As a writer, I know all too well how much time is spent with my fingers being the only active part of my body. Too many authors, journalists, and bloggers spend too much time sitting and not enough time doing basic exercises. Not only is this sedentary lifestyle not good for your writing output, it’s a detriment to your flexibility and overall health. Don’t believe me? Check out what James Levine, MD, author of Get Up!, has to say about the sedentary lifestyles:
“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
Yikes! Now I think I have your attention.
It’s important for writers to exercise…and I’m not talking about writing exercises. I’m talking about actually getting off your butt and moving!
Let me be clear…I’m a writer. Not a physician, personal trainer, or physical therapist. I’m simply a guy who puts words together and values having a healthy lifestyle. Please seek your primary care physician for professional medical care that’s specific to your situation. With that out of the way, let’s get started.
The Dangers of Sedentary Occupations
There’s no denying that writing is a sedentary occupation. I’m guilty of occasionally sitting in my office chair for three-hour-plus stretches without getting up to take a break…especially if I’m focused on completing my trusted 3x3 writing process.
A 2010 study from the American Journal of Epidemiology analyzed 184,190 participants and reported that people who spent more than six hours per day sitting with low levels of physical activity have a 71 percent increase in mortality rate. That’s sobering. I imagine that more people are sitting at work with the increase in remote/at-home working opportunities.
You don’t need to have a gym membership to get some exercise during your workday. There are some simple exercises and stretches that you can do at home or in your office [link to one of Vanessa’s articles]. If you work with a team, do some push-ups or planks together to motivate each other and hold each other accountable. You should be able to fit all the exercises listed below within a total of 20-30 minutes.
Basic Exercises and Stretches While Sitting
Just because you’re sitting down it doesn’t mean you can’t get any active exercise or stretching done. Sitting all day will cause your hip flexors, quads, neck muscles, and others to tighten up…and that’s no fun. Here are some exercises and stretches that you can do while you’re writing your next book or article.
My favorite among all of the seated core exercises is simply sitting up straight with your core engaged without using the back of your chair for support. Not only does this help strengthen your abs, it also helps you improve your posture. No more slouching! You can really work on this by sitting on an exercise ball.
Sitting on a swiveling office chair provides opportunities for movement too. Periodically scoot back from your desk and turn your hips from left-to-right (don’t go too fast or too far).
My favorite seated stretch as a writer is the seated figure four stretch. It’s great for opening up your hips and glutes (two areas that get pretty stiff for writers who sit a lot during the day).
- While seated, place your left ankle on top of your right knee (or your right ankle on top of your left knee).
- Gently push down the inner part of your knee on the leg that’s elevated.
- Gently lean forward to increase the stretch and stretch the glute.
- Switch legs and repeat.
Here’s an instructional video for the seated figure four stretch.
Lastly, have you considered a standing desk, an under-desk elliptical, or any other kind of seated exercise equipment? These tools can encourage you to move more during the workday.
Simple Exercises and Stretches to Do at Home or in the Office
As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need to leave your home or office to exercise and stretch. Here are several exercises and stretches that you can do during the day without any weights (so there are no excuses). Be sure to rhythmically breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth during all of these activities.
Basic Exercises with No Weights
Doing pushups is a classic exercise that’s great for the arms and chest. If you do only 10 push-ups during your various writing breaks, you can get in 30 to 50 push-ups during your workday. If standard push-ups are too hard, put your two knees on the floor (might need a mat) and try pushing up less of your body weight.
Squats are the next simple exercise that I’ll cover.
- Stand in front of a mirror if possible with your feet about shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider).
- Keep your chest perpendicular to the ground and do 10-20 squats, putting most of your weight on your heels as you go down (you should be able to wiggle your toes).
- Repeat for 2-3 sets.
Simple Core Exercises
The first core exercise that I recommend is called six inches.
- Get out of your office chair and lie on your back. I suggest that you lie on a workout mat if you’re not in a carpeted room.
- Try your best to press your lower back into the floor. Most of us have a natural curve in our lower back so don’t kill yourself trying to get it perfectly flat.
- Put your arms to your side or across your chest.
- Raise both of your feet six inches. There should be a 40 to 45-degree angle made by your legs. You will eliminate the workout if your legs and feet are too high.
- Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds (don’t overdo it).
- Repeat for 2-3 sets.
You’ll feel your core muscles engaged during this great exercise.
The second simple core exercise is the plank. You can do planks on your hands or on your elbows. I like to hold planks for a minimum of 30 seconds. Push yourself but don’t overdo it. Here’s a video for how to do planks (and a couple more core exercises) properly.
Vanessa has many more core exercises for you to consider.
Since prolonged sitting can shorten the hip flexor, I highly suggest doing the kneeling hip flexor stretch. Here’s how it works.
- Kneel down on one knee next to your desk, bed, or a wall (for balancing).
- Tighten your core.
- Lean forward at the hips while keeping your chest high. Keep your front knee at a 90-degree angle. Prop the foot on the leg with the knee on the ground against a wall or your desk if you want to increase the stretch while leaning forward.
- Switch legs then repeat.
Here’s a good video on this stretch.
Slowly bending down and trying to touch your toes (without bending your knees) is a very simple hamstring stretch.
Check out more of Vanessa’s dynamic flexibility exercises.
Take a Break, Writers!
Writing is about getting into a groove so I understand not wanting to take a break once you’ve hit a nice flow. This is especially true while doing longform blogging… when higher word count goals keep you sitting longer. But your overall health must be considered. Therefore, taking breaks is a must.
Keep it simple. Taking a break for a simple 30-minute walk has excellent benefits. As a big basketball fan, I like to go outside and shoot basketball if I’m working from home. A Journal of Physical Activity and Health study found that walking for just 30 minutes during your lunch break could help you burn an extra 100 calories.
The benefits of breaks don’t stop there. Taking a break to walk or do a non-writing activity can help you come back to your writing task with a fresh approach. Your writing will flourish instead of sounding uninspired and forced.
I hope these basic exercises and stretches inspire you to consider your health and fitness goals. Being the best writer that you can be involves being the healthiest writer that you can be. Read more about Vanessa Barthelmes and her mission so that you can learn how to live a healthier lifestyle.
Author Bio: Chris Craft, founder and publisher of InspireFirst.com, teaches the art and science of good writing. Craft is a follower of Jesus, a husband, father of three, author, and CEO of marketing agency Nao Media.
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