Lots of jobs pose health hazards, and writing is no exception. Whether you write professionally or as a hobby, spending hours hunched over your keyboard or notebook can have detrimental effects on your health if you don’t take the proper precautions.
From muscle cramps and eye strain to getting bogged down in the mental clutter that writing produces, there are health risks at every turn. For example, the Mayo Clinic reports the following:
Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The good news is that you can ward off the health hazards of writing. Here’s how to keep health problems at bay if you’re a writer:
Good Posture and Ergonomics
Bad posture can cause a variety of health problems from headaches to breathing problems. Ergonomics is really about creating a work space and body alignment that are conductive to a good posture. Basically, your back should be straight, and your knees and elbows should be positioned at ninety-degree angles. Avoid carpal tunnel and other pains that afflict the wrists and arms by ensuring that your wrists are positioned above your keyboard (not resting on the desk). Investing in an ergonomic desk, chair, keyboard, and mouse or trackpad can prevent the aches and pains that result from sitting at a desk for hours on end. Print out an image of good sitting posture and pin it near your writing space as a reminder.
Avoid Too Much Sitting
Don’t sit at a desk for too long. Take a short break once an hour, even if it’s just to get a drink of water or go outside for a few breaths of fresh air. Consider investing in a standing desk. You can find desks that are permanently fixed at standing height; desks that can be raised to standing height or lowered to sitting height; and (a most affordable option) computer stands that you can adjust for standing or sitting.
Alleviate Eye Strain
Eye strain can result from reading, and if you’re a writer, hopefully you’re doing a lot of reading. Eye strain can also result from spending too much time staring at screens, something else you’re probably doing a lot if you’re a writer. Keep in mind that you probably spend time staring at screens even when you’re not writing, such as when you’re using your phone or watching television. There are a few things you can do to avoid eye strain. First, make sure your monitor is arm’s length from your face. Your computer’s settings also offer some options: you can enlarge the font-size settings and decrease the brightness. Invest in eyewear that filters blue light and/or reduces glare. Finally, take regular breaks to give your eyes a rest from the stress of the blue screen and long spans of reading.
Get Some Exercise
This goes without saying: exercise wards off many ailments. Most of us know we need to exercise more. You don’t need to trudge down to the gym for an hour a day. Remember: a little exercise is better than no exercise. Take a five-minute stretch break. Do ten minutes of yoga. Take a twenty-minute walk around your neighborhood. Play with your dog for fifteen minutes a couple of times a day. Even when you’re immersed in your writing or swamped with work, short breaks that include movement are good for your health.
Use Breaks Wisely
You might have noticed by now that breaks from reading and writing are good for your health; they alleviate eye strain, give your body a break from sitting, and provide some time for exercise. Instead of one long break to eat, exercise, and walk the dog, plan several shorter breaks throughout your writing day.
Consume Healthier Food and Beverages
It’s easy to sit at the computer, slurping on coffee all day, and lots of writers like to keep snacks at their desks — especially snacks of the junk food variety. Keep the Doritos and M&Ms in the pantry (or leave them on the shelf at the grocery store) and stock up on healthy drinks and snacks that you can munch on while working without damaging your health. Place a big glass of water on your desk, keep it filled, and drink from it frequently. I use a 32-ounce old-fashioned milk bottle on my desk, and it’s always filled with cool water. I try not to eat at my desk, but I do keep sugar-free hard candies in a jar nearby. Look for snacks that are healthy and not too messy. Some good, healthy desktop snacks include grapes, carrots, and nuts and seeds.
Sleep and Rest Well
A lot of writers carve time for writing out of their sleep time. But getting sufficient sleep is essential to good health. Sleep deprivation brings on a host of health problems, including bad mood, poor eating habits, and weak recovery. The Mayo Clinic recommends at least seven hours of sleep each night. Getting a good night’s sleep has been one of my lifelong struggles, as I’ve been afflicted with insomnia since childhood. The good news is that there’s a wealth of techniques that you can use to get good rest. Sleepytime tea worked for me. Do some research on how to get a good sleep and try different methods until you find the one that works for you.
Cultivate a Healthy Mind and a Happy Heart
Writing can be lonesome, and many writers struggle with self-esteem. A variety of mental illnesses afflict the general population, and writers are not immune to them. Many of the bad habits that writers can acquire can lead to poor mental health, especially bad posture, poor diet, lack of exercise, and not getting enough sleep. Maintaining a positive attitude will keep your mental and emotional health intact. All the other recommendations above will boost your mental health, and you can add other activities like positive thinking, meditation, and keeping a gratitude journal to the list of things that will help you maintain your well-being.
How to Implement These Health Tips for Writers
Of course, staying healthy is easier said than done. Have I incorporated all of these good health habits for writers into my daily life? Not even close. But I’m working on it. Here are some suggestions for creating a healthier writing lifestyle:
- Set a budget for investing in your health over the next year or two. Maybe you need an ergonomic desk or perhaps you want to take a meditation class. Make a list of what you need, put it in order of priority, and then set a budget to invest in your health.
- Set reminders on your phone to prompt you to stand up, rest your eyes, drink some water, and do some stretches. Just five to ten minutes every hour can be beneficial.
- When establishing your workout routine, choose exercises that relieve writing cramps. I work and write at a computer all day (and usually well into the night), and I often wrestle with pain in my right arm and the right side of my neck. I try to do light exercises and stretches every day that keep neck and arm pain at bay.
- Get a nice, big drinking vessel for water, and make a list of healthy snacks that you’re willing to eat at your desk or during breaks. Add these to your grocery list.
- Incorporate one new habit every three months. Set goals, and find ways to motivate yourself to adopt these habits permanently.
- Start a health journal to keep track of your reading and writing time, breaks, diet, and exercise. Tracking your behavior is often an excellent way to build better habits.
Is all of this easy? No, of course not. But you’ll find that some of these habits are easier to acquire than others. For example, I go through periods during which I’m good about stretching or exercising every day, but sometimes I fall out of the habit. The important thing is that I always get back on it!
What health problems have you experienced from lots of reading and writing? Have you been able to alleviate the effects of these problems? How? Which of these health tips for writers do you think would benefit you? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, stay healthy, and keep writing!