We as grad students roughly fall into one of these categories;
- Students dedicated to a physical routine
- Students willing to learn a new sport
- Students who rarely go to the field
We grad students mostly fall into either the 3rd or 4th category, because you know grad life! There are a few of us who have developed the serious habit of following a routine to pursue and be good at sports. Then there are just a handful of student-athletes who are serious enough to go and compete at the Olympic level.
I fall into the 3rd category, as I occasionally go to the gym or like to try out a new sport from time to time, to see its effect on my body and mind. In the past, I joint clubs to learn long-distance running, marathon cycling and swimming. This semester I have taken a course to learn rock climbing because, I always had this fascination of scaling up walls and tall rocks, and dealing with the fear of falling is something I wanted to master. Rock-climbing is quite a tough sport, but I have started to get a hang of it as it is all about weight distribution of your body and not tiring your muscles right at the start.
In my undergrad years, I had friends and acquaintances who mostly belonged to one of the last three categories I mentioned earlier. Students who followed a routine of playing a sport every day were healthy, toned and slept well at night. Most of them did pretty well in academics too. Students who were keen on learning a new sport were always on the lookout for an opportunity to mix socializing and being healthy at the same time. While the students who never went to the field, either watched TV series or just hung out with others, were also content with their lives. Some of them were department toppers too. However, most of them always had a longing desire to go to the field at some point in time in their life and get involved in a sport. We all had just one common thing, no major responsibilities, and a stressful workload.
Coming to grad school was sort of a major leap into a life filled with workloads such as research, teaching duties, meetings, experiments, report writing, specialized courses, and job searches. Life away from work involved living on a tight budget, hence cooking and limiting one's expenses. It’s a different ball game for grad students who are married and maintaining a family in that tight budget. In all this tightly woven life, how is it possible to pull a string and dedicate it to pursuing a sport. But why pursue a sport in the first place?
Sports is a subset of many different forms of exercise and is deemed as “excellent for health and is probably the best thing single thing you can do to improve your health” as stated in this video by Vox
For the grad students who like to see things from a scientific perspective, pursuing any form of sport involves physical activity which lets your heart race a little faster than normal, and gets the oxygen dissolved in your blood to different parts of your body, at a faster rate, including your brain. This helps in rejuvenating the cells in our body. Working for long hours of the day at a desk can probably stiffen our muscles, fatigue our eyes and mind. Getting involved in any sports at the end of the day (or at the start) helps us get refreshed and get rid of the toxins accumulated throughout the day. If not a sport, even a stroll is sometimes helpful to ensure that flow of blood to freshen your body and brain. In cases of sustained focus on a problem at hand, taking a break for physical activity can be beneficial, as it helps us to see the problem from a different fresh new perspective.
Now having answered why is it necessary for any form of physical activity including a sport for a grad student, I can try to answer how is it possible to cram in a little time for sports. In the simplest way, I can say it’s all about giving the right priority to sports based on its importance in your life. Scheduling time in your everyday life for an activity might not be a simple task for many, which is why we form habits. Habits like a cue for pursuing a sport, joining a club or accompanying a friend who is probably in the 2nd category I mentioned earlier.
While establishing this habit every sport will seem difficult at first. We should be aware that no matter how tough the sport is, it just involves a simple technique and if you get the hang of it, the sport becomes a pleasure and then a source of adrenaline drive. Getting that adrenaline drive once a day is one of the best feelings we can have, no matter how our day has been.
Now if you are a grad student who believes there is no need for you to get involved in any sports as you are content with your lifestyle and also progress in life, that’s also fine. But for those who wish to go to the field at least once, can regard sports as a form of expression for the body, and you need to give it the freedom it deserves.
Pawan Chaugule is a Masters student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering