Have a Break have a… — Exercise and Rest

exhaustedToday we have come to the final post in this sev­en weeks series on study skills and meth­ods, and just as God rest­ed on the sev­enth day in Genesis, so too this post will cov­er rest… and a cou­ple of oth­er things. While in many ways this post at the end may seem some­what super­flu­ous and unnec­es­sary, I think there is some­thing use­ful and cathar­tic about delib­er­ate­ly con­sid­er­ing rest. In my mind there are a few ways to rest, but most of us fall into the method of col­laps­ing at the end of a busy day or a busy week and just attempt­ing to be comatose. Although this is rest­ful in some ways, actu­al­ly delib­er­ate­ly rest­ing can be far more reju­ve­nat­ing when all is said and done.

driedupspongebobWhen talk­ing about rest and relax­ation I com­mon­ly use the anal­o­gy of a sponge. Now a sponge will work for quite a long while absorb­ing water and then being squeezed out while dry­ing things off, or clean­ing up mess­es. However, leave a sponge around for too long with­out giv­ing it a good soak and it will dry out com­plete­ly. Once that hap­pens it will take a lot longer for the sponge to re-absorb liq­uid again and go back to doing its job as a sponge. Ultimately we as humans are a bit like sponges, we can func­tion for a very long time absorb­ing, and being squeezed out. But if we get exhaust­ed and dry out too much, then it takes a much longer peri­od of rest to reju­ve­nate us.

So in this post I want to cov­er two aspects of rest­ing: Exercise and Rest.

Exercise

Hold on, exer­cise doesn’t sound a lot like rest­ing, it sounds like work just rephrased dif­fer­ent­ly. Well yes, that is one way of look­ing at exer­cise, but in many ways it com­ple­ments our mod­ern lifestyle by con­tribut­ing to our rest in dif­fer­ent ways.

Happy-recharge-completeIn our mod­ern lives the major­i­ty of us will fall into a seden­tary lifestyle, where sit­ting for long hours at a desk or table, inter­spersed only with short walks to the cof­fee machine or lunch spot. While this has a whole host of bio­me­chan­i­cal woes attached to it, one of the even­tu­al issues is that we end up with sore achey bod­ies from forc­ing them to engage in pos­tures and a lifestyle that they are not accus­tomed to. This is fur­ther exac­er­bat­ed by beign engaged in an aca­d­e­m­ic field, as a lot of the time our work comes home with us. In this vein it is impor­tant that we engage in reg­u­lar exer­cise, even if it is only head­ing out for a 30minute walk a day. Perhaps it might be use­ful to get a pedome­ter and count your steps, or get involved in a Corporate Cup if your insti­tu­tion has one. But get­ting out for some exer­cise every day is impor­tant, espe­cial­ly for our hyper-seden­tary lifestyles.

But there is a dou­ble ben­e­fit of exer­cise. When we exer­cise our bod­ies pro­duce a whole bunch of hor­mones and chem­i­cals, one of these come under the cat­e­go­ry of endor­phins. Now endor­phins are what gives you that nice hap­py glow after going for a run or play­ing sport. That even when half your body is aching and you are hot and sore you still feel like it was worth­while. However, that is only a small part of what endor­phins do in our bod­ies. There are stud­ies that strong­ly sug­gest that endor­phins, and there­fore exer­cise, is use­ful in man­ag­ing stress, and even think­ing clear­ly. So the next time you are stuck on a prob­lem down in the base­ment of your lab (like where I used to work), then head out for a run. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Resting

lgpp31639i-could-lay-here-for-the-rest-of-my-life-snoopy-posterNow onto rest­ing, and I bet you are think­ing ‘Ahhh… time to col­lapse on the couch.’ Well yes, but only par­tial­ly. One of the traps that I think we have in the mod­ern world, and that is exac­er­bat­ed in acad­e­mia, is our con­stant con­nec­tion to our work. While many peo­ple can go home and even if they may still be think­ing about work, and check­ing their emails, they may not have the abil­i­ty to do their work at home. For us though in an aca­d­e­m­ic field we can always be con­nect­ed to our work, and that is often why we do it. We are prone to wak­ing up in the mid­dle of the night with the answer to a ques­tion, or pon­der­ing the prob­lems in our research for days on end. Lets face it, it is enjoy­able. But it isn’t real­ly rest. I think often we need to delib­er­ate­ly put our work aside from the fore­ground of our mind, and active­ly rest and focus on oth­er things. We need to break that con­tin­u­al con­nec­tion we have. Those resound­ing dings of emails arriv­ing and scur­ry­ing off to check what needs to be done. I want to sug­gest two ways that we can help our­selves delib­er­ate­ly rest.

Regularity not Immediacy.

The first way we can rest bet­ter actu­al­ly starts at work, or in our place of study. Many of us have fall­en into the pat­tern of respond­ing to things imme­di­ate­ly as they come up. When an email arrives we feel almost com­pelled to check it and see what it is. Our email check fre­quen­cy has gone from 1hr to 15mins and now to Push, so that we can know about some­thing as soon as it arrives. But this pat­tern con­tin­ues through­out our lives, and not just at work. When the phone buzzes in our pock­et or bag, we instant­ly check what it was.  One way that we can mit­i­gate this trend is to sim­ply check our emails less.

One push for this is the #2pmProject, where they advo­cate for only check­ing your email once a day at 2pm once you are back from lunch. Deal with it all then and close the email client. Now this like­ly wont work for every­one, and cer­tain­ly does­nt work for me. But per­son­al­ly I have switched to only check­ing my email on the top of the hour. That way I still work through my emails reg­u­lar­ly, but they don’t pop up every instant. The NY Times has a good arti­cle on this trend here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/29/opinion/end-the-tyranny-of-24–7-email.html?_r=0 and I encour­age you to read it. The free­dom from hav­ing to respond to things imme­di­ate­ly ulti­mate­ly helps us rest bet­ter.

Sabbath Rest

The sec­ond way we can rest bet­ter is to sim­ply set time aside to rest. The con­cept of a day of rest is noth­ing new, in fact the Israelites enshrined it in the com­mand­ments way back in Sinai. But real­ly how often do we prac­tice it. Even if we do have a lazy day in the park, how often are we check­ing our emails or social media to see whether there is some­thing bet­ter to do or some­thing that we are miss­ing out on? One way that I think we can rest bet­ter is to engage in a Sabbath rest of sorts. A few years ago some peo­ple got togeth­er, and inspired by their Jewish her­itage and faith, they formed The Sabbath Manifesto (http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/). They have dis­tilled their rest­ing ideals down into 10 prin­ci­ples, and encour­age lib­er­al free­dom with­in those. I think that this is a good response to our hec­tic lifestyles. The active set­ting aside of our busy lives and rest­ing.

But the ques­tion is what does that look like for us? Personally I try to spend Sundays after church with friends and just hang­ing out social­ly. Thinking a bit less about my work, but also try­ing to steer clear of social media alto­geth­er. Taking life for what is is and rest­ing. For oth­ers I know it involves turn­ing the phone off for an entire day, or putting it in a box at home, as a phys­i­cal dis­con­nect. This type of delib­er­ate rest­ing is actu­al­ly more ener­gis­ing than the slump­ing on the couch, and helps you recharge a lot bet­ter. The Art of Manliness blog has a series of sug­ges­tions on it here: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/05/20/tech-sabbath/ Whatever you do I encour­age you to be delib­er­ate about it. Deliberate rest­ing is far more edi­fy­ing and recharg­ing than hap­haz­ard slump­ing on the couch (delib­er­ate slump­ing is good though).

Well that’s the end of this series. It is time for this author to do a bit of rest­ing. Tell me how you rest below.

Chris

About Chris