How to Stay in Shape After College Graduation

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When I graduated from college, I remember the relief of never having to take another final exam or sit through another boring lecture and the utter terror at finding a job and figuring out the rest of my life. With those big decisions to deal with, the last thing I worried about was staying fit and exercising, something I eventually regretted.

What I learned is that going from a relatively active college life to a sedentary full-time job leads to weight gain, something you can avoid if you establish a healthy routine now.

Exercise can relieve stress, easing you through this difficult transition, while boosting your confidence at a time you need it the most. You'll also have a big advantage going into the workforce. It's easier to work in exercise from the beginning than to squeeze it into a stressful work schedule later on.

Figuring out how to do that can be a challenge, but all it takes is a little knowledge and planning to get started on the right foot.

How to Exercise in a Post-College World

When you leave college, everything changes — especially your exercise habits. With your energy spent finding a job or starting a job, your activity drops and your stress levels spike. Below, you'll find out about the most common pitfalls and how you can prepare for them:

1. No More Free Workouts

If you had access to a free campus gym or discounted membership elsewhere, you now have to pay full price or find other ways to exercise.
The Fix: Where to Exercise - If you're on a budget, as many graduates are, you may need to be creative about where and how you exercise. Some options include:

  • At home: Set up a home gym with basic equipment such as dumbbells, resistance bands, and a stability ball. If money is an issue, there are ways to save money by buying secondhand equipment or even making your own weights. You can read about more ideas for home exercise and workouts you can do at home.
  • Outside: Running and walking are great ways to stay fit and manage your weight and only require a good pair of shoes. You can also try cycling, playing tennis or pick-up basketball games at your local park or meet up with fitness groups in your area. To get started, try an outdoor circuit workout.
  • At the Gym: To save money, look for small local gyms that charge lower fees (some are just $19.95 a month, such as Cardinal Fitness in Illinois), community centers, or your local YMCA, which usually aren't as expensive as larger health clubs.
  • At the Office: If you have a job, take advantage of your on-site fitness center, if you have one, or any health club discounts your company offers.

2. Your Schedule

In college, you may have more freedom and time to exercise. A full-time job will take up most of your day, leaving less time and energy to workout.
The Fix: Fitting It In - With that free time gone, you'll have to work a little harder to make time for exercise. It's important to establish your exercise routine as soon as you can. If you're looking for a job, make exercise part of your daily routine — it will boost your mood, give you the energy to keep going and build confidence. If you're already working, look at your schedule and carve out some exercise time each day. Even if you start with just 10 minutes or split your workouts, you can build on that over time:

3. Less Move, More Sit

Walking from class to class or from party to party can burn calories. Sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day doesn't, which can quickly lead to weight gain, backaches, and other aches and pains.
The Fix: Staying Fit at the Office: You have to be creative if you want to stay active at work. Set an alarm to go off every hour and stretch or do a few exercises. Other ideas:

  • Walk the stairs on your breaks or walk during your lunch hour
  • Walk, run or bike to work
  • Park further away or leave things in the car so you have a reason to get up
  • Avoid office junk food and eating out for lunch every day, which can quickly pile on the pounds
  • Try an office staircase workout
  • You can also try some lunch hour workouts

4. Changing Priorities

Graduating and going out into a different world can be overwhelming and it's hard to set your priorities. You may be tempted to skip exercise because you need all your energy to find a job or deal with the tiny nervous breakdowns that occur during big life changes.
The Fix: Make Exercise a Priority - Remind yourself that exercise adds energy to your day rather than feeling that it's taking something away. Other benefits to remember:

Whether you ease into post-college life without worry or you freak out all the way, exercise is an important part of the transition process. Be aware that moving into the workforce means you have to get used to working on someone else's schedule and take control of the time you do have to fit in as much exercise as you can. Starting now will help keep your weight in check and your stress at manageable levels.

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