The Dangers of Sitting and Healthy Habits for Writers

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Sitting down and writing for hours on end, hyper-focused in a flow state is … actually hazardous to our health.

While the writing habit is a necessity for book authors, studies have shown that sitting for long and 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. Which leads to …
  • 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 – yes, your heart suffers when you sit still.
  • Deep vein thrombosis – sitting for extended periods of time can lead to blood clots, which cause can cause pulmonary embolisms.
  • And even cancer.

And for those writers who do get in their regular gym workouts, the news isn't much better: merely getting in say, a rigorous Zumba class a few times a week 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.

To Temper 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 - by using:

  • A standing desk. Or an adjustable desk like a Varidesk which allows you to seamlessly raise and lower your position.
  • A treadmill desk - this might take some practice, but will keep you moving and active periodically throughout the day.
  • A pedal device for under your desk. An exercise ball – the act of balancing engages the muscles and makes your sitting more "active."

Take frequent activity breaks – Those of us who tend to become hyper-focused know how hard it is (and, let's face it, who likes to interrupt a writing roll?) 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 – 30 minutes – even a couple of minutes of movement helps maintain glucose control and insulin response.

If you have problems ungluing your eyes from the computer, think about using:

  • A timer or a computer program, to remind you to take activity breaks.
  • An activity tracker, such as a Fitbit or a Jawbone or any one of a number of fitness apps available for your smartphone to motivate you to move.

Or make it a policy to do certain tasks while active. For example:

  • Make it a practice to pace rather than sit while you're on telephone calls.
  • If you have a standing desk, resolve to check your email and/or your social media only when standing. 

Walk! It Can Make You Healthier and Maybe Even A Better Writer

Of course, as good as it is to take sitting breaks and do something physical. Experts recommend a regular habit of a 30 – 60-minute daily walk outdoors has great health benefits — and may also pack in some "creative" rewards, as well.

Science has proven that even the mild bodily exertion that comes with walking gets the blood flowing for brain benefits, and has been shown to improve creative thinking. Strolling in a green space even boosts psychological mood. These factors are all especially important to writers and here are two anecdotal examples:

  • 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 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.*

    * "Get Fit With Haruki Murakami: Why Mohsin Hamid Exercises, Then Writes," by Joe Fassler, 3/5/13 "By Heart" The Atlantic.