“I’m going to get in shape this year!”
“This time I’m serious about going to the gym.”
“New year, new me.”
We’ve all said it. The start of a new calendar year — or a new academic year — brings with it sweeping declarations of change and audacious intentions for self-improvement. The first few weeks of a new semester are characterized by packed gyms across the country. Yet within a month, attendance drops. We make excuses for our skipped workouts. As time goes on, motivation dwindles and, ultimately, resolutions are forgotten.
I’ve been there. I ran track throughout college, but upon graduation I was suddenly thrust into the “real world”, a place where the only accountability I face is myself. Without a coach or team environment, I quickly learned how easy it is to let exercise fall by the wayside. After a summer of inactivity, I decided it was time to get back in shape. I initially dreaded the process, but was pleasantly surprised to find that — based on my experience as a grad student — fitness is surprisingly attainable at MIT.
A sustainable exercise plan necessitates three criteria: time, convenience, and motivation.
From my experience at MIT, time is not usually a constraint. When I first arrived, I anticipated a heavy grad school workload with no time for workouts. Yet after the first few weeks, I was surprised when I took stock of my recent use of time. Sure, classes, homework, and a thesis project occupied the majority of my waking hours. Basic human functions, such as eating and showering, occupied another chunk. But a disproportionately large slice of my schedule was filled with... Netflix. Scrolling through my viewing history, I realized I had binge-watched multiple shows in the past month. (As a disclaimer, I fully believe everyone should reserve time each week to give his or her mind a break and “veg out” to mindless TV. But my ratio of Netflix time to all other activities was heavily lopsided.) Even with four classes, I clearly had the ability to squeeze in workouts.
MIT makes exercise convenient. On days when I couldn’t dedicate time to a long workout, I found other ways to raise my heart rate. One cliché example: taking the stairs. MIT’s campus conveniently features the Green Building, renowned as the tallest building in Cambridge. I had a fall semester class on the eighth floor of the Green Building, so two days per week, I trudged up all ten flights (the architect used an unusual numbering system for each story). I arrived in class huffing and puffing, but the climb eventually got easier. As any fitness guru will tell you, opting for the stairs in any building increases one’s daily physical activity, but a side benefit to this trick is that it warms you right up after walking outside on a chilly winter’s day in Massachusetts!
The Green Building at MIT, aka the tallest building in Cambridge
(Image source: Wikipedia)
Without even trying, you can easily find other fantastic fitness opportunities. Located right along the Charles River, MIT is situated mere feet from miles of riverside paths. When working in Hayden Library, I often find myself gazing out the window at the multitude of joggers, bikers, and walkers cruising alongside the Charles. This view alone inspires me to be active. And when I simply cannot muster the motivation to brave the outdoors, MIT delivers other options in the form of not one, but TWO gyms available for student use: the Zesiger Sports Center and the Wang Fitness Center. Both boast state-of-the art cardio and weights equipment, indoor pools, and instructor-led workout classes (which are available at a discount for students, if you’re willing to shell out a bit of extra cash). I found the centrally-located Wang Fitness Center perfect for squeezing in a 45-minute workout midday between classes and meetings. In addition, most graduate dorms feature gym equipment in their basements. If the end of the day rolls around and I still haven’t gotten my workout done, this really leaves no excuse — all it takes is a quick visit downstairs.
The city of Boston is also a running hub with countless workout groups. One such group is the MIT Running Club, which meets on campus four days per week and joins a Boston-based group on two additional days to run on the MIT track. While the MIT club provides a great resource for meeting fellow students, attending the workouts with the Boston group is especially useful for integrating oneself into the larger Boston adult community, especially as an older graduate student.
The MIT Running Club along the Charles River running paths.
The last component of a successful fitness plan is a source of motivation. Competition, camaraderie, and (achievable) goal-setting are three motivating factors; all are easily found at MIT. For example, the MIT recreation center regularly promotes fitness programs. In the fall, the “60 Days of Wellness” challenge offers weekly emails detailing exercise and nutrition tasks, health-related events on campus, and a points system to keep track of one’s progress. The “GetFit” program in the spring provides a similar, team-based fitness competition. As an extra incentive, participants may win Whole Foods gift cards, a free massage, and other prizes.
Races are yet another source of competition and goal-setting. These are not difficult to encounter in Boston; dozens take place every weekend, both for running and biking. Furthermore, many departments and clubs at MIT regularly subsidize student participation. Last October, my Civil and Environmental Engineering department recruited a formidable student/faculty presence at a local 5K.
A month after discovering these resources, I was hooked on exercise. I have been pleased to discover that MIT has helped me become self-motivated to work out.
It is completely possible to achieve your fitness goals at MIT. Moreover, when we exercise, we release endorphins, feel happier, and think more clearly; exercise can actually enhance our performances in the classroom and the lab. So let’s get sweaty and get smarter!