Academia + exercise

by K.M.

The brilliant blog Hook and Eye (you should all be reading it!) is currently featuring several pieces on on women, academia, and sport, written by both regular contributors and guests. I’ve found the posts inspiring and thought I would add my two cents on my views on sport/exercise and academia. Especially now that I am in possibly the most sedentary phase of the PhD — writing it up — I am more than ever aware of the absolute necessity of movement and taking care of one’s body.

My current exercise regime consists of:

  • Pilates: 1x week
  • Yoga: 3-4x month
  • Walking/running: 4-5x week

I also try to maintain a habit of stretching and short workouts on the days that I don’t have a class, so that I make sure I am moving as much as possible. I don’t have a set routine down for this so tend to fit it in when I can.

I started both yoga and pilates 2.5 years ago, at the start of the second year of my PhD. I had done yoga once before, several years ago, and didn’t really like it. I’ve come to realize that the teacher and the class really matter, especially because there are so many different types and styles of both yoga and pilates. I am lucky that I have found excellent teachers for both. I like doing yoga and pilates simultaneously because they target different things, yet compliment each other so well. In my own practice, yoga is more for stretching and flexibility whereas pilates is about strengthening and core work (though there is a lot of stretching involved as well). Since I spend the majority of the day sitting down, sitting with good posture is so important, and this is something I have definitely become more aware of and improved on since starting these classes.

I love walking and, since I live in a city, do it fairly regularly. I would not really classify myself as a “runner” (although I once read a great article which essentially had the message that we tend to have an image of the ‘skinny marathon runner’ as the runner — propagated of course by the media — and that,quite simply, if you run, you’re a runner). Running doesn’t come very naturally to me. However, I do love walking and combining it with running. Some days I run most of the time (usually anywhere between 3.5-4.5 km). Other times, I mostly walk. I try not to put a lot of pressure on myself during this time: it’s the movement that is most important to me. Building cardio strength is second. On days that I work from home, I tend to head out around 10:30 or 11am, having worked a good 3-3.5 hours before that (my most productive time). If I am going into the university I either wake up and head out first thing, or eat an early breakfast and then go out an hour later, depending on what time I have to be in by.

One of the things I love about walking and running is that they are free. They don’t require a gym membership (luckily one can just about get away with running outside all year round in the UK), fancy equipment, or financial investments. Getting outside and moving, no matter what your fitness level, is accessible to everyone.

I find all of these activities absolutely essential to my mental and physical health. They clear the cobwebs, energize me, and make me feel strong.