exercise habit” for yourself. Here are some tips to help you get started:

    • Join an intramural team. If you thrived on the consistent schedule of your high school sports team, this is the next best thing. Many schools have intramural teams that train and even compete regularly in a variety of sports. These teams are often all-levels, so you can choose to continue the sport you know and love or try something new!
    • Explore the facilities on campus. Many colleges have amazing exercise and sports facilities, including gyms, pools, tennis courts, fitness classes, and more. They are often open long hours, so you can fit a workout into just about any schedule.
    • Enroll in an elective. There’s nothing like a grade as an incentive to exercise regularly! If you’ve always wanted to try yoga or modern dance, sign up for an elective class. You’re guaranteed to get plenty of instruction—and knowing the teacher is handing out grades will ensure you keep showing up all semester long.
    • Walk everywhere. Whether or not you track your steps, walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise out there and has incredible benefits. The only equipment you need is a decent pair of shoes! If you take the bus, hop off a few stops early or skip it altogether. Just remember to leave extra time to make it to your next class!
    • Find a fitness buddy. Studies show that exercise is better together. Buddying up or working out with a group can help you get motivated, keep your commitments, and even enjoy that sweat session a little more. Find a partner, set your first exercise date, and congratulate each other when you keep it!

College is a major time of transition, but that doesn’t mean physical fitness has to fall by the wayside. There are plenty of opportunities to continue with a sport you love or to explore an activity you’ve never done before. Establishing an exercise routine takes some willpower at first, but once you make it a regular practice, the benefits you see will inspire you to keep going!