Standing Up for Words

As writers, we are constantly telling ourselves to keep our butts in our chairs and get those words on the page.

Vicki Doudera here. We’re right to realize that focusing on the task at hand – rather than social networking, shopping or making fudge – will help the pages pile up. But new studies show that in our quest to produce the most words we can, we may actually be doing something very wrong.

The problem, medical experts say, is that sitting all day is damaging our health. Our bodies were designed for movement, not keeping ourselves immobile in a cramped position for hours at a time. Sitting strains muscles, lowers metabolism, increases risk of heart disease and can even shorten your life.

For one thing, sitting makes you fat. There’s an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which normally captures fat in the bloodstream and incinerates it, that isn’t released when you’re sitting still. When this enzyme doesn’t circulate in your bloodstream, any fat that isn’t incinerated can be stored in the body as adipose tissue.

Here’s the quote that got me. James Levine, MD, an obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic, says that the biggest difference between thin and fat people is not how much they eat or exercise, but how much they sit.

To add insult to injury, experts say that 60 to 90 minutes of daily exercise may not be enough to counteract the damage done by a whole day of sitting. Say what?!

Sitting also wreaks havoc on your back. Ever notice how a long day of writing makes  your lower back absolutely kill? It’s because siting all day forces the natural “S” curve of your spine into a “C,” and our backs weren’t built to withstand that pressure.

Finally, a 2010 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology followed thousands of people and their daily habits for 14 years. Their findings? The people who sat for 6 hours a day had a 37% increased risk of dying versus those who sat for 3 hours or less. Also, risks of cardiovascular disease were 2.7 times higher in the 6 hour sitters. Yes, sitting literally kills.

So – say you’re like me, with a big deadline for the fifth Darby Farr Mystery looming. You’ve got a month to produce more than 150 pages, which means a lot of time banging out words. You want to write, but you don’t want to spend the whole day sitting. Aside from taking regular breaks to walk the dog, what else can I do?

The photo above shows one solution.  To save my back (which does ache after I sit for a while) I bring my laptop to the kitchen island, prop it up on a few books, and write standing up.  At first it seemed strange, but the longer I do it, the more natural it feels.

I’ve also reclined on a divan to write. While this style of sitting may not be releasing that lipoprotein lipase, it is taking the pressure off my back. Same goes for using a barstool. The theory here is that you “perch” rather than sit on a stool, so that your thighs and legs are taking some of the weight – not just your spine. I also bought an exercise ball to bounce on while I spin my stories.  Now I just have to blow it up!

My dream antidote to sitting is to find an inexpensive treadmill and build a little desk  hanging over it.  I’ve fantasized about this for years, not because I was worried about sitting, but because I wanted to stay warm.  It’s a real challenge for me during our Maine winters to keep from getting chilled, and I thought if I could walk a little while writing, I’d stay nice and toasty.  As with the bouncy ball, I’ll keep you posted.

The bottom line is both OUR bottoms and our backs. This year, find ways to keep moving while you write, so that your sentences won’t sacrifice your health.



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