Monday, October 12, 2015

Occupational Hazard for Authors: Sitting

Over the last decade, there has been growing wave of scientific reports that shows us that what we've always feared to be true is now a proven fact—being an author can kill you!  Or at least can increase your risk of death.

There are probably many such risks associated with the writer's life, such as paper cuts that get infected, the stress of deadlines that adversely affect blood pressure, a set of Oxford English Dictionaries (OEDs) falling on our heads, and glare from our monitors that give us the insomnia that raises our risk of heart attacks. But the issue I want to address today is probably the worst of them all: prolonged sitting.

Most of us sit at a desk when we are doing our secretive and lonely job of writing and revising.  For hours and hours, for days and days, month after month.  And any time we are sitting, we are not doing any significant physical activity.  We know by experience it can cause neck and back pain and loss of muscle mass and bone density. Researchers also find that such sedentary behavior can increase our risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other life-threatening chronic conditions. In fact, just prolonged sitting—regardless of other physical activity level—can increase these health risks.

So what, if anything, can we do to save ourselves?  Besides giving up our passion of writing?

I'm sure that more studies are coming soon that will help us choose the very best strategies for our predicament.  In the mean time, I have some suggestions:

  • Don't sit so much. Duh-uh. But how can we do what we do without sitting?  A lot? I suggest doing some of those tasks while standing up! Stand-up desks, and stand-up extenders for sitting desks, are becoming popular and easy to find. I've not found a good stand-up desk setup for my writing studio yet, but I have found that using an extender on a work table allows me to many of my writing tasks standing up.  The more of tasks I can find that could be done standing up, the less the risks to my health will be.

  • Get up and move around more. Okay, this is just a corollary to "don't sit so much."  But I've made a conscious effort to get up out of my chair more often to get things (like a volume of that deadly OED I mentioned), take a short walk over to the aquarium to watch the fish (or maybe even scrape a bit of algae off the glass), or just step outside for a moment to catch a breath of fresh air (and perhaps refill the bird feeder).

  • Add some activity to the daily routine.  Yeah, it's just a corollary to the other corollary to "don't sit so much."  But really, intentionally adding more physical activity to your day can counteract at least a bit of that deadly sitting effect.  Here are some ways I've found to add such activity without having to <groan> take up jogging—and without taking away much time from my writing.

    • Walk up the stairs and back down every once in a while, just to get some steps in.

    • Get a Fitbit or other type of pedometer, so you can see if you really are adding activity to your day.

    • Build a daily walk or two into your routine.  I've begun taking my dog for a loop around the block after lunch and after dinner most days.

    • Make "moving" choices.  When running errands, I now park in the back corner of the lot, so I have to walk more to get where I'm going. I take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Unless my appointment is on the 19th floor.

  • Practice Tai Chi.  Yes, it's a corollary to the corollary "add some activity."  But this one deserves its own special mention. That's because I just finished reading some studies on the health benefits of Tai Chi and found out that it's phenomenal for reducing the same health risks caused by too much sitting—and provides additional wellness benefits.

    Although I enjoy hiking, biking, and even a few short resistance (weight) workouts each week, I really don't find anything enjoyable about other "exercise for the sake of exercise" activities such as treadmills, stationary bikes, ski contraptions, or rowing machines.  But Tai Chi?  I look forward to my daily half-hour of Tai Chi practice.  I find it way more relaxing, easy, and fun than yoga, exercise videos or classes, or anything else I've tried.

    Tai Chi is something I can do in smaller bits
    when I want to.  I can get up and do a quick 5 minutes of Tai Chi and then sit back down to that dreaded glossary I've been working on.  Not only does it add activity (and get me out of the chair), it also clears my mind and reduces stress so that I can "embrace" the glossary.  Well, maybe not that last thing.

Enough said.  You get the point.  If we want to reduce the serious occupational hazards of being an author (not the silly ones I mentioned before) by sitting too much, there are some steps we can take that don't require huge changes to our days—or to our productivity.

Want to know more?  Check out The health hazards of sitting.

Top photo: Dora Mitsonia
Bottom photo: Diana

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