Diet and Exercise for the Super-Productive Writer

I know. There’s nothing more distasteful than talking about diet and exercise. But seriously, how can we weigh in all the factors to being productive without discussing this? Since we’re spending these months looking out how to be super productive writers, we have to go here.

I’ll try to make this as painless (and guilt-free) as possible.

Stay with me.

Let’s take a look first at one of the hard truths about being a writer, and that’s the fact we sit to do it. Some writers have learned to write while walking on a treadmill. I’m thinking of trying this. But I imagine it doesn’t work for everyone. That said, let’s talk about this briefly. 

Sitting Can Be Bad for Your Health

Writers sit more than they do anything else. We average 9.3 hours a day, compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping. Sitting is so prevalent and so pervasive that we don’t even question how much we’re doing it. And since writers everywhere are doing it, it doesn’t occur to us that it’s not great for our health.

Health studies conclude that people should sit less and get up and move around more. The reason is obvious. Our bodies need to move and exercise. While I’m not going to go into exercise in this look at productivity, let’s just agree that we need it, regularly, to stay healthy and to keep up our energy and concentration. Each writer has to figure out what the best exercise regime is for his or her own body needs and limitations.

Here’s What Happens When We Sit Too Long

After an hour of sitting, the production of fat-burning enzymes declines by as much as 90%. Extended sitting slows the body’s metabolism, and this affects the “good cholesterol” levels in our bodies.

Research shows that the lack of physical activity is contributes to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and colon cancer. The New York Times reported on another study, published last year in the journal Circulation, that looked at nine thousand Australians and found that for each additional hour of television a person sat and watched per day, the risk of dying rose by 11%. In that article, a doctor is quoted as saying that excessive sitting, which he defines as nine hours a day, is a lethal activity. Wow, that’s me, nearly every day.

Stopping every hour for a few minutes to stretch or power-walk twenty feet to the fridge to get something to eat is not going to counteract this problem.

So I’m not going to go on and on here. I think we all know how bad a sedentary life is for our health. If we want to be super productive, we need to take care of these bodies we have. That means eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise, and taking care of our health in general.

We’ll be looking at choices (and habits) next, and the choice to eat right and exercise is one every writer needs to think about. Diet and exercise don’t just affect our productivity; they can mean a difference between good and bad health, life and death.

You Write What You Eat

When we think about the factors that contribute to productivity, we rarely give much consideration to food. For most of us, struggling with overloaded schedules, food is simply fuel.

But the foods we eat affect us greatly. Our cars can function just about the same on different brands of fuel, but food is different.

Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why poor choices in what we eat can directly impact our productivity.

The World Health Organization states: “Adequate nutrition can raise your productivity levels by 20 percent on average.”

Most of us know much of this intuitively, yet we don’t always make smart decisions about our diet. In part, it’s because we’re at our lowest point in both energy and self-control when deciding what to eat. French fries and ice cream are a lot more appetizing when you’re mentally drained.

So what are we to do? One thing we most certainly shouldn’t do is assume that better information will motivate us to change. We’ve been talking about motivation a lot, and we all know that it’s hard to get motivated to adopt new habits (which we’ll be talking about more in upcoming posts).

Most of us are well aware that scarfing down junk food is not a good life decision. But that doesn’t make it any less delicious.

So, as with changing any habits, you first have to decide to change. One thing that will help is to make the conscious decision to alter your eating habits before you get hungry (and don’t do your grocery shopping when you’re hungry either!).

Another good habit is to have a few well-timed snacks throughout the day (discussed in the next post) instead of letting your blood sugar get a big spike and then cause an energy meltdown later in the day.

Choose to make it easier to do healthy snacking. In other words, don’t buy that junk in the first place. Put healthy snacks in the fridge in a form that’s easy to grab (like baby carrots already peeled). Put a container of almonds and some protein bars by your computer.

Contrary to what many of us might assume, the trick to eating right is not learning to resist temptation. It’s making healthy eating the easiest possible option. Think about it.

As we begin our look into diet and exercise, what have you learned about your biology that informs you about what you need to eat or how much exercise you need?

9 Responses to “Diet and Exercise for the Super-Productive Writer”

  1. Keith Towers March 27, 2017 at 3:47 am #

    This article is long over due. The one thing writers exercise more regularly than perhaps they should, is their eyes. I have found this out recently having had eye fatigue and now I’m trying hard to do something about it. When we read print we blink often. This provides suction from the tear ducts across the whole eye, providing moisture and preventing irritants from getting in (dust etc). When we read from a computer we blink less, causing eye fatigue in the form of dry, itchy eyes. The way to prevent this is to take breaks every twenty minutes. Look out of a window and focus your eyes on a distant object. You can also do some simple exercises like muscle stretching, walking around the room or getting some fresh air.

    I have mild retinopathy which is a symptom of diabetes, so taking breaks away from the computer is something I have to train myself to do. As it stands at the moment I would consider 9 hours a day at the computer a short day. I must force myself to swiftly change this habit.

  2. Kathy Holzapfel March 27, 2017 at 5:07 am #

    I’ve learned that walking outside, in a pretty locale – lake, ocean, woods – is rejuvenating for me, physically and mentally. If the weather is bad, I’ll stay inside and use the treadmill, but I don’t get the same sense of joie de vivre as when I’m outdoors.

    When I eat healthy and clean, my thoughts are clearer and more focused, too. I’m curious if vitamins/supplements for peak brain performance will be discussed.

    • cslakin March 27, 2017 at 3:37 pm #

      I will be talking a bit about food and the vitamins and minerals in them that aid in brain function. But I haven’t actually researched vitamins or supplements on their own. I’ve heard various recommendations over the years. For instance, that taking gotu kola helps with concentration. And I’m guessing there are lots of books out there just on this topic.

  3. Florence Osmund March 27, 2017 at 5:27 am #

    Excellent article. I learned the hard way that you can’t sit for hours at a time, day after day, without consequences. Mine materialized as severe back, neck, and shoulder pain. After months of physical therapy and epidural steroid injections. I’m back to writing 40-50 hours a week, but now I wear a tens unit and stop every hour for at-home physical therapy exercises and to change from a sitting to a standing position.

    I hope every writer out there reads and heeds the advice in this article.

  4. Christine March 27, 2017 at 9:31 am #

    I think your article is great — and a lot easier to read than put into practice. However, it comes at a good time for me, since I’ve decided I HAVE to do something to improve my energy level.

    That New York study of Australians produced an interesting statistic. Was that their original wording? Of dying when? And since we don’t have a TV, are my chances of dying zero? (No, I’m still at risk, since I spend hours staring at this screen.) 🙂

    • cslakin March 27, 2017 at 3:35 pm #

      Hi Christine, I didn’t read much on that study but I imagine you could Google it and find out more info. I wish no TV=no death but not happening 🙁

  5. Nicole Evelina March 27, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

    Great timing, as I’ve noticed a 30 lb weight gain since I started taking my writing seriously. I’m really trying to improve what I eat and find time (and more importantly, motivation) to exercise in between my full time day job and writing.

    I’ve also noticed how horrible my posture has gotten. I’m only 37, but over the last few years I’ve developed a hunch in my shoulders and mid-back. I think it’s connected to spending so much time in front of a computer. If anyone has recommendations about exercise that’s good to regain proper posture, I will take it!

  6. Harald Johnson March 28, 2017 at 8:22 am #

    Great intro to an important subject. I eat healthy foods and snacks (walnuts are key for me) and do at least 150 mins of moderate exercise each week (usually more). Swimming is my favorite, with the added bonus of spurring on story ideas while my head is in the water doing what I consider a Moving Meditation.

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