Staying Physically Active in Graduate School

By Carly Graverson: Activity improves physical, emotional, and mental health during grad school!

swimming pool at night on the Rice University campus.

Let’s not beat around the bush, grad school can be mentally and physically demanding. Between long hours in the library or lab, teaching duties, classes, and departmental happy hours, it is easy to let physical fitness fall by the wayside. This is even more reason to intentionally focus on staying physically active in grad school! This blog will provide some tips and tricks on staying active, even during some of the most stressful times in grad school.


1. Do what you enjoy.


Everybody, and every body, is unique—and that means how you choose to stay active is unique to you too! Pursue physical activity that helps you feel happy and healthy. I grew up playing basketball, so I try to find pick-up games whenever I can. Can’t shoot hoops? Not to worry! Maybe your activity of choice is running or lifting weights, maybe you like practicing yoga, or maybe going for a nature walk is more your speed. Whatever the case may be, find an activity that you enjoy doing and go do it!


With that being said, don’t feel like you have to stick to one activity. Try mixing it up if you are getting bored with your routine. Maybe try lifting weights once a week instead of running or pick up the tennis racquet you’ve always wanted to try! You do not need to be an expert in something to try it, and you do not need to box yourself into one type of exercise. Explore what makes you feel your best and keep your mind open to new opportunities.


2. Stay consistent and accountable.


Okay, so you’ve found some activities you enjoy—that’s great! Now it’s time to commit to investing in your physical health, especially when grad school gets tough or overwhelming. One of the best ways to do this is by holding yourself accountable. Establish a schedule that ensures you are physically active on a consistent basis and remember that this schedule is unique to you! For me, this means going to the campus gym before going into the lab so I can start my day with the rush of endorphins I get from working out. Maybe the best time for you to get active is around lunchtime, or maybe before going to bed. No matter what time of day you exercise, make sure to build that time into your daily schedule and consider it “an appointment with yourself.” Just like you wouldn’t skip a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with your advisor, try not to skip your appointment with your own physical health. Remember to listen to your body’s cues and do what makes you feel good.


At this point, you might be skeptical. It can be really hard to hold yourself accountable to stay active when your to-do list seems never-ending. That’s why I recommend finding an accountability partner. An accountability partner is someone you can check-in with about your goals on a regular basis and you can help them stick to their goals as well, maybe you two can even work towards those goals together. A good accountability partner is someone you can be honest with and someone who wants to see you succeed—consider asking a lab mate, spouse, or friend to be your accountability partner. Let them know your workout schedule and ask if they want to join! This is a great way to not only stay consistent but also make physical activity socially engaging and provides a greater incentive to stick to your goals.


3. Make exercise social.


Finding an accountability partner is a great start to making exercise a social activity, but if you crave even more social interaction in an active environment, this is the tip for you! Grad school is a great place to build a network of people from all walks of life, and the gym is another place for you to meet new people with shared interests. Many campuses have a plethora of clubs or intramurals that focus on different physical activities. In the semester leading up to my qualifying exam, I was playing with the Rice club basketball team. I looked forward to the weekly practices and games since I knew those scheduled activities were consistent and were sure to meet new people. I have met many grad students who have played on an intramural team or joined a workout class. At Rice, you can even join the Rice Outdoor Programs and Education if exploring the great outdoors is your favorite activity. Whatever it is you enjoy doing, find like-minded people who can help you stay active when you may need it most!


Being active does not mean the same thing to every person and any way that you can intentionally move your body is a step toward improving your physical and emotional health. For you, this could look like going to the campus gym every morning or going for a walk after dinner. Regardless of what the activity is, find time to invest in your own health—your body and your work will thank you for it!