Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Are we writing unhealthy endings?

It’s come across this blog before: the inherent perils of the “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard” action that separates authors from wannabe writers. However, in recent months, findings have been reported that connect this action – or lack thereof – to greater perils than not hitting word counts or finishing manuscripts:


I’m so dramatic, I know. But the reports are unsettling and maybe the supernatural storyteller in me will weave some creepy tale with the facts one day. For now though, I’ve taken their reality to heart. A news piece on National Public Radio a few months ago stated the following:
"The other consequence that we're starting to understand now is that when we're sitting for prolonged times such as, you know, in front of the television or long hours in front of the computer screen at a desk, there's an absence of muscle contractions. And there's extensive evidence that indicates that muscle contractions are so essential for many of the body's regulatory processes - for example, the breaking down and using of glucose. So when we're remaining idle for prolonged periods, we're disrupting those body's typical regulatory processes.”
That summation comes from David Dunstan of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia. The focus of Dr. Dunstan’s report was the dangers of too much TV watching. But as you can see from the paragraph above, the body doesn’t really differentiate between being a soap opera-loving or crime show-addicted couch potato and a dedicated, page-churning writer.

Who knew these great stories we’re penning are setting us up for more than critical acclaim and personal triumph? Heart disease and – according to this report – an increased risk of death from all causes lurks behind every hour we refuse to budge from our tasks.

The part that got me is that – again, according to the study – even those who exercise regularly are at risk. UGH. So what are we to do?

Simple. Get up.

The study recommends rising from sitting every 20 minutes. How do we do this? Stand up and type? Use my blog colleague Phyllis Bourne’s egg timer technique and force ourselves to stand, stretch and walk around the desk at regular intervals?

I suppose we could also find ways to make our muses more efficient. I read blogs by writers who profess to whip out thousands of words in a single hour. I’ve yet to master that technique, but it would certainly cut my sitting time by about 75 percent.

Mind you, I also have a day job that involves a lot of sitting, so I feel like I’m in a double bind. What I’ve done there is to get out of my comfy desk chair when the phone rings and take the call standing up. I also check my email standing up, maybe rocking from one foot to the other. I’m trying to be more conscientious about drinking my 6-8 glasses of water every day, but instead of chugging from a long-lasting 32 ounce bottle, I use a glass. This forces me to get up and walk to the kitchen area to refill my glass every time it’s empty.

And, yes, I’m working on utilizing my Bally’s membership. I actually attended a spinning class a couple of weeks ago and have forced myself onto the elliptical machines several times since.

Weight gain seems to accompany every manuscript I’ve finished and that’s a cycle I know I need to break. But now, I also know I need to fit continuous motion or, at minimum, twenty minute work stoppages into my day job and the job of my heart. In a perfect world this would be my solution at both places. (Video here: )

What’s yours?


Charles Gramlich said...

I try to remember to get up and down and I do anyway when I'm thinking about what happens next. But if the writing is rolling I often forget to do this. I need more exercise for sure. Very timely post.

Phyllis Bourne said...

I could use me one of those snazzy Walkstations!

When I'm on deadline I always vow to take yoga and get regular massages, but never follow through.

I used to be able to get away with a half hour workout, but as I get older and sit more it's just not enough.

Oh yeah, and I have a dustcatcher...uh, I mean elliptical.

G said...

I do a lot of walking for my down time. Kind of a necesseary evil with my physical maladies. But it keeps me going and keeps me in the rotund shape that I love. :D

Farrah Rochon said...

That's the scare I needed. I'm definitely going back to my five minute walk between writing sessions. It was mostly to clear my head; I didn't think about the other benefit. I don't see a walk/workstation in my future, but I can take a stroll under the trees ever so often.

Tom said...

I was recently diagnosed with Diabetes, so getting up and moving is not an option for me if I want to avoid giving myself insulin shots everyday. So, I started using my membership at the YMCA (which we had mainly for the daycare for my daughter). i have noticed an increased amount of energy, decreased amounts of fatigue, and a general enthusiasm for life. Including writing.

So, exercise not only staves off disease, I think it can actually stimulate creativity and production.

Liane Spicer said...

Okay, I so needed to hear this. It's Phyllis' timer for me, while I search for a reminder widget.

Jewel Amethyst said...

That's a cool machine. Every writer should get one. Getting up every 20 min could be quite distracting though. Sometimes that's how long it takes to get the first sentence.

Stefanie Worth said...

Charles -- At least you're moving around. But needing more exercise is our common theme, isn't it?

Phyllis -- I've found in the last few years, that my former workouts don't even work for maintenance. :( Since I don't necessarily have more time than I used to, I've tried to ramp up the type of exercise I do. It's been brutal, but I keep telling myself I'll adjust.

G -- Good for you with the walking! You seem to be a few steps ahead of the rest of us.

Farrah -- I found it scary, too. But I'm told that small changes can make a big difference.

Tom -- I work for the American Diabetes Association by day, so double kudos to you for taking charge of your health! And like you, when I do exercise consistently, I too notice an increase in my energy level.

Liane -- I'm getting one of those egg timers, too. Where can I pick one up, Phyllis?

Jewel -- I love that machine! I figure when I can toss a spare $5k at it, I won't have to worry about stopping every 20 minutes, right?

Marissa Monteilh said...

Excellent post - great reminder!!!! I will be get up a couple of times per hour, and joining a gym! Thanks Stefanie =)