Taking Advantage of the Campus Rec Center

For many, college is a time when physical activity levels drop. As you find yourself busy with academics and your social life, you may have less time for competitive sports, exercise, and other physical leisure-time activities. For those who were physically active before college, staying active will help you maintain the benefits of moving your body. For those who were less active, college represents an excellent time to develop a more consistent relationship with physical activity, as most colleges and universities offer resources like recreation and fitness centers, physical education classes, and extracurricular activities.

As your priorities shift, remember that good physical health is a conduit for ensuring success in school. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear: being physically active increases the ability to learn and function. College requires substantial learning and recall, and being physically active can have a beneficial effect on your ability to absorb new knowledge and remember what you have learned.

Physical Activity and Your Brain 

There is a growing research that connects student success to physical activity and participation in campus recreation programs and services. One such study shows, sport participants had higher first semester and first year GPAs, as well as higher retention rates.

According to these guidelines [pdf] from the CDC “people who do greater amounts of moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity may experience improvements in cognition, including performance on academic achievement tests, and performance on neuropsychological tests, such as those involving mental processing speed, memory, and executive function.” 

Additionally, physical activity increases functional activity in the temporal lobe of the brain. This is useful when converting sensory memory information to short-term memory information, something you will be doing a lot of in and out of the classroom! Further, aerobic activity is shown to increase reaction time and vocabulary learning. 

Physical Activity and Your Body

As activity levels and diet often change during the transition to college, weight management is often at the forefront of new students’ minds. Reinforcing this concern is data stating that young adults are considered the age group that is gaining weight the fastest or what is sometimes referred to as the “Freshman 15”. But weight gain while transitioning to college is not inevitable. In addition to eating a healthy diet, one of the best practices for preventing weight gain is sustaining high activity levels. Most colleges and universities have recreation and exercise facilities, along with programs and services for students to stay or become active.

Physical Activity and Your Emotional Health

Physical activity is also beneficial for your emotional health. It can help you better manage stress and reduce anxiety and depression. Immediate impacts from exercise include improved mood from the release of endorphins and improved executive function. Individuals who are physically active have lower rates of anxiety and depression. When faced with overwhelming choices and pressures of college life, an effective coping mechanism is movement. 

Utilizing the Campus Recreation and Fitness Center

Students transitioning to college have many choices to make with their new-found freedom. Time management and goals establishment are important skills to develop and hone during this period. Colleges try to make this transition as seamless as possible, while still preparing students for the life choices they will make after graduation. These preparations include choices of when and where to eat, live, and be active. Campus-operated recreation and fitness centers provide students with excellent opportunities to pursue active and balanced lives while in college and develop great habits for when they leave.

Recreation and Fitness Center Offerings

Most colleges and universities across the country offer recreation and fitness centers that rival or exceed traditional fitness centers available in the outside community. The level of amenities, accessible hours, and opportunities to make lasting friendships are unique features of today’s college recreation and fitness centers.

These spaces are available for use most hours of the day, and are typically funded through tuition and fees paid at enrollment. Within the space of the recreation and fitness center, college students can engage in a wide variety of opportunities for physical activity, including recreational and competitive sports (often called intramural and club sports), fitness classes, weight and cardio training, personal training, informal recreation (drop-in activities), aquatics, outdoor adventures and climbing areas, and many more. Developing early habits of visiting the recreation and fitness center regularly will help you transition to life in college while also reaping the many benefits of regular physical activity.  

Building Connections Through Recreation and Fitness Centers

Recreation and fitness centers also offer many opportunities to develop connections with fellow students and create that important sense of belonging at the institution.  Lifelong friends are made while playing alongside fellow students in an intramural or pickup basketball game, while encouraging each other in a boot camp fitness class, or learning the teamwork involved in climbing wall belaying. Social circles are created by students that workout at the same time throughout the week, and impromptu study sessions may break out in the lobbies of recreation centers. 

Additionally, campus recreation and fitness centers can be good work environments for students seeking on-campus jobs. Flexibility with class and study schedules along with the convenience of being on campus create an excellent environment for students who would like to work while enrolled in college. These work opportunities also create unique experiences for students to develop teamwork, supervisory, conflict resolution, communication, customer service, and risk management skills, all of which will be highly valuable for career preparation.  

While college recreation and fitness centers tend to focus on the access to and engagement in physical activity, many of these departments also offer programs and services that develop and enhance other areas of well-being. Massage therapy, nutrition classes, mindfulness programs, and back-to-school/welcome events all are designed to encourage social and intellectual well-being.

Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of your campus recreation and fitness center:

  • Grab a roommate or friend and visit the recreation and fitness center together. Make sure to bring your student ID or other identifying information as might be required
  • Visit the campus recreation website and learn about hours of operation and different programs and services available
  • Follow the campus recreation social media accounts so you stay up-to-date on facility hours and program updates
  • Create a weekly schedule that allows time for regular recreation and fitness opportunities. Adjust this schedule as needed based on class responsibilities, keeping in mind that the recreation and fitness center is open many hours throughout the week
  • Explore all of the different opportunities available. College is a great time to try something new. Equipment is available and lessons are often free or low cost 

When deciding when and how often to visit and participate in college recreation and fitness center offerings, consider the following:

  • Most services and access to activities and facilities are free. Your tuition and fees have largely paid for the many opportunities in advance.
  • Today’s college and recreation center offers a wide range of opportunities and activities. If there is a particular interest or activity you would like to see added, talk to the staff and suggest how these additions might benefit other students. 
  • Consistency is the key for general fitness and working out. Being physically active is as important as studying and preparation for classes. In fact, it is one of the building blocks for much of the academic success you will enjoy while attending college. 
  • Meeting other people, some with similar backgrounds and interests and others very different, is a major aspect of college recreation and fitness center purpose. Those relationships you make in these settings are often lasting and very beneficial to feeling a sense of connection to other aspects of college life. 

Research on the benefits of college recreation and fitness centers shows clear association with healthier campus experiences but also with improved retention and graduation rates. Two examples from NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation can be obtained below:


Featured Partner

NIRSA comprises and supports leaders in collegiate recreation. As college and university students develop into future leaders, NIRSA members support their learning and growth by fostering lifelong habits of wellbeing. Leadership, teamwork, dedication, and respect are among the many skills exercised by inclusive competition, fitness, and recreation. Since its founding in 1950, NIRSA membership has grown to comprise nearly 4,500 dedicated professionals, students, and businesses, serving an estimated 10.3 million students.