Healthy foundations: Making time to exercise

Healthy foundations: Making time to exercise

Regular exercise and staying fit is so important to living a healthy life, but how often do you exercise? Since starting my blog and sharing my science journey through Instagram, it’s made me aware of how many people rarely get that heart rate up – and yes grad school students, I’m looking at you!

Too much to do, too little time right? I’m going to be that devil on your shoulder and say, sorry, you can always find time! I know people don’t like to hear that, but bare with me…

In this blog post we’ll explore the positive effects of exercise and I’ll be dishing out some tips to help you get more fitness into your busy schedule.

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The wonders of exercise…

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Improves brain function

Studies have found that exercise helps to improve learning and memory. Physical activity leads to an increase in the expression of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in areas of the brain including the hippocampus (brain centre for memory). It is known to support the growth of new neurones, neural survival and synaptic plasticity. Exercise also stimulates other growth factors which promote the growth of brain cells and slows down age-related decline. If you want to nerd-out, read more about exercise and the brain in this review article.

Fun fact: Different exercises have different mental gains!

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Image: New Scientist

 

Positive mindset

Exercise can alleviate stress by stimulating the release of that feel-good molecule serotonin and other endorphins. They essentially act as natural painkillers which in turn improve our mood and mental health. Exercise also helps us to sleep better, consequently lowering those stress levels.

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Movement/mobility

Daily desk job workers – how does your body feel when you’re sat down most of the working day? After a while, probably not fantastic. Having good mobility is required to perform everyday activities. Developing bad postural habits and limiting your joint mobility is not going to do you any favours! Staying active and regular stretching will really help to prevent mobility issues in the future.

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Lowers disease risk

Exercise is great for our general health! It improves our muscular, cardiorespiratory, and bone health. It lowers the risk of developing complications such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart attacks, obesity and type-II diabetes. Weight training strengthens our muscles and helps to maintain our muscle mass. This is important as it slows down the rate of decline in muscle mass and strength that we experience as we get older (sarcopenia) leading to falls and fractures.

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My top tips to get fitness into your routine:

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Schedule in exercise time!

Just like you plan your work and social plans, schedule in the time to exercise as well. Planning when you’re going to go for a run or lift those weights in the gym will help you to focus on work beforehand and create more of a balance.

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Start small, build it up.

If you’re new to this whole exercise thing, then don’t go all out to start with! We want it to be a shift in mindset – a new lifestyle choice rather than a phase. Maybe just start off by exercising two/three days a week and gradually build it up.

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Ditch the car, cycle.

Cycling is a great way to get from A to B. You don’t get stuck in the traffic, you’ve exercised before the day has really begun, and you’re helping the environment. Triple win.

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Get some extra steps.

Take the longer route to work. Cut the time you spend in the coffee room for lunch and finish it with a 15-minute walk. If walking isn’t something you usually enjoy, try combining it with listening to a podcast or audiobook you like. Make it fun!

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Find fitness you enjoy!

Hate running but love exercise classes? Then choose the classes! Exercise should be enjoyable. It’s your “me” time so make the most of it and don’t make this part of your day harder for yourself.

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Make it part of your social time

Join a sociable form of exercise, like crossfit or a team sport. Alternatively, get a friend to go with you on that run/walk/fitness class. Exercise can be a social event too! Plus, it keeps you accountable to someone else.

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Create fitness goals

Like I said, we want exercise to become a habit and not a temporary love affair. It’s good to have focusses on other things than work. Whether it’s signing up for a 5k run, climbing up a mountain, getting that 100kg deadlift, set a couple of goals and work towards them. It will keep that motivation to stay fit.

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Are you taking enough time out of your week to stay active? How do you like to stay fit and healthy? As always, please comment below as I love to hear from you…

To read the first in my “Healthy foundations” mini-series all about sleep, click here.

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Science Diaries: Three months to go

Science Diaries: Three months to go

Two months later and it’s time for another Science Diaries post. Since my last one, I’ve learnt how to create a multilevel regression statistical model  (I won’t bore you with the details!) in order to analyse my animal data sets which was a massive hurdle. As of yesterday I’ve now run all of my data (I think) through the model, so I’m a very happy girl. Here’s another snapshot of my day as a PhD student.

Onto the next phase…

0621 yoga

6:21am: The constant desk work is really starting to feel detrimental to my body despite being a very active person outside of PhD work. It’s easy for a few hours to pass whilst just sitting running the statistics model on data set after data set.  So I’ve decided to start 20 minute morning yoga sessions to improve mobility. This morning was the first one!

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0702 breakfast7:02am: Protein porridge is my favourite way to start the day. Genuinely makes me so happy early in the morning! Sets me up for a productive day of work. A lot of science communication Twitter chitchat happens US time, so I normally combine breakfast with catching up on conversations I’ve missed overnight.

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0836 Nipper check

8:36am: Today was another NiPPeR study on-call day. I briefly explained what this study is all about and how I’m involved in my last Science Diaries post. No deliveries over night and no women in labour ward meant it was a placenta processing-free day for me.

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0950 meeting prep

9:50am: Every Wednesday at 10am I have a meeting with my primary supervisor. The first part of my morning was gathering all the data I had analysed over the past week so we could discus the results. We also have a kids day organised by my supervisor in a couple of weeks which I’m helping out with, so I thought I should probably swat up on what I’m supposed to be doing for it!

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1133 supervisor meeting

11:33am: My PhD meeting is over which was really productive! We discussed my data and a few extra things I could do with it. I’m now at the point where I’ve done all the data analysis I can do for now, so it’s onto the thesis writing. This was a pretty daunting realisation! We also discussed viva dates following a conversation my supervisor had with my internal and external examiners. SCARY! It all feels a lot more real now.

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1357 plan IG post

1:57pm: Lunch eaten and my lunchtime walk done to properly stretch those desk-bound legs! I finished my lunch break with planning my Instagram post which was all about making daily goals to stay on track, and how that helps us to feel more motivated and positive about work.

 

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3:26pm: Time for my friend Emma and I to have some filming fun! I’m currently doing an engagement and science communication internship with my department. We have various research themes and I’m filming interviews with researchers from each one. Today I was making the most of Emma having her a-MAZE-ing placenta game at work so managed to get some good footage of her for the public engagement theme. Totally love this girl, she’s mad.

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1640 deadlines

4:40pm: Now that it’s time to write this thesis, a plan is definitely required. I’m giving myself until Christmas to hand it in, I don’t want to go into 2018 with this still looming over me. So it’s T minus three months and deadlines are getting set. It’s going to be tough but it’s the final phase now, just got to power on through and stay focussed.

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1804 Bright Club

6:04pm: I’ve finished PhD work for the day and walked the extremely long 7 minute walk back home. So for some strange reason I’ve agreed to perform at Bright Club this Friday in my PhD city of Southampton, UK. It’s an event where researchers become comedians for the evening so I did a little bit of practice before my housemate came home. I’ve never done anything like this before so I’m a little nervous, but very excited! All the comedy sets will be going up on YouTube so I’ll hopefully be blogging about it next week and sharing the footage… if it goes well of course!

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1943 dinner

7:43pm: Dinner time. This evening was chilli with a little bit of mushroom rice and green veg. I was trying to be healthy today but then my housemate decided to make cake, which of course I was not going to say no to. I’m looked after so well! I may never move out.

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2013 blogging and film

8:13pm: Normally I CrossFit in the weekday evenings but I’ve started being more organised in order to push my blog further, whilst having a good balance between PhD work/blogging/fitness/social life. I always publish my blog posts on a Thursday so I’m now setting aside Wednesday evenings to write a blog post or finish bits off if I started it at the weekend. I wrote this blog post whilst watching a film on the sofa… and of course eating cake. Perfect way to blog!

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If you want to get a good feel of what my science life is like then head over and follow my Instagram account. This is where I share my journey as a scientist and PhD student through photography and daily Instagram stories!

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What stage are you at in your PhD/science career?

Is there anything about life in science/academia you’d like to know more about? As always I love to here from you in the comments below…

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The PhD slump

The PhD slump

Everyone’s PhD is different and we all go through highs and lows. What I call ‘the PhD slump’ is that period many of us experience where we severely struggle with motivation, focus, belief in ourselves and passion for what we’re doing. Being in this negative phase is tough, and something numerous people I know (as well as myself) have been through.

I’d say it’s most common when students are halfway into their PhD. They start to question “will I have enough data to get this PhD?” and “will I be able to get it all done in the remaining time?”. An unsupportive supervisory team also makes it harder and some may experience the PhD slump due to burnout.

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PhD Comics

I share my experiences and advice on my Instagram account where I strive to give an honest and real feel about the PhD journey. Recently numerous people have reached out to me through social media and in person asking for help with their struggles, so what better time to share some tips…

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My 10 top tips:


1. Acceptance

Accepting you are going through a tough phase weirdly helps to relax into it. It will help you to gain some perspective on your situation. Having this self-awareness enables you to help yourself and find ways to work your way out of it.

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2. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness

Friends and family are wonderful, but also seek out support from your university. What support systems do they have in place? Is there a mentoring scheme where you can chat to another academic in confidence? Having an outside perspective who understands the academic system can be really useful. If you can speak to your supervisor about your troubles, then great! Having an open and honest conversation can take a big weight off your shoulders.

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3. Focus on each day at a time

Set daily goals. Tick them off one-by-one. This will help you be productive and in turn become more motivated. It’s all about the positive feedback loop! It may take time, and it might be tough, but stick at it.

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4. Do little things you love to stay positive

Balance out those daily tasks with rewards. It makes the working day that little bit easier. Self-care is especially important during this time, so make sure you treat yourself whether that’s with a glass of bubbles, watching your favourite movie or chilling with friends.

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5. Exercise, sleep and eat well

Mental and physical health is so important. Be mindful of the fundamentals in leading a healthy life. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating the right food helps us to be more positive and productive.

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6. Manage those expectations of yourself

So you’re finding things tough right now? Don’t expect yourself to be able to work like crazy! Don’t even put that pressure on yourself. Understand you, what you feel like each day, what you can realistically get done, and go back to point #3, plan each day to as you feel.

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7. Don’t panic, think logically

Too much work, not enough time? Don’t panic, it’s not constructive! Make a list of your top priorities, your secondary priorities, and the less important ones. Plan when you’ll get the top priorities done and fit the others around them if realistically possible. Remember, a thesis is barely ever a finished story.

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8. Stay accountable

When you’re in a rubbish phase, self-motivation is a lot harder. Let a friend know your work goal that day or week so you are accountable to someone. I recommend setting a weekly meeting with your supervisor(s) so you can discuss your plan and you don’t go off track.

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9. Time out

We all need time off, especially if you are feeling burnt out. Take a break to go on holiday or even a long weekend. Like I said, it’s all about the self-care. It will help you to recuperate, get some energy back and give you that motivation to push out of this PhD slump.

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10. Keep going!

I know this isn’t what people like to hear, but put all of these points into practice and really try to stick at them. Little steps each day make big progress and will really help you to feel much more positive about your PhD and your day-to-day life!

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Exploring Iceland after submitting my upgrade thesis

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Are you in this slump right now? Have you been in it and climbed back out? What tips do you have to go from being negative about your PhD to positive? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Making it Mindful: Dr. Chrissy Jones

Making it Mindful: Dr. Chrissy Jones

Since starting my blog I’ve interacted with so many other inspiring scientists, and I want to share their amazing journeys in STEM with you guys. I’m therefore thrilled to introduce my new feature – Scientist Showcase!

For the very first feature we have the beautiful Chrissy behind the Making it Mindful blog. I absolutely love what she writes about, in fact she was one of my nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award, so naturally I’m super excited to introduce you to her!

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Chrissy is a lecturer in Pharmacy Practice and research associate at The University of Manchester. She studied Psychology for her undergrad and masters degree, and during this time was introduced to the world of pharmacy through training to be a pharmacy dispenser. This all lead to her PhD combining both Psychology and Pharmacy. She’s a massive lover of Britney Spears and speaks fluent Welsh, how cool is that?!

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Tell us a little more about your research

My research explores how and why procedures are bypassed or deviated from in community pharmacy. In my PhD I conducted 13 focus groups to understand what the prevailing safety culture looks like in pharmacies. I then interviewed pharmacy frontline staff to ask them about specific instances of where they had bypassed or deviated from procedures and their reasons for doing so. Finally, I created a questionnaire based on a novel psychological theory to further understand the behavioural drivers for bypassing or deviating from procedures on a larger scale. In 2016 I had a paper published which was a huge milestone for me.

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Day in the life of Chrissy

So why a blog on mindfulness?

I’m a psychologist by background, I was fascinated by how the human mind works. However, the reason I got into mindfulness was because I was suffering from health anxiety a few years ago, following an asthma diagnosis. The constant anxious thoughts of “what if I have an asthma attack?” were completely exhausting. In an effort to become less anxious I looked into meditation and was astounded by it! I had a few seconds of complete silence in my mind. It was such a relief after the constant chatter of anxious thoughts. Since then I’ve tried to bring mindfulness into my daily life as it helps me to stay present rather than worrying about a future event that might never happen. I therefore love writing about practical ways to use mindfulness. I also wrote a few posts about what it felt like to be at certain stages of my PhD. PhDs can be isolating, so to hear people say that they felt the same way too was really comforting.

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How can we be more mindful?

When you find your mind wandering come back to your senses. What can you hear right now? What can you see? This helps to ground us in the present and to experience life as it is happening. Often our daily tasks like having a shower and driving to work can be done on autopilot. Commit to noticing what it feels like to do these tasks. Appreciate the moment and find joy in the mundane everyday tasks. This small change can lead to a big difference, and help to stop the feeling that life is passing you by.

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Maintaining a work-life balance is vital. How do you balance the two?

I love spending time with my family and friends, and I always make sure that I have something to look forward to in my diary. It helps me to schedule my time and motivates me to complete tasks so that I can really enjoy my down time without worrying about work.

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Graduating from her PhD at The University of Manchester

I see you’re passionate about inspiring young girls?

My mum always told me that I could do anything that I put my mind to, and I am passionate about inspiring girls to live the life that they want rather than the life that they think they should have just because they’re a girl. In an effort to instil confidence in young people I have visited schools and presented to young women about believing in their potential. I have also been interviewed for Women in Science where I talk about how I felt during my career so far – the fears, the doubts, and the lows. With social media, things can look incredibly rosy from the outside. It’s important to show that we are all human and we all struggle sometimes.

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A big part of my blog is to dish out PhD SOS tips. What are your dos and don’ts?!

Don’t let feeling like a fraud stop you. I would bet that everyone doing a PhD feels like an imposter at some point (check out Hugh Kearns’ work on imposter syndrome). It’s something many PhD students experience, so talk about it and look for all of the evidence that exists to show that you are worthy of being exactly where you are.

Do a PhD in a topic that you are genuinely passionate about. The years spent studying for my PhD were three of my favourite years of my life so far! I have no doubt that this was because I believed in my project, I could see the potential that the project had for making a positive difference in practice, that was what motivated me during the hard times.

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Thank you so much to Chrissy for being my first feature and taking the time to be interviewed! Please check out her amazing blog at Making it Mindful. She also shares mindful and inspiring quotes and posts on her @makingitmindful Instagram and Twitter accounts, so be sure to give her a follow!

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Every month I’ll be showcasing another scientist so stay tuned to learn about more incredible people!

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