A serious occupational hazard of writing (or any desk job) is a decline in health through inactivity. The issue is getting more attention in the media, now that so many folks spend their days glued to screens. Common wisdom about writing rightly expounds on the necessity of planting your hindquarters in a chair for however many hours it takes to get the job done. But there’s a cost, too. Too much sitting can have an adverse impact on every system in your body. I started worrying about too much “chair” time when I had my first bone density scan. The density was pretty good, but one of the questions on the pre-scan survey left me wondering: do I spend at least 6 hours/day on my feet? I honestly couldn’t say.
I am in no way a physical fitness expert. If you were in the public school system during the Kennedy Administration or later, you probably remember the President’s Physical Fitness Award? I sure do. In third grade, I was the kid who faked being sick that day so I wouldn’t humiliate my chubby, sedentary self in front of my classmates. By junior high I was rail-thin, but still a wimp. Running two laps around a football field was practically a death sentence and I had a stitch in my side for hours afterward.
There, now we’ve established my credentials. If you’re still reading because you trust I’ll have something worthwhile to share, I appreciate your confidence in me.
Kidding aside, I am mindful of my physical health and have been working out regularly for 17 years. And now that I’m wise to the toll that uninterrupted sitting can take, I try to combat the tendency to go into an hours-on-end trance while writing. I make myself take a break every hour (or two) and do something else. Since I work at home, there are plenty of chores that take five minutes or less. Doing laundry is a complimentary activity to writing, as something laundry-wise needs to be done about once an hour. But we can’t have laundry every day! Fortunately, I have a couple of hobbies, playing the accordion and learning guitar. Both of these activities are done while standing and can make for a longer break of fifteen to thirty minutes. Be careful, though: accordion music (at least, the way I play it) can be very upsetting to cats!
My friend Martin McCaw (aka “The Line Editor From Hell”) has taken the plunge and changed from a regular desk to a standing desk. He’d read that people whose jobs required them to stand all day live longer than those who sit at work, even if the “sitters” work out regularly at the gym. Standing at work can minimize the effects of diabetes and heart disease, too. Martin reports that he can stand at his desk for several hours with no ill effects, and considers it a good supplement to an hour of exercise in the afternoon.
I’m pleased to see that Western Writers of America is offering a panel discussion regarding “The Healthy Writer” at this year’s convention (Lubbock, TX, June 23-27). The panelists include a writer/retired nurse practitioner, a physical therapist/athletic trainer and a yoga therapist. I’m guessing the attendees will come away with lots of good at-the-desk stretches and health-boosting tips. I can’t be at the convention this year, but I hope the panelists will state the obvious and encourage their audience to stand up while socializing at the hotel bar.
Chances are good that you’re reading this while sitting down. If you’ve been in your seat for a while, stand up, make like a wet dog and shake it out! You’ll be glad you did.
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