“Work hard, play hard” – a strategy that works at MIT

Written by Anil Kumar MIT SCMb Candidate 2019

Planning my trip to MIT

Talk of MIT and I visualize a place of academic rigor where knowledge is created every moment, a place where top minds come together and work hard to contribute and deliver. On the other hand, talk of Boston, and, as a sports freak, I instantly recognize New England Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, Boston Marathon and so on. When I got the admission offer from MIT and I realized I was going to Boston, I wondered if I was going to a place where both worlds of academics and sports co-exist, and whether I would have time to experience both at the same time.

Journey begins

 Within the first couple of weeks on campus, I could sense what “drinking from the firehose,” a term commonly used by cohorts, means. True to my expectation, I could feel the heat of assignments, deadlines and deliverables. While I was swamped by the class or social activities, I needed to resume my work-out regimen, which has worked as an excellent stress blaster for me during the 19 years of my career.

A trip to MIT Sports Center

Z-center a sneak peek

Boston’s winter doesn’t offer a motivating environment for an outdoor work-out, but I was sure that MIT would have excellent indoor sports and fitness facilities. Walking from Ashdown (my residence at MIT) to the SCM lab, I used to pass the Al and Barrie Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, popularly known as the “Z-center”. On a Friday evening, I casually walked through the Z-center and I was amazed by the sports facilities. Covering over 11,600 m2, the three-storied building includes multi-lane 50-meter lap pool, multi-activity courts, squash courts, ice-rink, and highly advanced work out equipment. And at 9 PM on a Friday evening, it was bubbling with activity!

Can’t wait to start

I inquired at the Reception Desk and realized that it’s free for MIT students. No – not free – I have already paid for the membership as part of the admission fee. And it’s open from 0630AM till 1100 PM, which means that there can’t be any conflict with my schedule. Next Monday, I started my day with a trip to the Z-center, did a 30-minute workout on the treadmill and 30 minutes of swimming. Wow! What a start to the day. The Z-center has excellent showers and locker facilities and even provides towels, and I ended up using the shower more here rather than at my residence.

Strategy that works:

 “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”- Will Durant

My morning work-out helped me set the pace for the day and I could feel the energy lasting me throughout the day. Soon it became a part of my daily routine, a habit that I would like to keep.  Anders Hansen in his book The Real Happy Pill has offered a scientific explanation of how physical exercise produces a more efficient brain.  He says that a regular exercise habit benefits “the amount no less than a mental upgrade.” The book highlights that the impact is far more pronounced when you are aging and being in your forties. I felt this was a prescription for me. While I wouldn’t have known how I perform otherwise, the realization that I can sustain the pressure and stay active till late evening prompts me to endorse that this strategy works.

Bonus – learn new sports and be part of amazing clubs (for free): –  

Then I also learnt that MIT Physical Education & Wellness office offers a variety of courses to students and I can earn credit while learning new skills. A variety of courses are available, spanning from archery to running, but I could select only one per term. I ended up with ice-skating and tennis classes in the last two terms – Wow! :). I also realized there are multiple sports clubs which offer a team-based training environment mixed with fun. I enrolled in a triathlon club and was able get a chance to train with an amazing team and get valuable tips from the team coach.

All good things must come to an end and as I walk towards the end of the semester, I feel blessed to have had an opportunity to experience MIT student life, which is full of action (literally). I’ll sign off with the realization that a simple time-tested strategy — “Work hard, play hard” — really works.

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