Fitness & health on a student budget

I never ever thought I’d be one to give advice about staying fit! I was guilty of snacking out of boredom, eating junk food way too often, putting off exercise in favour of staying in with a Netflix series and just generally being a bit lazy.

It’s easy to fall into this pattern at university.

Nobody is telling you what to do and you need A LOT of self-motivation.

But, it’s also super important as you get older to stay on top of your general health and wellbeing (your super fast metabolism won’t last forever) and there are loads of reasons to exercise other than for weight loss or gain – which is a common misconception. Health matters and staying active can contribute to self care.

It’s very easy to just sit and watch Netflix all day.

What is fitness?

So, what do I mean by fitness? Well, the UK Government has in place some recommended physical activity guidelines for adults (aged 19-64) in order to live a generally active, healthy lifestyle. These guidelines recommend that you should be active daily, with your exercise adding up to 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) per week – to break it down, that is 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. I’m sure that’s half an hour we can all spare!

As well as your physical activity, you should think about what you are putting into your body. In 2018, an NHS report found that 26% of adults in the UK could be classified as obese.  It goes without saying that alcohol and takeaways aren’t going to be the best thing to consume if you want to maximise your health (as tempting as a 99p McDonalds cheeseburger can be!). There are lots of little changes you can make in your diet in order to improve your general health and energy levels. The recommended tips for adults are as follows:

  • At least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day for those aged 11 years and over.
  • For adults (ages 19 and over), average intakes of red and processed meat should not exceed 70 grams per day.
  • At least 1 portion of oily fish (140 grams) per week for all ages (equivalent to 20 grams per day).
  • Limit sugars to no more than 5% of daily calorie intake.
  • Limit saturated fat intake to no more than 11% of daily calorie intake.
Healthy food for the win!

In January 2020 a whopping 400,000 people signed up for Veganuary, opting out of any and all animal products for a whole month! Now I’m not saying change your diet overnight – find what works for you. For some, cutting out red meat is a big step, while for others, they find that a vegan diet is one that suits them perfectly. No single diet works for everyone, but everyone could benefit from a few more vegetables and going for a walk.

There is also the National Health Service’s Change4Life scheme, which focuses largely on support for families on eating well and staying fit – there are some great tips for all on their website about what kind of food you should be using to fuel your body and how to get kids involved (for those of our readers with children!).

Why change?

So, there are lots of different and small changes you can make in your day-to-day life in order to optimise your health and fitness. This is the time to do it because we have some extra time at university, before we enter the scary world of work and life! Get into a good routine and it could have any number of benefits:

  • Improve mental health and reduce stress levels
  • Boost endorphins, making you feel generally happier
  • Improved fitness and stamina
  • Better sleep
  • More energy daily
  • Increases productivity
  • Find a new hobby
  • You might actually enjoy it!


No excuses! –  Making excuses is a slippery slope. “I’ll do it tomorrow” turns into “I’ll do it next week/next month/never” etc. The best thing to do is take a long hard look at what excuses you make to avoid exercise, and stop making them! If you always say you’re too tired, then motivate yourself by reminding yourself how much energy exercise will give you! If you say you don’t have the money, there are lots of YouTube videos and free apps available to help you without paying a costly gym membership. It’s easy to find reasons not to do something, so change your approach and start finding reasons to do it instead.

Invest in a Smart Watch or Pedometer – I personally have a FitBit, which helps me track my daily steps, water intake, calories, exercise, daily active hours and more! The one I have costs roughly in the bracket of £160, but you don’t have to splash the cash! In a world of FitBits, Apple Watches and Garmin smart watches, there are also basic pedometers that help you hit your daily step goal! Often, smartphones have Health apps to help you track these things too. If being active in general is something you struggle with, set smaller goals (maybe 8000 steps a day?) just to increase your daily movement.

Don’t spend a penny – run and walk for free!I’m not a fan of the gym, and I was worried about the costs I would struggle with paying a gym membership, for fitness classes or swim sessions. So, Couch to 5K has been a real game changer for me. The app is completely free and comes courtesy of OneYou, provided by Public Health England, to get Britain moving. It includes a series of podcasts, designed to get you from being a couch potato, to running 5K in just 9 weeks. It’s tough to begin with, but you soon see your fitness improving and find yourself running for periods of time and distances you never thought possible! Give it a try!

Running is free!

Join a gym! – University of Worcester is very fortunate to not only have one, but TWO gyms available for students. There is the main gym on St John’s Campus and a smaller one on City Campus, at the McClelland Centre. These facilities are completely free to first year students living in university managed accommodation or halls of residence – all you need to do is sign for up for a fitness membership and induction by visiting the McClelland Centre on City Campus, Sports Centre on St Johns Campus or the Riverside building on Severn Campus. After this, membership for students starts at as little at £11.90 a month. For more information, check out their website.

Make a pact with your friends. – This is a good one whilst you’re living in student housing. Maybe you need a little kick every now and then to actually get your trainers on and leave the sofa. Make a deal with your friends to continue going to the gym, or Zumba, or yoga, or whatever you enjoy and always go together. That way, you know you won’t be lonely and you can cheer each other on when it gets tough!

Zumba classes with friends are pretty great

Set achievable goals. – This is probably the most important thing when starting a new fitness regime. If you aim too high in the beginning and don’t meet your goals, you are bound to feel disheartened and put off exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Set short-term, achievable goals that give you the little boosts of motivation you need. Everyone is different. For some, running 5K may be a small goal, whilst for others, even getting outside and walking 1K will be a huge milestone. Don’t compare your Day 1 to someone else’s Day 100.