Pro Tip: College Is a Great Time to Embrace Walking

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.

Walking became my mode of exercising, and the busy streets of DC were my gym. I actually grew to prefer walking over taking the train, Uber, or car, and my body became healthier because of it. I’m not a huge fan of backbreaking workouts that make me question my existence after the 10th rep (I’m talking about you, kickboxing class), so walking was a way I could exercise without waking up sore and very, very cranky!” —Manee Magee, editorial assistant

4. Use walks to fit socializing into a packed schedule.

“Because I was so busy juggling two jobs, internships, and a full course load in college, I would find quality time with friends through ‘walk and talks’ in between classes or in the evenings. A pal and I would grab a cup of coffee or tea and walk around campus or to the city (my college was about a mile away from Center City, Philadelphia). We wouldn’t go super fast, and we weren’t walking for the fitness benefits explicitly, so it was an excellent way to get some casual movement into my days and reap the bountiful benefits of friendship too. My longest walk and talk was three hours long—in the dead of winter. Yes, reader, I did have a crush on that walk buddy. (And I was wearing seasonally appropriate attire.)”—Sarah Madaus, commerce writer

5. Explore your city by walking.

“I went to school in Philadelphia, and Center City was only a mile away from my campus. The SEPTA transit system is pretty efficient, but one mile isn’t that far. So instead of taking the subway, I would walk—sometimes run!—to the area on the weekends. It was a very casual way to explore the city. Plus, I could easily take the train back to campus if I wanted to.” —Kenny Thapoung, associate director of audience development

6. Decompress with trails—and stoke your fitness motivation.

“On college breaks or whenever I needed a weekend at home, I’d meet up with a friend to walk the 3.5-mile trail around the local lake. It was peaceful, chill, and I found that conversation flowed freer there than it did in places where you’re face-to-face. Being around the trees and the water calmed me.

It’s also here where my running bug really started. I’d see all the people jogging around me and think, Wow, they can run the entire 3.5 miles?! The course seemed so long; the fact that people could run the entire thing without stopping seemed amazing to me. It’s one of the things that prodded me to start running—shorter distances at first, but slowly, slowly increasing. A couple years later, when I ran the entire lake trail for the first time, that feeling of accomplishment was unreal.” —Christa Sgobba, director of fitness and food

7. Add a scooter to walkable routes for even greater joy.

“By my senior year I had embraced a philosophy of trying to infuse pure, childish joy into everything I did because I knew I would never be living in such a bubble again. My two best friends and I all purchased Razor scooters—mine in hot pink, of course—and used them to ‘commute’ around campus. Our campus was relatively small, and everything, including the distance to our off-campus house, was walkable, but still: There is nothing as liberating as scooting to your 9 a.m. English class.

Sometimes we’d just go for an after-dinner scoot: to the mini-mart to grab a carton of ice cream or around the neighborhood at dusk. I also think it spread a bit of joy to everyone around us too. If someone saw us scooting, they’d instantly smile. So my advice: Find a creative way to get around, and do it. And definitely don’t care what anyone else thinks.” —Hannah Pasternak, associate director of special projects

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