Pandemic and PhD #2: Maintaining Physical Wellbeing

The COVID pandemic has been very challenging for everyone in many ways. As doctoral students whose work keeps us relatively isolated in libraries and labs anyway, we have faced extra isolation and problems of access to research materials because of COVID restrictions. But, as the UK moves out of lockdown restrictions, in a series of blog posts, Giles Penman reflects on his time as a PhD student during the pandemic. In this part, he describes how he preserved his physical wellbeing during the first lockdown.

During lockdown, my physical health remained a concern, since the lockdown restrictions, and my work and study commitments, kept me inside a lot. I decided to exercise as often as I could. Fortunately, there was a gym in my building which was open for use one at a time. I remember I spent many hours each week running on the treadmill. These strenuous workouts allowed to channel my frustration about being in lockdown into a productive activity that would improve my fitness and stave off lockdown weight gain. As I ran, I felt my exasperation at the interminable lockdown leave my mind to be replaced by an inner sense of peace and calm. I knew I was becoming fitter and healthier, which pleased me.   

Also, I took regular long walks around Birmingham within the limits of the restrictions, which helped me both physically and mentally. With each step of my brisk walk, I relished every breath of fresh air in my lungs, the exertion of my leg muscles and the feeling of the pavement beneath the rubber soles of my shoes. Outside I found great beauty in the public gardens and parks of the city, in particular Edgbaston Reservoir. The bright flowers and their many varying colours cheered me up after difficult weeks of work and study. And watching the wind gently rustling the leaves of the trees and producing small wavelets in the Reservoir’s water was soothing. And as I walked along, I felt compelled to take photographs to capture the beauty of my stunning surroundings. I hoped that when I looked back at the photographs in my apartment, I might feel the same sense of calm.

Additionally, I took up cooking in earnest during lockdown to improve my mental and physical health. As a long-time student, I did know how to cook, but had not always fully appreciated its benefits. Since takeaways are expensive and often unhealthy, in lockdown I decided to cook for myself each day. I found that I really enjoyed it. I knew exactly what I was putting in my body and knew it was healthy, and I felt a deep sense of calm when preparing and cooking a meal. Focussing on cooking – chopping vegetables and meat, cooking the ingredients, and adding herbs and spices for flavour – all took me away from the stresses and strains of the working day. My favourite meal to cook was Spaghetti Bolognese. While I prepared the dish each time, I thought about the different combinations of herbs, spices, meat and vegetables, and not about my work or study in that time. I only concentrated on the gentle and repetitive activities of cooking, and on the many different flavours which ingredient combinations would add to the dish. I also measured out each ingredient to ensure that I added just the right amount for a healthy meal. At the end of cooking, I felt refreshed and had a tasty and healthy meal to enjoy. And so, cooking became another enjoyable leisure activity that kept me engaged and happy during the lockdowns.

I found cooking and walking such enjoyable and excellent way to stay physically healthy in lockdown, that I still cook from scratch as often as I can and take regular walks. I certainly commend readers to try new recipes and go for walks when they can to boost physical wellbeing.   

What have your experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic been? What did you do to maintain your physical wellbeing during the lockdowns? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.

Giles Penman is a PhD researcher supervised by the Classics and History Departments at the University of Warwick. His research concerns the roles and audiences of ancient imagery on British civic cultural artefacts of the Great War. He has a background in Classics, Archaeology and Numismatics.

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