Writing, like many modern careers, is a very sedentary job. You spend hours at a desk researching, writing, and rewriting. Add in reading time as well and most of your day is spent sitting. On the surface that seems fine, but over the years more and more articles and studies have come out revealing how dangerous sitting is for our health. Since sitting can increase your risk for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer, it’s good to start building healthy habits into your work routine early in your career. For this article, we’ve rounded up some of the best health tips for writers. Following these tips will not only help you stay healthy, but they’ll also boost your mood and improve productivity as well.
10 Health Tips for Writers
1. Get Up & Move
On a good writing day, where you’re really slaying your word count goals, you can go hours hunched over the keyboard. But this is terrible for your body! A study of sedentary behavior and mortality in adults determined we should get up and move every 30 minutes. Of course, the big challenge with doing this is actually remembering to take that break. When you’re in the flow you probably need some help to remember to take those breaks. Here are a few recommendations:
The Pomodoro Technique – The time management trick the Pomodoro Technique is perfect for writers because it helps increase productivity with natural breaks built in. How it works is you select a task you need to do (like writing your next chapter or article) and then set a timer for 25 minutes. Until that timer goes off, you focus 100% on your task. Once time is up, you get a short break (5 minutes is recommended). This is your time to get up, stretch your legs, refill your coffee, or scroll through Twitter a bit. Just make sure you get up and move around. After your break, you set the timer again. After four of these Pomodoro sessions, take a longer break (like 20-30 minutes). This is a good time to get a snack, do some stretching, or get outside (more on this later).
Some writers completely structure their day using Pomodoro and find great success.
Break Apps – There are tons of apps out there to remind you to take a break. You can even use the default Reminders app in your phone to schedule a break every 30 minutes. For your computer, I recommend Stretchly, a free open-sourced application for Windows & Mac computers. It’s customizable and reminds you to take micro-breaks and regular breaks, with suggestions to stretch and get up.
Fitness Trackers with Move Reminders – If you’re already looking to add a fitness tracker to your life to help you reach fitness goals, look for a band or smartwatch with move reminders. These trackers not only track your steps and calories burned but your general movement. If you haven’t gotten up in an hour, they will buzz or chime with a reminder to get up and get moving. I love fitness trackers in general because they help me track how much (or little) activity I’m getting in a day so I can help keep my sedentary lifestyle in check.
2. Give Your Eyes a Break
Since you’re probably spending most of your working hours staring at a screen, you need to think about eye health as well. Computer eyestrain is a real health issue that can cause huge problems. Researchers have found that people blink half as often when looking at a screen than they do normally. This can cause dry eyes, blurry vision, and headaches. When you take your “move” breaks, give your eyes a break as well. A good rule to follow is the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at an object at least 20 feet away.
As you walk around the room or head to the kitchen, stroll past a window and look outside or look across the room. Every two hours you should take a longer break (like the Pomodoro technique suggests) where you use zero screens. This is a good time to take a walk outside, exercise, or meditate.
3. Establish Regular Exercise Routine
When I left my office job to freelance from home, suddenly I realized the importance of a regular exercise routine. I quickly slipped into the habit of wearing my PJs all day and barely doing anything physical beyond walking to the kitchen for more tea. Regular exercise is important for everyone, but often it slips by the way-side. Building an exercise habit or regularly scheduled routine is the best way to make sure you’re getting enough fitness into your week. Physically write it in your calendar or schedule it like a meeting.
Get a gym membership and actually go. Or sign up for yoga or pilates classes. If you’re tight on budget or time, use online fitness videos or browse the offerings on Youtube. If you make exercise an important part of your schedule, you’ll be more likely to follow through on your fitness goals, plus your mind and body will benefit.
4. Take Walks (or Runs) Outdoors
Unplugging from your computer for 20-30 minutes a day has huge benefits for your mind and your body. One of the best additions I made to my freelance schedule was a mid-day walk. After lunch each day I walk for 30-40 minutes in the park near my house. This time is so wonderful because it allows me to unplug, destress, and connect with nature. If the weather is horrible, I’ll hop on my elliptical for 30 minutes instead. Besides the physical benefits, walking can lift your mood and give a nice long break from your computer screen, benefiting your eyes and body.
If you’re worried about “wasting time,” use your walk to be productive. It can be thinking time (I’ve solved a lot of writer’s block out on my walks), you can listen to audiobooks or podcasts, you can even dictate your writing use speech to text on your phone.
5. Turn Your Desk Into an Exercise Machine
Many writers and other sedentary office workers are modifying their workstations to help them be more active. Standing desks keep you on your feet while you work. You can be even more active by getting an under-desk elliptical trainer to exercise while you work. And if you really want to invest in an active set-up, consider a treadmill or biking desk to really let you work-out as you type.
If those changes are bit too pricey, consider some easier “hacks” to a traditional desk. Spend an hour each day working standing at the kitchen counter with your computer propped on a box. Get an exercise ball to sit on instead of an office chair. It will keep your core engaged as you work. These balance balls are also great at helping improve posture and prevent slouching.
6. Snack Mindfully & Take Breaks for Real Meals
If you work from home, it’s easy to grab unhealthy snack foods and mindlessly stuff your face while your full attention is on your work. Instead, make sure you schedule in a lunch break where you eat a full balanced meal away from your desk (it can count as one of your long breaks). When you need mid-morning or afternoon pick-me-ups, reach for healthy snacks. I like to keep nuts, baby carrots, oranges, and berries on hand. They’re easy to grab and snack on while I work, but also delicious and completely healthy.
7. Stay Hydrated
We’ve all heard the benefits of drinking more water, but are we actually practicing it? My big issue is I get in the zone working for hours and then it’s dinner time and I’m so thirsty. Keep water on hand. I have a big water bottle I keep on my desk and when I take my long breaks I make sure to walk to the kitchen to fill it up. Whenever I’m thirsty, I have plenty of water to drink.
8. Take Regular Breaks to Stretch Wrists, Hands, and Back
Often when we talk about the pitfalls of desk jobs a lot of focus is given to back pain from poor posture or sitting for long periods of time. Another body part to worry about is our hands, wrists, and arms. Writing requires a lot of typing and those repetitive motions can lead to all sorts of injuries and issues.
To counteract this, there are plenty of stretches and exercises you can do to target these parts of your body. If you’re regularly exercising or doing things like yoga, you may not need to stretch your back as much, but your wrists and hands will definitely need some love. I like to follow short “office yoga” routines that incorporate stretches for all parts of the body. (A 5 minute routine and a 10 minute standing sequence you can try). I try to do these hand and wrist stretches at least once a day. Regular stretching during your breaks will help eliminate pain, reduce fatigue, and let you come back to work relaxed and energized.
If you’ve never tried meditation before, you may be wondering why I recommend it for writers. I actually recommend meditation for everyone. A regular meditation practice brings tons of benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, lower blood pressures, and boosted immunities. It also helps increase creativity and focus–two very necessary things to sit down and write a story or article. When I’m feeling frazzled or having trouble focusing, a quick 10 minutes meditation helps me approach my writing with new clarity.
While you can use meditation any time you’re feeling overwhelmed or need to pause and calm your mind, I think a regular habit scheduled into your day will be the most beneficial. Try using a meditation app or guided meditations to build a regular practice.
10. Keep a Regular Schedule (Including Sleep)
If you’re working from home, freelancing, or fortunate enough to be able to focus full-time on your novel, your time is your own. You can work whenever and wherever you want. And that can be a lot of fun: staying up late, wearing PJs if you want, taking a Tuesday off to play. But the lack of structure can be damaging to your productivity and your health.
While you should embrace your flexibility, make sure you’re keeping a regular schedule for yourself. This regularity will make it easier to keep healthy habits like meditation and exercise, as well as making sure you’ve designated time for writing. It’s also important to try and keep your sleep schedule consistent as well. Set an alarm each day and make sure you get up when it goes off. It’s up to you if you want it to be 6 am or 11 am, but make sure you’re getting the full 8 hours of sleep. This consistency will help you sleep better and make sure you’re well rested to get your writing done.