Exercise grows more than muscle
Dr. Katie Featherstone
Director of Postgraduate Studies
I have been running on and off since I was a teenager and I now run for about an hour 5-6 times a week. During my PhD I ran every day and I found it really helped with improving concentration and stamina, decreasing stress and anxiety and that’s why I still run. A PhD and academic life in general requires long hours and resilience (talk to Mohammad Marie who is our in-house expert on resilience) so running every day helps. It keeps me strong, physically and mentally – I am afraid the challenges of research and the pain of drafting and re-drafting doesn’t go away- they are constants, you just learn how to manage them.
So running helps me. It regulates my day by punctuating my pattern of work, helping me to move from email to writing and reminding me its time to have a break or stop. It is also a good time to process the day – when you run you can’t focus on a particular issue or topic, rather ideas and thoughts float through your mind and its important to let them- but I always come back from a run with something solved,it may be small but it usually moves my thinking on a tiny bit.
Being an academic means you spend much of your working life reading and typing, sitting in offices with little natural light. It is important to be physical and be outside getting natural light experiencing the changing weather (yes, I know it’s often rain, rain and more rain). After this long winter it feels nice to be able to finally put away my wooly running hat and waterproof jacket and experience the seasons. One section of yesterday’s early evening run featured lilacs, followed by hot chips doused in vinegar, followed by wisteria – I couldn’t decide which was the outstanding scent of the evening.
Rosemary Williams, Dr Katie Featherstone, Sarah Fry
I am focusing here on running, but all exercise can help you achieve your goals and be good for you in different ways. Exercise, particularly running is an effective brain gym. It improves ‘neurogenesis’, our ability to grow neurons and stimulates the brain to develop new brain cells particularly in the hippocampus an area associated with improved learning and memory function. It increases blood flow and promotes efficient energy use to improve cognitive functions. Importantly, the benefits are also emotional, having a strong impact on mood, improving our ability to manage stress and anxiety, and working as an effective antidepressant (one review found it equivalent to cognitive behavioural therapy). Doing a PhD is the time when you are asked to develop and grow at a really fast rate, and to stay the course you need to be physically and emotionally strong, so get out there….I promise it will help.
Running through a PhD
Sitting at a desk all day becoming frustrated with research data or literature reviewing? Try running to blow away any residual tension.
For the past 4-years I have been long distance running as a full-time hobby. I started running because it’s an accessible and fairly cheap way to keep fit. As I entered more races and set my sights on my first marathon, London 2011, running quickly became a central part of my life. The feeling of elation at the end of the marathon encouraged me to do more and I haven’t stopped since.
At my first PhD supervision my supervisor told me doing a PhD was like running a marathon and I think he’s right. Like a PhD, running has its ups and downs. The downs are usually to do with the weather (rain, snow and ice) and the occasional injury but these are nothing compared to the feeling of achievement at the end of a long run and the camaraderie and support from running friends.
Running gives me space to think; my PhD proposal was refined whilst training for the Edinburgh marathon in 2012. I am now almost 1-year into a part-time PhD and I realise that running is going to play an important role in getting me through the next 4-years. Apart from the obvious benefits of running (physical fitness and energy) running has also taught me self-discipline, self-belief and commitment. These are assets which I hope will get me through the PhD process in a relatively calm, constructive, and timely manner.
Have you ever thought about running and been too worried to give it a go? If you have the commitment and motivation to take on a PhD you will find running easier than you think.
I am running 31-miles along the Thames Path on 14th September 2013 for Cancer Research UK. Please support me with this run by visiting my justgiving page at www.justgiving.com/Sarah-Fry3.
Notes from a new runner
EO: Research Administration
Why do I run? I began running on a regular basis about two years ago so I’m a comparatively ‘new’ runner. I now aim to run three times a week interspersed with cycling. I try to do one longer run and two short 3 mile runs. Initially running was simply a means of improving my fitness for cycling; cycling mates assured me that it would have a positive impact on my ability to cycle up hills and mountains. In the beginning I found it hard but within a very short time I began to feel the benefits and was surprised to find that it wasn’t just about feeling fitter physically, I also felt much stronger mentally and more alert.
One of the other benefits of running is that it gives you time to appreciate your surroundings, to enjoy the flowers, birds and other wildlife that you see whilst you’re out on a run. I usually run either early in the morning or in the evening and I’ve found roads and trails I didn’t know existed before I started running. What began as just something to do in order to become fitter is now a focal point of my life. The freedom, the camaraderie, the feeling of running down the street with the wind (or rain!) on my face – it’s an exhilarating experience.