I'm currently working as an accountant, I work out regularly, 6 times a week, and my gym sessions are around 1h, but I could reduce them to 30-40min if I'm focused. I'm about to start a PhD and I'm asked to dedicate 2.5 days per week to research, around 8 and a half hours per day. I'm currently looking forward to working as a teaching assistant, which I assume is around 20-30h per week, 4-6h per weekday. I have no problem in reducing my workout sessions to 3 days per week.

How do you find work-research-exercise balance?

  • 1
    Don't be so focused to the exercise part (although it may help, endorphines are powerful :D ) . Exercising is an important part of your life, and it is as important as other activiteis people are doing. Try to look at the topic "work-life balance" for full researchers (i.e. PhDs without TA duties, PostDocs). The median picture is grime, sorry for bringing it to your attention.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 11:44
  • 3
    I mean, that's only 6 hours of time a week. Many people have hobbies that eat a lot more time than that.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 11:58
  • 2
    That’s a lot of hours teaching. Are your fellow students also spending 20-30 hours? In my experience more than 15 hr/wk is pretty unusual. Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 12:56
  • @xLeitix 6 hrs per week, or, if counting that you should sleep 10 hours per day and work 8 hours per day, let's count also 1h per day to eat, it is only 1/4 ~ 1/5 of your available time during the Mo-Fr time frame ...
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 13:49
  • @EarlGrey Still, my point stands that many people, myself included, have hobbies that they spend more than 6 hours a week on. Of course if you work 8 hours, sleep 9 hours, eat for one hour, and look after the kids for 6 hours you won't have enough time, but not because you are a PhD student.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 15:52

7 Answers 7


I pumped iron about 3 times per week, at least hour per session, and still had time to do research and socializing, with schedule just a bit less tense than yours.

I could do more, but I am too lazy. I think that workout time is the smallest issue here. After all, you can ponder your research while exercising. But the biggest limitation could be commute to and from the gym. It's boring, tedious and inconvenient to think/work.

Just make sure your gym is no more than 30 minutes away from your home, and you can enjoy them gainz the way you like.

Important note: I can't FULLY comprehend your workload, so before you take my advice, just get one month gym membership and see if it's feasible.


Actually, an hour or so break during the day, especially for somewhat aerobic exercise, can increase productivity. This was my experience, though not at a gym; bicycling (25 miles or so), racketball, ...

It is easy to get stuck on problems and research. The brain benefits from periods of rest. It doesn't stop working, but lets things come in to focus subconsciously. It is to easy to over-focus when working on some sorts of problems. Many people have had the experience that the solution to a tricky problem suddenly appears after a period of rest or a change of focus.

Exercise breaks also help you avoid burn-out, which can be an issue for some in doctoral study.


Most universities have their own gymnasium onsite, which makes it pretty easy to steal an hour for a work-out during a day where you are on campus doing research. Many students and academics who are interested in this will do a work-out in the morning or evening while they are on campus, or sneak a break for it during the day. Moreover, a great deal of research is done by mulling over problems outside of the office, while walking or exercising, or even while sleeping. (Many a PhD student can attest to the research breakthrough they dreamed while asleep.) It is possible to exercise while mulling through research problems and this type of break can actually contribute positively towards your health and thinking --- don't see these things as mutually exclusive; instead look at workout time as a time to get some physical exercise while you mull over problems at your own leisure.


Leave the gym, get a bike and integrate the workout in your commute. You can easily get 60-90 minutes workout every day you go to the office if you want. Rent places accordingly such that you have a good set of routes between home and work. Prepare some answers for weird questions of colleagues. Find out where you can use a shower at work (universities usually have some, or those at the university gym).


Your estimates seems to me a bit too rigid.

Calculating the time you work in such a "corporate" way is probably a healthy thing to do to correctly assess and preserve your work-life equilibrium.

However, if you do that estimate about PhDs work, interviewing recent graduates, you would probably discover that to finish the median PhD, it takes 5 years of dedicating 5 days per week to research on top of 3.5 days per week to TA role. You are lucky that academic are able to create negative time, where they actually relax -1.5 days per week, which means they not only not relax, but they actually get more and more tired every week that passes.


While in my own PhD, I did make a point of reserving an hour a day, 7 days a week, for various exercise bits... which I did in my small apartment, to avoid the complications+time of going to a university gym. And I did bike everywhere. Also, at least 5/7 days per week, practiced piano for an hour.

Not necessarily morally virtuous, but mainly substituted for other, relatively non-constructive, activities. Yes, some things sacrificed were social... but/and socializing does all-too-easily soak up huge amounts of time. Possibly fun time, yes, but, ... Yes, there are quite a few hours in the day, but not an unlimited number.


There are many practical solutions suggested in other answers. Two thoughts about what worked for me:

  1. At least where I was a student, the University had a gym and there were personal training sessions that were relatively inexpensive. Setting up a time with a personal trainer can force you to keep to a regular schedule, since you are investing some money and also since you have an appointment. (It also gives you a legitimate reason to say "I'm sorry I cannot meet at X time because of a regular appointment" -- just try not to schedule sessions during hours you'd normally be expected to be available).

  2. If you ever find yourself wanting to give up the gym to have more time for research, please consider that you can't do research if you don't have your health. Maybe occasionally you'll need to move a time around to accommodate work, but don't compromise on making time for yourself to do important things that are not research.

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