Writing is hard mental work, we all know that. But it is hard on your body physically as well.
And that is exactly why writing is so hard on you–because it is not good for you to sit all day. Not even one little bit good. Our human bodies were made to move, and our ancestors moved all day. But we don't. We sit in a chair all day and our bodies don't like that. Studies have shown that even if you run five miles after work, if you sit all day, you're not healthy.
I've experienced this first-hand over the last couple of years, with an ongoing knee problem that I'm finally getting some relief for. Turns out its not about the knee at all, but rather very tight muscles in my hip and sacrum area. Chiropractic and laser treatment, along with icing, daily stretching and yoga, is making a huge difference.
But in the course of my chiropractic treatments, I've realized how stiff and tense my neck and shoulder muscles are. I was so used to them feeling this way, it took my chiropractor asking about them every visit for me to realize–wait a minute, my neck is sore. And my shoulders are stiff. And they feel like this all day, every day. (Having had two children without any anesthetic, I have a high threshold for pain.)
I have plans to live until I'm 100 years old, in good physical and mental health, and I also plan to continue writing all those years–so I've got to pay attention. I've been following my chiropractor's orders and researching ergonomics so that I can live and write for many more years. Here's what I've found helps so far:
Stand up every 15 -30 minutes. This one is tough. You're writing away, the words are flowing–the last thing you want to do is stand up and move away from the desk. But I find I feel much better at the end of the day when I do this. Set a timer, if you must, but once you get it in your head, you'll remember. My rule is, if I think I should stand up, I need to. So I do it. And then I stretch or wander around for a minute.
Drink a lot of water. My chiropractor says 70 ounces a day. Yep, 70 ounces. This helps with muscle inflammation and trust me, it also assures you will stand up often–because you'll have to, to use the bathroom.
Develop an arsenal of stretches for your neck, shoulders, and back. Have a regular practice of this and also do them throughout the day.
Check your posture. Since I've started to pay attention, I've noticed a bad habit: I jut my neck forward and hunch my shoulders up. It's no wonder my neck hurts. Now I work to keep my head aligned with my body and if I do sit forward, I angle my whole body. We all develop strange habits as we work–check to see if you have any.
Look at your computer set-up. According to this physical therapist, your computer monitor should be at eye level. Arggh! Mine is several inches below. Gotta work on that–its probably causing some of my neck strain, too.
Consider a stand-up desk. I know I can't stand at my desk eight hours a day but I'd like to be able to stand for thirty minute or hour-long stretches throughout the day. And so I'm ordering this nifty little laptop cart that also doubles as a stand-up desk. I'll let you know how it works out!
Make sure you have good lighting. Eyestrain can be a source of headaches, as I'm sure you know. Beware of glare on your screen, and make sure you're working in a well-lit room in the evening. Some experts recommend glancing away from you computer every 20 minutes or so–gazing at anything green is especially restful.
Ice is your friend. Get thee some ice packs and keep them in the freezer for the times when you are stiff and sore. Ice reduces inflammation and will make you feel better–especially on a hot day.
Okay, those are some of the things that are helping me, and I admit my efforts are a work in progress. I have to constantly remind myself to stand up, to stretch, to look away from the computer screen and give my eyes a rest.
Do you have any other recommendations for good writing ergonomics? Please share.
Photo by mikebaird.