Everyone knows that graduate school is mentally taxing. But it’s also physically taxing.  Expect long days hunched over desks and lab benches, standing while teaching and running experiments, and lugging laptops, papers, books, and grading back and forth from campus to home.  Add the stress of juggling multiple responsibilities, attempting to carve out a unique research niche, and managing challenging relationships with mentors and student colleagues and you have the perfect recipe for physical and mental exhaustion. Many grad students turn to sleep, junk food, and caffeine to keep themselves going, but there’s a better way. One that won’t increase your waistline. Exercise. When you’re strung out but there are compelling reasons to get moving, it may seem that exercise is the last thing you want to do. You’ve heard it before but it’s true: Regular exercise is an important tool for managing stress.  Any type of exercise can help improve your mood and reduce stress. Some types of exercise, like yoga, offer specific stress reduction benefits such as stretching tight muscles and promoting mindfulness through monitoring the breath. In case many people focus on their breath and the rhythm of movement, they find that cardiovascular exercise such as running can also promote mindfulness.

How to do exercises in a grad school

Focusing on your body, how it feels and the release of tension can help you dissociate from your work and reduce the physical and mental correlates of stress regardless of your choice of activity. There are also cognitive benefits of exercise.  Research with both mice and humans shows that cardiovascular exercise increases the development of a protein produced inside nerve cells  called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).  BDNF supports brain cells and encourages the growth of brain cells and connections among brain cells – especially in areas that are important for learning, memory, and higher reasoning.  Intense exercise is associated with higher and more sustained levels of BDNF and more learning.  In one study specifically people learned  vocabulary words 20 percent faster following intense exercise (consisting of two three minute sprints separated by a two minute break) than those who performed moderate exercise or who rested. Cardiovascular exercise is associated with more accuracy and quicker reaction times in memory tasks. You’ll never find the time if you wait until you feel like working out. Grad school days are way too busy to squeeze exercise in unless you specifically schedule it. Treat your workout time like an appointment – a meeting for your mental and physical health.  Think about what works for you. Many students find that it helps to exercise in the morning before they begin their day. This prevents the snowball of meetings and tasks from eating away at workout time.  Some students find that is hard to stop what they’re doing and make themselves exercise.  Others treat exercise like a welcome break between tasks or a reward for working all morning. Be sure that it works for you whatever time you choose. It might signal that you need to find a new time to work out in case you find yourself skipping exercise sessions.