We’ve all been there. It’s the morning after Thanksgiving, we feel like we ate a whole turkey, and are beginning to regret that fourth piece of pie. (There were so many pies! I had to try to the bourbon pecan and the wild blueberry!) With shame and regret, we do a quick search online to see how many calories the average American consumes on Thanksgiving and cringe at the result. It looks like we might actually have to start burning off the turkey fat. There’s only one problem: Exercising on campus sucks.
The center of campus “exercise culture” is the Dodge Fitness Center, which is the absolute worst. If Dodge is the best we’ve got, then it’s no wonder so many students deprioritize physical wellness in favor of squeezing in a few more hours of studying. Dodge is your friend’s dad’s exercise basement that someone decided to renovate and shove a bunch of sweaty undergrads into. It’s a dungeon full of people who actually play Dungeons & Dragons. It’s Columbia’s version of Dante’s Inferno: As you descend each exercise circle underneath the indoor track, the ambiance only gets darker and more depressing. By the time you reach the lowest circle, you just see two or three people running on a treadmill while staring blankly at a concrete wall.
Not only is Dodge ugly and sad, it’s also annoyingly expensive for what you get. You might think that the locker and towel service would be included in your $850 student life fee (which pays for your $480 gym membership), but you would be wrong. You’ll have to shell out an extra $71 to $495 per term if you want to use those services. But don’t worry: If you hurry, you can get a 50 percent discount for the remaining three weeks of the fall semester. Otherwise, if you’re cheap like me, you're just going to have to carry your coat, towel, and boots around the gym like a neurotic squatter, constantly in fear of your stuff being stolen.
So let's face it: Dodge isn’t worth the hassle, especially if you’re an upperclassman who doesn’t live directly on campus. And, unless you like working out in Columbia Housing’s shoebox exercise rooms, we’ll have to think of some more creative alternatives.
Luckily, there are many ways to get in shape on campus without the Dodge drudgery. You can register for one of those physical education classes you’ve been avoiding (but take a fun one like hiking, scuba, or fencing). You can even take turbo kick (if you want to shell out extra dough to learn what that entails). If you want to combine exercise with a supportive social environment, you can join one of the many dance teams, intramural sports, or outdoor interest clubs. Looking for something a little bit more “alternative” and “counterculture?” Try going to a free New York Unicycle Club meeting (unicycle not included) at Grant’s Tomb or check out the traveling rings in Riverside Park.
Personally, my favorite way to exercise near campus is to go on a run in one of New York City’s many wooded oases. Running in the city’s parks is the only thing that can really clear my head and ease the stress of a busy semester. Often exercise is put in the context of “getting in shape,” usually by someone trying to sell you quack supplements, diet plans, or outlandish home exercise machines. What gets lost in this fixation on exercise’s effect on the body is that exercise is also a really good way to improve mental health, a perennial area of concern on this campus. Scientific research has even found links between long runs, improved memory retention, and overall brain health. But even if exercise doesn’t get you As in your classes, it’s still a quick and easy way to get an endorphin kick.
For me, running is also a way to get outside and explore the city—something not enough Columbia students do regularly. There are few things as refreshing as a gust of wind off the pier of Riverside Park, and it is hard to beat the beauty of seeing the seasons change in Central Park. If you run long enough, you might even be surprised by what you find. I’ve run into a deer in Riverside Park, a double rainbow across the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and an early 19th century fort in Central Park.
So don’t lose hope on getting over your exercise slump. There are a lot of exciting ways to work out without having to go to Dodge. Between papers, exams, jobs, and the myriad of other ways Columbia students stay busy, it can be tough to carve out time to exercise, especially when our options feel so limited. But physical fitness is an integral part of a balanced life, and we should all make the commitment to work out, despite the sorry state of Dodge.
Noah Kulick is a sophomore in Columbia College studying English and American history. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments, or concerns. Past the Present runs alternate Mondays.