Campus Life fresh start

Fall in love with fitness at MIT

Keeping a journal can motivate you to exercise and eat healthily

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Your workout book doesn’t have to be pretty, or even on an agenda from 2012. It’s the thought that counts!
Allison Hamilos

Everyone at MIT has a unique fitness story. Some of us are varsity athletes or gym rats, who somehow manage to pack 12 to 20 hours a week of sports into our already bursting schedules. Others gave up on exercise long ago due to the demands of classes and research. Some of us lie somewhere in between: former athletes who’ve fallen out of condition, those who want to work out, but don’t know how or don’t seem to be very good at it. Some of us love running; some of us hate it. Some of us are too self-conscious to try. One thing each of us has in common is a desire to be healthier. Even top athletes aspire to greater heights. Unfortunately, whether you’re a novice or a pro, at a place like MIT, sometimes these goals can seem impossible to achieve.

I’ve experienced all of these phases of physical activity at MIT, from my seasons as a varsity lacrosse player obsessed with health and athletic performance to hectic semesters where to GTL (Gym-Tool-Laboratory) just seemed impossible. But now that I’m a senior, I’m eager to share with you some of the ways I’ve found to live well at TFP, even in the midst of the worst schedules imaginable!

That’s where Fresh Start comes in. Every week or two, expect to see tips for finding time to exercise, cooking up healthy snacks, and otherwise improving your quality of life. These articles will be a mix of how-to’s, news in the health/fitness scene, and Yelp-style reviews of different wellness ideas that I’ve tried out and found effective. The goal is to help make our campus a place where our wellness is a priority again — something achievable for everyone even if you think you hate to exercise!

As a warm up to this fitness journey we’re about to embark on, I thought we might start off with some tips for organization. Even with a crazy schedule, it is possible to find time to exercise and eat well, especially at the beginning of the semester. The trick is to make a conscious effort to plan ahead.

If you’re like me, it can be really easy to think as you’re walking home from class, “ah, well, I’m tired today. I’ll work out tomorrow for sure.” Except you’ll say the same thing the next day … and the next. Without something to force you to work out, how can you find motivation?

A good way is to get a personal trainer or join a PE class that you’re obliged to attend. But, failing that, the best way I’ve found to keep myself on track on my own is keeping a “Workout Book.” This is an agenda where, for each day, you write out in advance exactly what you’ll do for each hour of the next day. In the schedule, you can include time for lunch, napping, watching TV, whatever, as long as you plan out all the time you need to work and to go to the gym. I usually give myself an optimistic day where I’m finished with everything by 4 or 5 p.m. and keep the rest of the night free, which keeps me safe in case things take longer than planned. By giving myself a set hour sometime in the morning or early afternoon to go to the gym, I feel greater motivation to exercise during the time allotted so that I can get to the other items on my list.

But that’s not all that goes in the book. It doubles as a planner and tracker of my fitness goals. Each day, I also record everything that I eat and exactly what I did in my workout. For instance, did I devour an entire bag of peanut-butter pretzels today? I might want to eat better the next day, then. Or did I lift today? Which exercises, and how much weight for how many reps? The food tracking can help you stay on track with eating well and help you optimize your eating. The exercise tracking can give you a sense of progress and achievement as you progress to higher weights/faster times/longer distances, whatever your goal may be. And goal-setting and achieving can be really, really satisfying for hard workers like us!

I usually fill out the book in the evening just before I go to sleep. This takes about five minutes and gives me time to write in my day’s progress and also plan my next day’s schedule.

Here’s an example of my book:

Next time: Planning your workouts!

Since this column is all about improving our wellness on campus together, I’d love to hear about your successes! What have you been doing that’s working for you? Do you have pictures of you and your friends doing something for your health together? Do you have a picture of your own Workout Book? Send ’em to me at! You might just be featured in The Tech!

Disclaimer: I may be a premed, but I’m not a doctor yet! The ideas in this column come from MIT coaches, DAPER staff, strength trainers, fitness literature, etc., but you should always check with your doctor before attempting a new fitness or nutritional regimen. So be healthy and train healthy!