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    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


Working In Working Out

Tips on incorporating exercise into your daily routine.

December 17, 2014

Shira Lurie is in the first year of her PhD in Early American History at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on popular political dissent in the early American republic. You can find her on Twitter @shirby9 and her blog Shirby’s Dream World.


With this semester wrapping up, we’re all starting to make lofty plans for next term. I may have let things slide these past few months, but come January I’m resolved to pass my comps, get published, present at five different conferences, and maybe even finish my dissertation. I’ll leave realistic goal-setting for another post.

Besides all of those, I’d also like to exercise more in the coming year. Being more active is certainly a particularly important resolution for graduate students. Studies show that 30 minutes of exercise every day can boost concentration and creativity, reduce stress, stave off illnesses, improve sleep, and lower one’s risk of depression. Staying active is a panacea for many graduate school woes. But finding an extra 30 minutes every day is not always possible—especially since you’ll notice completing my time machine is absent from the above list of resolutions. However, exercise and work do not have to be mutually exclusive items on your schedule. Below are some ideas on integrating activity into your current routine.

1. The Commute

There is a lot to be said for walking and biking to and from campus everyday. But for many people, that’s not always possible. Getting off the bus a stop or two early or parking your car at the back of the lot are good ways to compromise. Adding a five or ten minute walk twice a day is a great way to get closer to that 30 minute goal. This also doesn’t have to be an everyday commitment. Make a pact with yourself to get off two stops early every other day or on days with good weather (good being a relative term depending on where you live!).

2. The Workday

Whether you use Pomodoros or another method to section out your workday, use your breaks as a time to get moving. Grab a friend for a walk or trek up and down the stairs in your building for ten minutes. Do a set of push-ups every time you finish grading five midterms or reading two chapters. You’ll come back to your desk refreshed and energized and you won’t have taken up any extra time you would have otherwise spent working.

Recent science has shown that sitting at a desk all day is terrible for our bodies. Standing desks have recently come into fashion and are available at many libraries. Failing that, there are many stretches one can do to reduce muscle aches and increase circulation. These can help reduce repetitive-use injuries and improve general flexibility. As Katie has pointed out in her great post on ergonomics, microbreaks are another quick way to ease the strain on your body. Design your workspace to encourage even minimal movement every ten minutes or so—place your printer on the other side of the room, set reminders to hit the water cooler, stand up to read emails or talk on the phone.

Create a work culture that encourages activity by suggesting movement meetings. Instead of sitting around a conference table, ask your students or colleagues to have a standing meeting. If it’s nice outside, take your group for a walk around campus. When collaborating or brainstorming on a project, ask your teammates if they’d be willing to discuss ideas during a half hour jog.

3. The Off Hours

Keep in mind that hitting the gym doesn’t mean compromising your schedule. Bring a book or tablet with you and get some reading done during your cardio. Alternatively, you can also use your gym time to catch up on some entertainment that may have otherwise eaten into your workday. Stream a tv show, watch a football game, or call a friend while you work out. Combining your leisure and workout time will mean you can spend some extra minutes at your desk with no harm done to your body.

With all of this in mind, I encourage you to be creative and find some strategies that work for you. The idea is, of course, balance. Some days it may be tougher than others to exercise regularly. Don’t get discouraged, just make up for it the next week. But be aware of how often you actually fulfill that promise to yourself. You can use a digital activity monitor (I use Misfit’s app on my Pebble Smartwatch) or you can go analog and update a chart or calendar. Either way, keep yourself accountable to your goals.

Integrating activity into routines you have already set is an easy way to make sure this is one resolution you keep in 2015. And with all your extra energy and focus, maybe you can help me work on my time machine.

Please chime in below with some creative ideas on incorporating exercise into your daily routine!

[Image via Flickr user Joel Dueck used under Creative Commons licensing]


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