For incoming college freshmen and continuing students, it never hurts to think of fitness. With a free gym available and all of the horrors of college eating — bring on the ramen — it is never a bad thing to consider exercising or trying out healthier eating habits. Unfortunately, much of the fitness world focuses exclusively on a narrow, modern view of health that ignores successful methods from around the world.
There’s a strong homogenization of American workout methods when it comes to fitness, in literature and in practice. Heavy weight lifting, mixed with chemical-laden pre-made protein drinks with the idea of getting “swole.” It’s that or heavily modified food intake aimed at some narrow diet. These might, and in many cases do, work, but better options are out there.
Take Bruce Lee as an example. He was relatively short and weighed only around 140 pounds, and yet he stands as a pinnacle of fitness. His body fat was almost nonexistent and every muscle was well built. He accomplished this through a mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercises, mostly through martial arts.
A Shaolin gongfu master, Lee drew on generation-old teachings. He believed in complex exercises that worked multiple muscles across the body rather than just isolated muscle building.
Since strong body parts are useless without coordination and skill, try to do workouts that focus on the whole body to build strength, instead of splitting things up to build size.
Not everyone has the time for the intense workouts gongfu demands. For quick, everyday exercise that’s also extremely practical, go Dutch. Ride a bike.
While visiting the city of Amsterdam, it was hard not to notice the multitude of bicycles lining the streets. People are fit. It’s a city with a multitude of bakeries and pastry shops, not to mention beer houses full of rich ales, yet the people are active and healthy. Biking offers great cardiovascular exercise, strengthening the lower body while being easier on the feet than running.
And it’s practical for college. Although last year there was a bit of a crisis over the continued presence of bicycles on campus, the fact remains they will stick around. Plus, they are a great way to get around, especially if you need to get to another class across campus in a short amount of time. Although Los Angeles is a car city, opt for the tried-and-true method from around the world and bike.
And when it comes to diet — the other key to a healthy body —try slowing down when eating. The United States tends toward quick, fast-paced eating habits perfect for a busy schedule but terrible on the body. Around the world, particularly in European countries, portions are smaller, and eaten at a much slower pace. These are countries where pastries and other fatty foods are common staples, and yet the people tend to stay slim. So stop, sit back and enjoy a meal. Don’t rush.
As for what to eat, look to the traditional Greek diet. The so-called “Mediterranean diet” is often cited as one of the best, and longest enduring, diets in the world, but the Greek diet in particular is the most beneficial. It is high in vegetables, meat, seafood and good fats like feta cheese and olive oil. Foods such as bread or sugars are minimal to nonexistent in the diet, keeping fat gains low and vitamins and minerals high.
Cutting out the sugars helps the body stabilize blood sugar levels and gives more energy to the body and burns fat. Is it as cheap as a ramen diet? No, but much better for you in the long run.
Similarly, a bit of exercise after each meal can be advantageous.
There’s an old Chinese proverb that says walking 100 steps can lead to increased longevity.
Muscular contraction activates certain chemicals in the body
—glucose transporter type 4 or GLUT-4 — to help move calories into muscles rather than build fat cells. A few quick exercises after eating can put that energy toward things other than fat.
Then there is stress. College can be an extremely stressful time on its own, not counting the sleep deprivation and caffeine dependence. In this case, why not try meditation? Buddhist meditation is practiced around the world, and works well. This does not mean going “omm” a lot.
Instead, focus on controlled breathing and putting the mind toward a good memory or goal. Simply stepping back from school work and resting the mind for a bit can do wonders and prevent mental burnout.
Fitness is more than just muscle size and nutritional supplements. Humans practiced healthy habits, and powerful workouts, for centuries. Sometimes the trick is to look outside of the mainstream for better options, and in this case, the world offers many useful methods.