Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Staying Healthy With a Desk Job: Seven Tips


Being a writer means my backside is frequently glued to a chair. If I’m not sitting at my computer, actively writing, my job doesn’t get done. It’s not work I can delegate. However, we’ve all read studies (or heard about them) stating that sitting is the new smoking: the more you sit, the more likely you are to struggle with health issues, and the shorter your lifespan.

To that end, over the years, I’ve made a conscious effort to incorporate more movement into my day, and I’ve found ways to accomplish it while still meeting my scheduled writing goals. I’ve also cleaned up my desk habits.

Here, seven easy ways to improve your health, despite your desk job:

A restored rail trail, one of my favorite running routes.
Walk Early. I have a dog, and she needs to be walked first thing in the morning. I wake up about twenty minutes earlier than I otherwise would so we get in a mile. Yes, this takes time away from sleeping/hair/makeup/breakfast. However, it’s time that pays off, and not only for the dog. I use those twenty minutes to listen to podcasts about writing or to think through what I want to write for the day. When I sit down at the computer, I’m ready to roll and my workday is more efficient.

Walk Late. Several years ago, I realized that I feel better if I take a walk or go for a run after dinner instead of returning to the computer or turning on the television right away. If I’m walking alone, I walk a mile in a little under fifteen minutes. With the dog and/or family members along, it’s closer to twenty or twenty-five. That post-dinner walk means I sleep more soundly, my digestion is better, and my overall energy levels are better.

Turns out that science backs up my instinct. Check out this article from Health magazine on why taking a walk after dinner—even a short one—offers a number of mental and physical benefits. Bonus tip: If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s a great way to control your blood sugar.

Kill Two Birds With One Stone. Need to listen to a lecture or interview for work? Have a phone call to return? Take your smartphone, pop on your headphones, and find a quiet place to walk as you accomplish your task, rather than sit at home on the sofa. If you regularly watch the evening news, see if you can find it on your local radio, or consider a subscription to a streaming service. You can catch up as you move. Hopping on an exercise bike, elliptical machine, or treadmill works, too.

Reward Yourself. Diet articles often suggest you give yourself a non-food reward for hitting certain milestones or meeting exercise goals. Why not build rewards into your exercise so that the exercise itself is fun?

Last winter, when it was too cold or icy to head outside for a run, I told myself I could only watch Game of Thrones while on the treadmill. When my feet stopped moving, so did the show. It made me look forward to time on the treadmill, rather than dread it. Now, if there’s a show I know I’ll want to binge watch, I save it for treadmill time. If you exercise outdoors, consider doing the same thing with a much-anticipated audiobook or that comedy podcast you love. Only listen while on the move. You may find yourself getting in an extra block or two as the story carries you along.

Clean Up Your Desk Habits. I’m guilty of eating at my desk, despite dieticians’ common advice not to do so. I’ve talked about this with other writers, and we’ve concluded that we do it not because we’re hungry, but as a procrastination tactic. Stuck on a scene? Sweating a tricky section of dialogue? We want to reach for that handful or crackers or chips while we turn over the problem in our heads. My solution has been to set firm limits on what I eat at my desk. Instead of crackers or chips, I allot myself a small bowl of Cheerios to nibble on while working. When it’s gone, that’s it. If I’m still really craving something, I’ll grab some cut carrots or celery. No sweets, no meals, no salty items.

To ensure healthy food is handy, I spend a few minutes on Sunday nights cutting veggies for the week. That way, they’re as easy to grab as chips or popcorn. Making this change has kept me satisfied on the food front while eliminating mindless eating. I’ve also found that I procrastinate less often—and get back to writing faster when I do hit a challenging scene—if I limit my snacks.

Think About Your Time. It’s easy to look at your busy schedule and decide you can’t squeeze in exercise. But how much time do you spend clicking from the document or spreadsheet you’re working on to a shopping site? Reading Dear Abby? Scrolling through Twitter or Instagram or Facebook? If you consciously limit the amount of time you spend on non-work Internet sites, you’ll find you accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. For one week, take honest stock of the time you spend on the Internet not working. If it’s thirty minutes, for the next week, consciously knock yourself back to fifteen. The following week, knock it back to ten. You’ve just bought yourself twenty minutes of walking time, and in doing so, possibly years on your life. Isn’t that better than staring at shoes online? (The answer: YES.)

Exploring Incan ruins in Peru
Incorporate Exercise Into Your Travel. Whether I'm on the road for work or for pleasure, I plan exercise into my day. Time constraints often mean it isn’t formal, but if I’m stuck in an airport, I’ll walk the concourse rather than sit at my gate. In a new town, I’ll scout out a coffee shop a few blocks away from my hotel, rather than take the option in the lobby. I also plan active vacations. Instead of using a cab or the metro around a major city, I walk everywhere possible. On a trip to Peru last year, I hiked the Inca Trail and had a blast. On the days I wasn’t on the Inca Trail, rather than view sights from a tour bus, I explored on foot. I ate like a queen and spent many hours on airplanes, but still came home a couple pounds lighter and with the kind of adrenaline rush that only comes from exercise.

Another benefit of staying healthy—beyond living longer and feeling better—is that it makes my job easier. When I feel good, my writing improves. I have more energy when I sit down in front of the computer, my brain is clearer, and I’m more efficient. When I’m more efficient, I have more time for exercise and to spend with my family and friends.

It’s a cycle of move-create-move-create that I plan to pursue for the rest of my life.

Have you wrestled with staying healthy while working a desk job? What are your challenges? Do you have a great suggestion for working more movement into your day? Have you seen work benefits from living a healthier lifestyle? Drop a note in the comments!

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