How valuable is fitness to our daily lives as academic researchers & professionals?
Elmarie Venter shares a detailed account of her fitness journey, and the positive impact it’s had on her academic career.
Since I was a teenager, I always enjoyed reading up about the world and doing research; and for a long time it didn’t matter about what field I was going into as long as I could do research.
In high school, I stumbled upon Philosophy and realised it opened the door for research in a variety of fields. I enrolled for a Philosophy degree and majored in Philosophy and Psychology.
During my fourth year, I did a module in Cognitive Science and was gripped. Thereafter, I completed my Masters in Cognitive Science and have recently accepted a post at Ruhr Universitat in Bochum to complete my PhD in Cognitive Science.
My initial interest in Cognitive Science was on mental representation and, more specifically, finding a place for the notion of representation in a framework such as Predictive Processing. But my interests have since shifted, so my PhD will be on the role of situated cognition in social understanding.
Outside of academia, my interests lie with fitness.
I have been a licensed Zumba and STRONG by Zumba instructor for the past few years.
This interest has recently been amplified after I underwent a major transformation.
I have always loved dancing and playing soccer and, for me, that was enough exercise.
Towards the end of 2016, I decided to join a transformation challenge for 12 weeks. My results were outstanding and a whole new world opened up to me. I never imagined myself to be the kind of person that gets up at 4:30 in the morning to go to gym before a day’s work.
Now, I can’t imagine a day not going to gym before work. I lost 17kg since August 2016. Before that, I lost 10kg over about 18 months.
I enjoyed my fitness journey and have recently started a new fitness program to facilitate others in their weight loss journey.
Fitness benefits to me as an academic researcher
Here are a few points on aspects of my life that changed when I embarked on this journey:
My mind cleared up
Having cut out sugar from my diet completely, my mind has cleared up. I don’t forget things and I learn faster; I remember page numbers of articles I read! I don’t think about having a sweet thing or even having a meal when I am trying to focus on research because my appetite is under control.
I am more observant & have an eye for detail
My new lifestyle has brought about an entirely different sense experience. I am more observant, notice details (which is a great skill when you’re critiquing someone’s argument), and am more mindful of my own reasoning and arguments.
I sleep better
Getting up at 4:30 in the morning means that by 8am in the morning, I have accomplished more than most people. I complete my gym routine by 7:30, do mundane admin tasks by 10am and have the rest of the day to focus on research. Of course, this means, I can’t work until midnight but it’s much easier to work when your mind is fresh in the morning.
I read with much more attention and focus
After a workout, I am refreshed and awake which means I read with much more attention and focus. Exercise allows your body to absorb more oxygen which your brain needs to function. Getting the blood pumping means blood and oxygen gets to the brain faster allowing you to work more efficiently
There is something else to enjoy outside the monotony of research
If I am having a bad day in terms of research and work, I know there is something else that I can enjoy after being behind the desk all day. I often instruct Zumba classes after work and sometimes it’s the only highlight of my day. On the other hand, if instructing classes get boring or tiring, I am reminded of how much I love research. It’s a win-win situation.
It is a great feeling to break the stereotype
People are often shocked to find out I am busy with my PhD after a fitness class, and it took my colleagues a while to adjust to me eating cucumber salad and walking around with DOMS. It’s a terrible perception that people have – you can either be smart or fit, not both. It is a great feeling to break the stereotype.
Just as I can train my body, I can train my mind
You realise that any skill can be nurtured and improved. We are capable of incredible things and anything can be achieved with training. This journey has taught me that as much as I can train my body to do exceptional things, so can I train my mind.