I have recently taken up running.
This will shock anyone who knows me and and my complete disinterest in any and all forms of exercise. And it was more of a shock to me to find that I really enjoy it!
Which led me to question why it has taken so long for this to happen - why didn't I exercise during my PhD? I have written in my book, The Honest PhD Guide, about my slight weight gain towards the end of my PhD. This I attribute to stress, laziness while writing up (takeaways and junk food were the easy option), and changes in my metabolism as I get older. Now, only I really noticed the change yet I did nothing about it for a year.
Why has it taken until now for me to look after myself?
I think it has something to do with leaving academia.
There have been articles recently about work/life balance for academics (see the Times Higher Education article here, and my blogpost here) and how academics and PhD students find it so difficult to switch off. For Humanities students, a 9 to 5 simply does not exist unless you have the self-discipline to impose it on yourself (and fair play to you if you can - I couldn't, and worked weird hours as a result). Similarly, science students may nominally be "in the lab" from 9 to 5, but the work doesn't stop there. The brain is constantly ticking with things to do - write a paper, prepare a lesson, grade papers, write up reports, prepare for seminars, design a poster...
Ultimately, health and exercise took a backside ride on the road to the PhD.
Now, of course, I knew lots of PhD students who were incredibily active. But where I studied and at my college in Oxford, sport would frequently become competitive. Try rowing...become a rower. Play tennis, join a team and compete. Start rowing...lets train for a half-marathon...
These are gross generalisations and only my feelings as the non-sporty outsider looking in. It felt like there was little for the recreational, just-for-fun, exercise-seeker. Although admittedly, I didn't try very hard.
Now I work for universities in a non-academic capacity. I get home at 6pm and can genuinely switch off from work. I don't feel guilty taking 30 mins or an hour to go out for a run or do some pilates. And surprisingly, when I do exercise I feel more energised and more likely to focus on the work I want to do in my spare time such as editing my thesis for a monograph or preparing my forthcoming conference papers.
I wish I knew this during my PhD. I wish I pushed myself to take meaningful breaks from researching and writing rather than using TV as a reward.
But at least I am doing it know and doing it on my own terms, guilt-free. If you ever feel guilty for taking time to do something for yourself during your PhD, don't!! A PhD is hard enough without beating yourself up. A work/life balance is just that - an equal balance between the two. And allowing yourself those moments of self-care will positively impact your work!