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Looking for a life boost? Ninety percent of students say physical activity is where it’s at, according to a recent Student Health 101 survey. This makes sense: Consistent physical activity means more energy, improved academic performance, a better mood, and less stress—according to research—and that stuff matters when you’re trying to own a new school year. But when you’re knee-deep in the periodic table or frantically memorizing Shakespeare soliloquies, fitness can sometimes get left behind. We get it. So how do you make it all work?

Have a little faith. Students who believe they can make it happen are more likely to be active, according to a 2015 study. Right. But how? Behavioral research shows us: Figure out what works for you, keep your goals realistic, and create a specific plan that anticipates what might get in the way.

Student Health 101 joined up with Bette Vargas, a certified personal trainer and wellness coach, to show us how to get there. In half an hour, you can put together your own killer fitness plan and set yourself up for a dynamic, low-stress semester.

Alexandra PitkinBette Vargas is a certified personal trainer at the University of California, San Francisco.

Got fitness goals? Plan it out

More than 70 percent of students surveyed by Student Health 101 say they’re thinking about how they’re going to move more this semester. Awesome. But what happens when school picks up and your time gets eaten by homework, projects, college prep, clubs, parents, life? Take your plan one step further—start identifying the stuff that blocks you from being the next ninja warrior (or just an awesome active person), and think about how you’ll overcome it.

Mixed race girl doing push-ups at home in her living room

Vargas suggests jotting down the answers to a few open-ended questions, such as:

  • What are some activities that I enjoy that keep me moving?
  • What keeps me from being more active or from participating in a particular sport or activity?
  • What might help me feel better about the idea of moving more?

No sharing required, but honesty is recommended, she says. “At the end of the day, no one is going to see that information but you.”

Once you’ve checked in with your inner obstacles, it’s time to figure out how to work through them. Use our worksheet below to help you get there.

Potent powerful practical plan for an actively awesome summer downloadable worksheet
Turn your fitness plan into a reality

1. Copy or print out the worksheet to fill out your plan. Start thinking about the possibilities and record your answers to the following questions:

  • What’s nearby? (For example: The park)
  • How much time do I have? (30 minutes)
  • What do I like? (Hanging out with friends)
  • What could I try? (Arranging to meet friends at the park for a Frisbee® or beginner’s parkour session)
  • What can I spend? ($10 on a new Frisbee or $0 for parkour)
  • What motivates me? (Getting weird with my friends and not feeling like I’m running the mile)
  • What are my realistic goals? (To be active with my friends for at least 30 minutes, twice a week)
  • What roadblocks might I run into? (After-school obligations, homework, falling on my face when I try parkour for the first time)

2. Go back through your plan, highlight your best options, and figure out what needs to happen first (e.g., researching options, talking with your friends, getting gear, making sure you schedule homework time around the activity).

3. Finalize your activities by setting dates and adding them to your calendar or planner. Share your plan with others so you’re less likely to flake out. 

Guy jumping in the air doing ParkourParkour, seriously?

It’s not as crazy as it sounds (or looks). Parkour is just about finding creative ways to overcome obstacles in your environment. You don’t have to flip and handstand your way from one obstacle to the next. Get started by seeing how efficiently you can run, jump, and climb over and around small obstacles. As you get more comfortable, challenge yourself to take it up a notch; just make sure you’ve got the basic moves down first. Check out “The beginner’s guide to parkour” from Nerd Fitness for tips.

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Article sources

Bette Vargas, certified personal trainer, wellness coach, and owner of Vargas Fitness Enterprises, University of California, San Francisco.

Allison, K. R., Dwyer, J. J., & Makin, S. (1999). Perceived barriers to physical activity among high school students. Preventive Medicine28(6), 608–615.

American Heart Association. (2014, September). Get moving: Easy tips to get active! Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/GettingActive/Get-Moving-Easy-Tips-to-Get-Active_UCM_307978_Article.jsp#.V2wxZmQrIsk

Barr-Anderson, D. J., AuYoung, M., Whitt-Glover, M. C., Glenn, B. A., et al. (2011). Integration of short bouts of physical activity into organizational routine: A systematic review of the literature. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 40(1), 76-93.

Berrington, L. (2016, April 1). Fitness for focus: How to power up your brain. Student Health 101, 2(15).

Carmona, J. (2016, June). How to have an actively awesome summer: Turn your fitness dreams into reality. Student Health 101, 11(10).

Chomitz, V. R., Slining, M. M., McGowan, R. J., Mitchell, S. E., et al. (2009). Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the northeastern United States. Journal of School Health79(1), 30–37.

Dolan, S. (2012). Benefits of group exercise. American College of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.acsm.org/public-information/articles/2012/01/20/benefits-of-group-exercise

Reichert, F. F., Barros, A. J., Domingues, M. R., & Hallal, P. C. (2007). The role of perceived personal barriers to engagement in leisure-time physical activity. American Journal of Public Health97(3), 515–519.

National Physical Activity Plan (2014). The 2014 United States report card on physical activity for children and youth. Retrieved from https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/other-documents/nationalreportcard_longform_final-for-web(2).pdf?sfvrsn=0

Women’s Health Watch (2009). Why it’s hard to change unhealthy behaviour—And why you should keep trying. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-its-hard-to-change-unhealthy-behavior

Whelan, D. (2016, September). Your fall fitness fix: How & why to make it happen. Student Health 101, 12(1).

Charlotte Ottaway is a freelance writer and journalist whose work has been published in Canadian Business, Zoomer magazine, The Globe and Mail, and the Huffington Post Canada. She is the founder of Web of Words, where she helps solopreneurs and small business owners create real human connections online through blogging and social media. Find her at charlotteottaway.com and follow her on Twitter @charlottaway.

The CampusWell and Student Health 101 editorial team collaborated in the writing of this piece.