I am by no means a fitness guru, although — once upon a time — I did have a 24-inch waist and could sit (effortlessly) in the lotus position with perfect posture.
Once upon a time.
The ravages of time and (admittedly) neglect have taken their toll. It wasn’t an overnight transformation, and there were definitely plenty of warning signs.
My mother always used to say: “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Modern day translation: “As long as we’re still breathing, we can do damage control!” We can’t turn the clock back, but we can certainly turn things around — for the better.
Our bodies speak to us. Sometimes the messages are subtle, like a slightly stiff neck, a tingling sensation in the hands, or a split-second numbness in the feet. Often (too often) we shrug them off, until our bodies send us more urgent signals like swollen legs, severe back pain/spasms, insomnia, and shortness of breath or even arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). These messages and signals, if unheeded, may possibly lead to a deterioration in health, mobility, and lifestyle — or worse.
Listen to your body. Try to be proactive. Get out of the chair, stretch and move around. A sedentary lifestyle is a prescription for poor health.
“We are under exercised as a nation. We look instead of play. We ride instead of walk. Our existence deprives us of the minimum of physical activity essential for healthy living.”
~ John F. Kennedy (b.1917 – d.1963) — 35th President of the United States – In office from January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
As writers (and, indeed, anyone who spends 8+ hours per day sitting in front of a computer), we face several “occupational hazards.” We sit for prolonged periods of time (especially when the creative juices are flowing) and, more often than not, our backs are crouched and tense, our hands are curled over the keyboard (when not clutching the mouse). Sometimes we squint at the screen, because it’s either too bright or we lost track of the time and forgot to turn the light on (which happens to me very, very frequently when I’m caught up in an intense writing spurt). Knees are bent and legs are in the same position for hours on end. I have a nasty habit of placing one foot over the other – and leaving it there. It’s easy to forget to take a break, to have a bite to eat or drink a glass of something refreshing – like water, juice or tea.
“Intellectual tasting of life will not supersede muscular activity.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (b.1803 – d.1882) — American essayist, champion of individualism, lecturer, and poet
Yes, we need to move our muscles, so that we can be mentally alert, energized, and physically able to continue doing what we love to do … write.
Fitness 101 for Writers
Invest in a good chair. The two tools that a writer should not scrimp on is (a) a computer and (b) a chair. Your writing chair should have the right amount of cushion, back support, and adjustability (for height). There are some superbly ergonomic chairs on the market — designed specifically for writers and computer users. More on that further on in this post.
Minimize eye strain. Place the monitor directly in front of you (so you don’t have to turn your head). The top of the monitor should be directly in front of your eyes, at a distance of 18-24 inches. Reduce the screen glare and adjust the brightness/contrast. Periodically look away from the screen and focus your eyes on something else. Consult your ophthalmologist and/or optician, should you encounter any problems with your vision.
Maintain good posture. It’s all a matter of simple geometry. Specifically, right angles (90°): feet and lower legs (at ankles) must be 90°; lower legs and thighs (at knees) must be 90°; buttocks and back (at hips/waist) must be 90°; lower arms and upper arms (at elbows) must be 90°. If your elbows aren’t on a 90° angle, this means that your desk is too high. Simply adjust the chair height. Do not slump your back!!!
Take care of your hands. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is, according to the Mayo Clinic (.com), “a progressively painful hand and arm condition caused by a pinched nerve in your wrist.” Take a break from time to time. Typing continuously will have an adverse effect on your hand and wrist. Do finger and wrist exercises. Move your fingers, do wrist stretches and rub (massage) your palms.
Use a timer. When you’re “on a roll,” it’s easy to get lost in your writing and forget that you need to move and stretch your muscles. Why not set a timer/alarm every hour, to remind you that you need to get up and walk around for a bit, just to get that circulation going once again.
Exercise at your desk. If you’re feeling a little numb or stiff, consider doing some stretching exercises right at your desk. Do neck rolls; loosen your hands with circular motions – clockwise, and then counter-clockwise; shrug your shoulders and release, then repeat (loosens neck and shoulders); do torso twists, and leg extensions.
Take a break! If you can, break up your time with a walk (or run) outside. Maybe you could do an impromptu yoga or pilates session. If you don’t want to lose your writing mojo, you may want to consider carrying a voice recorder with you. Remember to eat and, repeat after me, “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!”
When we use the word “ergonomics,” we are referring to “the applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort.” And, if anything reduces user fatigue or discomfort, it’s an ergonomic chair!
This is the Ergohuman V2 Chair V200HRBLK – High Back with Black Frame and Mesh. This chair also comes in either leather or fabric.
Need I say more?
One final word about exercise. Running is not for everyone. Walking is always a good thing. But, if you want to boost your spirit (as well as your fitness level), grab your nearest and dearest …. and dance! You’ll be rejuvenated and ready to write that next chapter … !
Note: Before commencing any physical exercise or fitness program, please consult your physician.
Images via bodyandsoul.com.au, brainmass.com, ergonomics-info.com, and ergohuman.com.