We all know that one of the secrets of a fruitful mind is a healthy body. I know that. When I was a Ph.D. student up in Yorkshire, I used to cherish weekends out in the Dales and the Moors, used to eat quite well, and did regular ‘boot camp’ style exercise classes at the local university sports hall. Since moving to London and starting my first research position, I have let my physical health slip somewhat. The commute to work every day has eaten in to my free time and the part-time nature of my job has shaken up any sense of routine, as I try to balance paid work with my own research. Living in a docklands area, as I did until recently, turned me into somewhat of a caged bird when I got home: I did not feel inspired to run, and did not feel safe to walk after dark. Luckily, I found my work inspiring, which kept my emotions and sense of happiness stable – but I did feel that something was missing.
Recently, I’ve moved out of the docklands into a the suburbs ‘with a twist’: a stone’s throw from a medieval palace, which gives me a happy glow . My move has added an extra fifteen minutes to my daily travel, and has bumped the cost on my Oyster Card up by a couple of pounds a day. However, the move has paid dividends on my sense of well-being. I now live next to acres of ancient woodland, with trees that stand loftily on a hill, peering over London and its noise below. My bedroom looks out over the city, making me feel simultaneously near to, and distant from, from my work. Importantly, I can walk and think. For the past two weeks, I have resolved to myself to spend at least forty-five minutes every evening walking in the woods. I’ve found that it’s given me time to unwind, to forget about any niggling questions that have lingered on from my research that day.
Not only does walking help me to put the working day to bed, but the time spent out of four walls has aided the generation of new ideas and new ways of thinking. I’ve been trying to frame a new research project recently, and have found that it’s difficult to do so when I’m sitting in front of my computer with all of my previous, and half-baked, ideas nesting away in files in front of me. When I walk, in contrast, I feel that I take steps away from these limitations and that my mind is open to new ideas flying in, as if I’m breathing them in.
We’ve been lucky recently, that the weather has been beautiful. However, I am as white as the driven snow, with flecks of freckles, and the tendency to turn pink at the briefest flash of the sun. Walking in the evening has given me the chance to catch the waning sun, with its more sympathetic rays. Even I have started to nurture a colour that is uncharacteristic of the desk-bound postdoc. And, of course, hiking up hills has given me some cardio-vascular exercise, which lifts my mood and shakes me out of any sulky moods. In short, exercise has once again become my friend. Not a friend I have left neglected and feel guilty about, but one I have welcomed back into my life, who walks with me, giving me the occasional push forward.