Put your buns in the chair and get the job done. So goes the finger-wagging advice that keeps writers desk-bound and living on coffee. Deadlines press in. Exercise is a fantasy beast. The toll on our bodies shows in low energy and bulging waistlines.
As a former fitness trainer, I know the challenge of staying healthy in this thing we call the writing life. I know the guilt when we're away from our work, and the fear that Some Other Writer will reap the rewards meant for us. If only I hadn't taken that Pilates class in 2008, the Academy Award would be mine.
What's a low-energy, guilt-ridden writer to do?
Remember that exercise contributes to your best self, mentally, emotionally, and physically. It boosts stamina and creativity.
This isn't just squishy hype. A 2013 Frontiers in Human Neuroscience study found that regular exercisers scored higher on creativity tests than their more sedentary pals; in that same year, Professor Lorenza Colzato of Leiden University demonstrated four hours of biking or walking a week increased both creativity and problem-solving skills.
You're thinking, "Great. That would be terrific if I had a bike and four hours a week to ride it."
Relax, you don't need four hours. At least not in the sixty-minutes side-by-side sense. Exercise doesn't need to be prolonged to be effective, it just needs to be frequent. Got a park by your office? A 10-minute walk will do nicely. Need a midday break at home? Try a 15-minute YouTube yoga video. And don't discount NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. AKA, that boring household stuff that always needs doing. NEAT activities may not seem like much but cleaning, vacuuming, and yard work all count towards daily movement.
You won't get ripped from trotting around the park or pulling a few weeds, but an hour a day of activity, broken up however you'd like, is the baseline for heart-health and waistline management.
And you'll want to keep an eye on what you eat (people hate that part). Fit biz rules says health is 20 percent how much you move and 80 percent what you eat.
Three simple food rules I gave my clients to help them cut through all the but what should I eat ?! noise:
- Choose food as close to its natural state as possible. An apple before an apple-flavored fruit strip. Even the organic, 100% fruit kind.
- Don't drive yourself nuts by trying to avoid processed food entirely. Do try to choose processed foods with no more than 5-7 ingredients.
- Cook at home. You'll avoid eye-popping restaurant portions. A single "super-sized" fast food meal may contain all the calories most people need in a day.
I checked in with my fit-minded writer friends to get their health tips as well. Here are the top five:
- Make movement part of your writing process. One writer friend jogs while dictating notes into his iPhone. Another plans long walks to coincide with her story development.
- Ditch the Junk. You can't graze the Sugar Coated Sugar Bombs if they aren't in the house.
- App it up. Get an app that will periodically remind you to take breaks. Then take them.
- Sleep.Please. Too little sleep not only damages your creativity, it also contributes to belly bulge by keeping fat-driving stress hormone cortisol at elevated levels.
- Get a dog. I'm a cat person but my dog people swear there's nothing like a pup to keep them up and moving. #yayfido
Bonus tip! Go easy on yourself as you transition from sedentary to active. Getting healthy is a process. People want to go from zero to beast mode in a matter of days, and then give up in frustration when they don't make that 4:00am TRX class five days in a row - or even once. Just as you didn't go from learning your ABCs to writing screenplays overnight, you won't go from seated today to a marathon tomorrow. Set manageable goals. Hold yourself accountable to them, then add on. Frequency first, then intensity.