Everything changes the moment you first step foot onto your college campus during your freshman year.
Your usual 40 hours of classes a week are now a mere 16.
You have 24/7 access to social gatherings and hangouts.
Your final course grade is entirely dependent on 3 or 4 assignments.
You’re living on your own for the first time in your life.
Between the overload of stress and a lengthy adjustment period, schoolwork and socialization usually come first for new college students.
As a result, fitness and exercise go by the wayside.
So just how much (and how often) do college students hit the gym? And what are the unique benefits of exercise that college students may enjoy?
Keep reading to learn about 17 college student exercise statistics.
Table of Contents
College Students and Exercise Frequency
- Up to 85% of adults will stick to the exercise pattern they develop during their last year of college—up to 45% of college students will exercise more than three times per week.
- In the last week, 55.1% of college students did moderate-intensity exercise 1-4 days a week, 26.7% did not exercise at all, and 18.2% did so at least three days a week.
- Research shows that about 50% of college students exercise less than once per week, 1.4% work out five or more times per week, and 16.7% don’t exercise.
- The typical college student will exercise 3.41 days a week for an average of 48 minutes, or about 2.73 total hours a week.
- Half of all college students will exercise at a moderate intensity, with 37% doing high activity levels and 15% boasting low levels.
- A mere 64.3% of college students meet the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week. Another 27.5% are moderately active, and another 8.1% are “inactive.”
- More than 25% of college students who don’t exercise still believe they’re active enough to remain healthy. Nearly 36% are just as active as last year, close to 31% are more active, and a similar amount (30.7%) are less active.
The idea that many college students find the time in their busy schedules to exercise three times or more per week and find the energy to work out at high intensities is the most surprising aspect of these statistics.
Seriously, you have to look at what college students have on their plates.
70% or more have jobs, and a good amount work 30+ hours a week.
6.9 hours of sleep per night is “average.”
10-13 hours of studying per week are the norm.
Up to 16 hours a week are spent in class.
Let’s face it: College is both physically and mentally draining.
So we have to give credit where credit is due. If you’re a full-time college student and using a portion of your 76 hours of “free time” each week to hit the gym, good for you!
If not, here’s what you need to do:
Shoot for 150 minutes of exercise each week spread between five workouts—or even 75 minutes of exercise in three 25-minute chunks if you’re doing high-intensity exercise.
Do whatever physical activity is your favorite, as long as you get moving!
Benefits of Exercise for University Students (and When To Do It)
- There seems to be a link between time spent exercising and a college student’s GPA (4.0 scale), boosting scores 0.06 for every hour of exercise a week.
- College students who exercise for at least 20 minutes at a time, three times per week are less likely to experience low mood and stress—they’re also more social!
- Male college students are more active on weekdays, recording 65.14% more daily steps, 6.77% less time lounging, 3.11% more time being lightly active, and far more time in moderate (136.67%) and vigorous physical activity (171.29%).
- On weekdays, female college students walk an extra 51.18% steps, participate in 125.70% more minutes of moderate exercise, and boast 124.16% more time in vigorous physical activity than they do on the weekends.
Greater muscle mass, less body fat, and an overall better physique are prime examples of why many of us workout and go to the gym.
But these statistics shine the spotlight on something else:
The benefits of physical activity go well past the “physical” sense. You can also improve your academic performance and mental (or emotional) health, especially as a college student.
Now, why is this important?
Well, you have to look at the data.
For one, an alarming number of college students struggle with the college transition, newfound freedom, and increased academic load, with anxiety and depression rates among this age group going through the roof in recent years.
There’s also the pressure of doing well in class—you’re under the assumption that every 0.0001 on your GPA will impact your ability to get a job after you graduate or find a graduate program.
It’s a lot to handle!
The good news is that even a small amount of exercise each week can lower your stress, improve your mood, and boost your class performance.
So when you’re debating whether to go to the gym, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. You’ll feel better after the fact, and you’re doing wonders for your overall health.
When in doubt, just go!
Demographic and Types of Student Exercise
- More male college students (56%) engage in high physical activity levels than females do (24%), with females often exercising at a lower intensity. In total, 43.5% of those aged 22-25 reported high physical activity levels.
- About 61.8% of Indian college students engage in high physical activity levels, more than any other race. In the same study, data shows that 50% of underweight and 46.7% of overweight college students have high activity levels.
- Around 39.4% of female college students exercise with weight loss in mind—only 20.4% of male students had the same goal. Also, male college students are far more likely to exercise, with a mere 12.4% of male students avoiding exercise, while an astounding 30.3% of females do not exercise at all.
- About 37.4% of college students practice one sport or type of exercise, 32.4% participate in 2 to 3, and 7.9% engage in 4 or more sports. Walking (61.6%), cardio (28.3%), resistance training (16.8%), swimming (14.6%), and football (12.2%) are most popular sports for college students.
- Of the physical activities college students participate in, cardio (75.94%), weightlifting (45.45%), and yoga (12.30%) appear to be the most popular—other popular choices include basketball, walking, and karate.
- The more time young folks spend in college, the less time they spend exercising. Time is the biggest reason (18.5%) for why college students exercise less, and 48% of students exercise to improve their physique.
As it turns out, when college students exercise, they’re doing much more than slapping on a weightlifting belt and going for runs!
But this revelation poses plenty of long-term benefits that you may not even realize at this precise moment.
Activities like yoga, walking, basketball, and karate can all be “lifetime activities”—these are activities you can do today, ten years from now, or even when you reach your senior years.
You’re setting yourself up for a pattern of physical activity by starting these habits in college. So make the most of all “free” fitness opportunities you have available to you on campus.
Try new things and use your time wisely!
Whether you’re going to the campus gym, attending Wednesday morning yoga, or joining your school’s recreational basketball league, just do something!
You’ll never have free access to exercise like this again in your life.
While college students don’t exercise at record numbers or eat the healthiest of diets, for the most part, they’re generally healthy.
Research shows that only 11% of college students would describe their health as “fair or poor.” On the other end, 41% of students labeled their health as “very good.”
Whether these personal assessments are accurate, well, that’s to be seen.
Many college students see exercise as nothing more than a way to improve their physiques (lose weight or gain muscle). However, regular physical activity can also boost cognitive functioning and academic performance.
These non-physical benefits include:
Greater energy levels
The most significant dietary problem for college students is eating in excess. However, research also shows that about 59% of college students struggle with food insecurity and cannot afford healthy foods like their classmates.
As a result, they purchase the foods within their budget.
Ironically, the “cheaper” foods at the grocery store also tend to be the unhealthiest—potato chips, microwave dinners, and Ramen noodles.
It’s hard enough to juggle an academic schedule and a social life in college. So let’s make one thing clear: Nobody anywhere is expecting you to be in the gym every day for an hour at a time.
But it’s essential to set aside some time each week to get moving.
It’s not as tricky as it sounds!
Go for a walk or a jog around the campus loop.
Squeeze in a workout at the gym on campus (or even the nearby Planet Fitness, if the campus gym is always crowded).
Jog the stairs in your dorm, perform a bodyweight circuit on the campus lawn, or join a club sports team.
And, perhaps even more importantly, do whatever you can to eat a generally healthy diet. If you have a meal plan on campus, opt for fruits, veggies, and whole wheat whenever possible.
Use these next four years to your benefit!