The Dangers of Sitting and Healthy Habits for Writers

Woman using laptop at table
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Attention all writers: Sitting down and writing for hours on end, hyper-focused in a flow state, is actually hazardous to your physical health. While it's a necessity for book authors, among other writers (and editors), studies have shown that sitting for long, unbroken periods of time is linked to significantly higher health risks like:

  • A significantly slower metabolism—which reduces the body's fat burning ability, makes you more prone to gaining weight and makes weight harder to lose
  • Obesity—which in itself is linked to a host of medical issues
  • Increased insulin resistance—that is, a higher risk of Type II diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Deep vein thrombosis—sitting for extended periods of time can lead to blood clots, which cause can cause pulmonary embolisms
  • Cancer (potentially)

For those writers who do get in their regular gym workouts, merely taking a rigorous Zumba class a few times a week, for example, is not the solution to long hours of having your butt in the chair. That is, even regular gym workouts don't counteract the effects of a habitually, sedentary profession.

Tempering the Health Risks of Prolonged Sitting

Activity is the key to counteracting the risks of a sitting profession like writing. There are a variety of practices and technical tools that can help writers become less sedentary.

Make Your Writing Time More Physically Active

Use any of the following devices to get more activity into your writing sessions:

  • A standing desk, or an adjustable desk that allows you to raise and lower your desk position from sitting to standing
  • A treadmill desk, which might take some practice, but will keep you moving and active throughout the day
  • A pedal device, used under your desk
  • An exercise ball to sit on, because the act of balancing engages the muscles and makes your sitting more "active"

Take Frequent Activity Breaks

Writers and others who tend to become hyper-focused know the difficulty of stopping for breaks. But breaks are necessary for long-term health. Bestselling author Dan Brown ("The DaVinci Code," "Angels and Demons") is reported to take hourly breaks from his writing to do calisthenics.

Sources recommend breaks from sitting every 20 to 30 minutes. Even a couple of minutes of movement helps maintain glucose control and insulin response. You can work regular movement into your writing sessions in the following ways:

  • Use a timer or a computer program to remind you to take activity breaks.
  • Wear an activity tracker such as a Fitbit and use a fitness app on your smartphone to motivate you to move.
  • Pace the room rather than sit while you're on telephone calls.
  • If you have a standing desk, allow yourself to check your email and/or your social media only when standing.

Walk for Improved Health and Better Writing

As good as it is to take sitting breaks and do something physical, experts recommend a regular habit of a 30 to 60-minute daily walk outdoors because it has great health benefits and may offer some creative rewards as well.

Science has proven that even the mild bodily exertion from walking gets the blood flowing for brain benefits, and has been shown to improve creative thinking. Strolling in a green space even boosts your psychological mood. These factors are especially important to writing performance.

Here are two anecdotal examples of writers who benefited from daily walks:

  • Virginia Woolf famously took long, daily walks. She used her "daily tramping" near her own neighborhood, the village of Rodmell in Sussex, England, to “have space to spread my mind out in.” Of her urban strolls, she said, “…to walk alone in London is the greatest rest.”
  • Inspired by a Paris Review interview with Haruki Murakami, an avid runner, novelist Mohsin Hamid ("How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia," "The Reluctant Fundamentalist") began taking a first-thing-in-the-morning walk. Eventually, he was walking five miles every morning, a practice he credits with making him more productive at his writing. Read "Get Fit With Haruki Murakami: Why Mohsin Hamid Exercises, Then Writes," by Joe Fassler.