Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Don't Just Sit There -- Move!

By: Darby Karchut

We’ve all heard of the negative effects of sitting too long. It’s bad for our muscles, organs, and can even increase the risk of various kinds of cancer. As writers, we must be extra vigilant to guard against this insidious stalker of our health. If you want to know more of the medical hows and whys, you might want to read Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It by Dr. James Levine (co-director of the Mayo Clinic). In his book, Dr. Levine lists the areas and systems of the body that are damaged by too much sitting:

Source: Pixabay
Brain Damage (due to less fresh blood and oxygen)
Strained Neck and Shoulders
Back Problems
Muscle Degeneration
Hip Problems
Varicose Veins
Weak Bones
Even more depressing news: A study by the 2015 Inaugural Active Working Summit also found that sitting increases lung cancer by 54%, uterine cancer by 66%, and colon cancer by 30%.

Yikes! What’s a writer to do?

Well, for one thing, get up out of your chair. The current mantra from health experts is to “stand up, sit less, move more.” And by moving, they mean more than just our daily walk/run/gym time. Yes, vigorous sustained exercise once a day is vital to our health. However, a number of findings report that standing more during the day is also beneficial to people who don’t exercise. In other words, any kind of moving around counts. The more, the better, but even a little helps.

Here are some straightforward, but effective, alternatives to sitting:

Stand at your desk. A couple of boards across two stacks of books will do the trick. Or, you can get those cool gizmos that raise and lower your work surface. Some experts recommend putting a foot rest (a small box works fine) under your desk. Standing with one foot on the box eases the strain on your back and hips. Switch feet as often as you like. This is one I use a lot, and it really works.

A treadmill/desk combo is also very popular. Just be careful not to get too engrossed in your writing and fall off.

An inflatable exercise ball is a cheap and easy alternative to chairs. Roll it side to side as you write to work your core muscles.

Of course, a gadget that you wear on your wrist that measures your steps is another way to keep moving. I’ve never tried one, but a lot of my friends find them motivating.

However, standing or walking makes it harder to concentrate. So, a rule of thumb that I found helpful is the 20-8-2 Breakdown. For every 30 minutes, sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8 minutes, move for 2 minutes. You can set your phone’s alarm, your sports watch, or even an egg timer, to remind yourself.

Once you’re up, the moving around part can be as simple as walking around your house or office, climbing up and down a flight of stairs, jogging in place, do a round of jumping jacks, or break out the yoga mat. Even light housework counts. Just move. I read of one executive who makes a point of walking laps around her office whenever she’s on a phone call.

The 20-8-2 Breakdown isn’t supposed to be a hard and fast rule, however. It’s more of a reminder to incorporate opportunities into your workday to rise up. The more you move, the more your body craves it, which in turn, encourages you to be more active. It’s a wonderful, virtuous cycle.

So, give it a try for a week. See what works for you. Even small steps can add up to big results. Like writing a book, no? The hardest part is getting started.

I’d love to hear your suggestions on what you do to keep healthy while writing. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

About the Author: Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter.  A native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy writing for children, teens, and adults. She is represented by Amanda Rutter at Red Sofa Literary.


  1. The exercise ball is great for muscle toning while sitting in front of the computer...but I didn't keep Katie Cat's claws trimmed and she ended the life of the ball in a hurry.

    1. Ah, exercise balls and cats :) Doesn't this article make you want to get up and pay attention to your Fitbit?! Thanks, Darby.

    2. Too funny, Patricia! And, yeah, I've been thinking about getting a Fitbit, Debi.

  2. Great suggestions! I need to implement using a timer immediately. It is easy to get engrossed in my work, and then I forget to move. When I sit too long, I end up walking like a ninety-year-old.


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