Staying fit while doing a PhD


I was thinking today, how do people try to stay fit and healthy while doing a PhD. The combination of long hours, often sat at a desk/bench, often requiring lots of mental concentration leading to possible snacking... And then after the long day you're too shattered to cook a proper meal or go and do any meaningful exercise.

So can you share your tips for staying fit and healthy?

Avatar for EV

Hi 4matt - I have a couple of suggestions that work for me:

Commit yourself to something that requires you to be in a certain place at a certain time - this means that you can't keep putting it off forever with the excuse that you are too tired and "will do it tomorrow". Obviously this needs to be a time where you can guarantee to a certain extent that you won't generally be working. It helps if you pick an activity that you look forward to rather than dread too!! I learned this the hard way.

Join a team- this means that you're letting others down too if you don't show up (this amount of pressure is required by me unfortunately to ensure that I won't back out last minute)

Cook your meals in large batches whenever you have the time and refrigerate/freeze the excess. Soups only require some chopping then you can just bung everything a pot and get on with whatever else you need to do whilst it cooks. You get all the vitamins you can possibly need (sprout) and it makes up for excess chocolate consumption too!! (up)


As mentioned before - team games help as you wil think twice before letting down your team.

However bear in mind that if you can't keep fit now with all the flexibility during a PhD, how will you cope when working full-time outside academia if that is your career plan?



I work full time (with an hour commute each way) and study for an MSc part-time so working in the evenings... I find the excercise part hard, but try to plan a week ahead for food. Each week I plan what to eat the week after, so I can have all the shopping in so there is always something when I get home.
I have recently got a slow cooker, you throw all the ingredients in in the morning and then it cooks all day on a low temp, ready to eat when you get in. It is good for meat stews, curries etc as the meat goes really tender. Also, if I cook, I do big portions then freeze half. This way each week I am only cooking on a few days and the others I am defrosting meals from previous weeks....


Dragonbreath - I wish I did have flexibility! My PhD's lab-based, and I pretty much have to be there when my cells are useable - this generally means 9-9.30 starts every morning, and leaving some time between 6 and 7 in the evening...

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I have a home exercise bike and am getting in the habit of getting up at 6am and doing 30 mins on it. It might not be 1hr in the gym working all different muscles, but it is a bit of cardio, which is better than nothing.


If you are working from 9-6 without a break you need to change your routine, regardless of keeping fit. Do you have a lunch hour when you could swim/gym for 30 mins? Do you commute? 9 to 9-30 is not an early start and if you live close by campus, uni gym facilities may open at 8am.

Whatever you do, don't work those hours at a desk/bench without a break. It is not good for you and you are unlikely to keep focus unless you get away from it for a bit.


I don't think there's anything special about a PhD vs a full time job which makes it difficult to exercise and eat well.

To avoid snacking on unhealthy food, make sure you have a good breakfast, get to know your body and when you are likely to get hungry and snack on something healthy before you get to the point of being starving and eating crap. Don't take unhealthy food into work with you so you can't eat unhealthy things while you're there. Take your own lunch into work with plenty of fruit & veg rather than buying it there as you're more likely to make unhealthy choices.

With exercise its just a case of doing what you can and getting into a habit. How about doing something on Saturdays and Sundays and having one or two earlier mornings to exercise before work?

As others have said, batch cooking and slow cookers are your friend. I tend to defrost meals so I'm not faffing around cooking on nights when I spend time exercising.


I force myself to go to the gym and eat well, regardless of the time it takes. I study all day, then go to the gym for an hour, then come home, cook a proper meal and eat. Days when I do this means I lose about 3 hours study time, but to me there's no choice - I have to go to the gym and eat well to stay healthy. The gym is also a welcome relief from the desk and from thinking about the thesis. Even now, in the last few months of writing up, I follow this routine. Study around lab, gym and cooking times.

Avatar for Batfink27

I do the batch cooking thing - works really well for me. I usually make something chock full of vegetables, like ratatouille or veggie chili, and add lots of beans, lentils etc for protein (loads cheaper than meat). Usually I make enough for about five or six meals at a time, keep two to eat that day and the following day and freeze the others for use over the next two or three weeks. It's great to just be able to bung something in the microwave on days when I come home late and tired.

I've also made myself get into a routine with exercise. Not a great routine, but better than it used to be! I go swimming twice a week, I get the early train in to university (the 7.15 am train means I can be in the pool for 8.30) and do a really good swim before spending a long day in the office. I also do a lot of walking and try to get out for an hour's walk if I'm working from home for the day (not so successful at that, the weather keeps putting me off!) - I find the exericse helps clear my head. And swimming before starting the day is great for giving me time to think through what I need to do.

Having said all that, I still feel I spend too much time sitting at a desk, and snacking on bad food.


Is your office far from your lab? I find it useful to run between my office and lab frequently, when I'm waiting for something in the lab, I go check my email or read an article etc at the office. They're on different floors so I take the stairs.

I also walk to uni. I'm not a health conscience, sports fanatic so walking helps. If you live far, perhaps get off one stop early and walk the rest or park somewhere further.

As for cooking, I'm also too tired and somewhat lazy to cook, and just shove a lot of things in the oven, like breaded chicken. But then I cut up the chicken and mix it with a salad so fast food isn't too bad! :)



I just head to the gym straight after work for an hour to either work out on the cardio machines (cross-trainer, treadmill etc) or do an aerobics class. At first I found it quite tiring to maintain this after 8-10 hours in the office/out testing but now I'm fine with it- it makes me feel so much better than just going home and crashing on the sofa, and I really enjoy it. Then I go home, cook something veggie and then crash out knowing that I've earned it lol! It does take a bit of getting into but once you incorporate exercise into your routine you will feel the benefits. Best, KB


I'm a competitive athlete, so that keeps me fit. I train at least 5 nights a week, but have to admit near the end of writing up/ preparing for viva, etc I did let my training slip and stopped racing as much. Back on it now...

My partner tends to cook most of the time to make sure I eat properly, or I'd just have a slice of toast! :$ That helps a lot!!


I've really got into exercise the last couple of months and after sitting firmly on my backside for years studying I've lost 3 stone and am much fitter than I was and my happier too - it really lifts your mood and makes you want to keep on. I run on my treadmill (I got one off ebay and have it here lol - can't afford a gym) I also do workout dvds in the evening and force myself to do a run 3 times a week and workout a couple of other days a week, its only 30mins - 1 hour out of your day but makes an incredible difference. I'm also married with 3 kids, pets, livestock etc to feed/clean/generally look after and a home to run and I just about manage it lol!


I keep fit by running. I've done it for years so was just a case of continuing throughout the PhD. This year I managed to train for my first marathon - though this did mean on occasion prioritising running over my PhD :$
Depending where you live running or walking into uni (or home from uni) is a good way to get exercise in. I also agree about it getting easier to go to the gym straight from work. You may feel tired but if you've been sitting down all day your more likely to be mentally rather than physically tired. First thing in the morning works for some people. It doesn't for me as I am so not a morning person and find I'm knackered all day but it's worth seeing what works for you.