Writing is a sedentary pursuit. No matter which way you look at it, the only way to get the job done is to apply the bum glue, sit at your desk, and, well…write. I’m sure we can all relate to how easily that one hour of writing time can rapidly evolve into two, three, or even eight-hour stretches. Before you know it, a large portion of your day—while productive—has been largely desk-locked, except for short breaks to top up your writing fuel coffee.
While I’m a subscriber to the benefits of exercise and movement, I’m no expert on physical fitness…but I know someone who is. I’m thrilled to have Danielle Grant, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Wellness Coach, and owner of Reach Your Peak Personal Training in Mornington join me on the Writing and Moonlighting couch to weigh in on how writers can optimise their health and fitness, without compromising on their precious writing time.
Welcome, Danielle! Thanks so much for your time. To start off, can you clarify how frequently writers, or those with comparable desk jobs, should be up and moving to offset the impact of their oft-stationary lifestyles?
Of course, and thanks for having me. I would encourage everyone to get up and walk around for at least five minutes of every hour. Additionally, in the middle of your day go for a ten-minute walk outside. An easy way to do this is to map out a 1km circuit from your front door and complete it every day.
Another easy way to get in some incidental exercise is whenever your phone rings or you need to make a call, use the time to stand up and walk laps of your house, backyard, or driveway.
Walking is also a great activity if you need thinking time about a character or an aspect of your writing. Maybe a walk and some fresh air could even help cure writers block!
Danielle, you’ve nailed the ‘writing and thinking’ time! Walking is my ‘go to’ un-blocker when it comes to tricky plot points or character motivations. Thanks for these practical tips. Can you also suggest some simple strength exercises that can be incorporated into a writer’s daily lifestyle ?
Absolutely! The following strength exercises can easily be performed at your desk:
Squats to your desk chair can be performed by either sitting down fully and standing up, or by tapping your bottom to the chair before standing up again.
Incline push ups. Place your hands on your desk, shoulder width apart, then step your body back into plank position. Bend your arms to lower your chest towards your desk, then push yourself back up until your arms are straight. Repeat.
Dips. Sit on your chair with your hands at the edges of your thighs, lift your bottom off the chair and lower it down, bending your elbows to ninety degrees, then push back up.
Lunge walk to your toilet breaks or down your hallway.
Back extensions. Lay on your stomach, face down, with your arms extended in front of you. Lift your arms and chest off the ground, then lower back to the floor. This exercise will help counteract the forward flexion you do whilst sitting.
Ideally, you would add some cardiovascular training to this: walking, jogging, cycling, swimming etc, and strength (weight) training is crucial for everyone, especially those aged over forty. If you don’t build or maintain muscle mass, you lose it.
Great tips, Danielle! Besides the convenience of writers being able to perform these exercises in their home, what are the additional benefits of these exercises from a physical health and fitness standpoint?
The benefits of exercise are extensive and impressive. There are the obvious ones: building muscles, strengthening bones, improving cardiovascular health, reducing stress, assisting with weight loss, increasing energy, and improving sleep.
And then there are some of the more surprising and lesser-known benefits. Exercise reduces inflammation in the body, reduces your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, and stroke. Aerobic exercise spurs the growth of new neurons in the brain (neurogenesis), particularly in the areas of learning and memory, and reducing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Exercise is also proven to be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety. During exercise we produce endorphins which promote positive feelings.
That’s so interesting about neurogenesis—I’ve a story idea brewing already! But back to the subject… Danielle, you’ve just mentioned anxiety and depression—I imagine the downstream effects of exercise rolls into other emotional health and wellbeing benefits as well?
I may be a little biased, but I honestly believe people who exercise regularly are generally happier, more positive, and optimistic people. There are so many processes going on physiologically, cellularly, and hormonally when you exercise that benefit everything, right down to your gene expression, and your genes are passed onto generations beyond. When you think about it, it’s perplexing that majority of the population don’t exercise as regularly as they should.
It is surprising, when you put it like that. Especially as the benefits have been expounded for years. I must admit, I’m not as active as I’d like to be, but I do enjoy my daily walks—and more recently tapping into your ‘Winter Warrior’ program—and my health and wellbeing is high priority. Perhaps the catalyst for continuity lies in seeking out a form of exercise you truly enjoy, then taking it to the next level? I also love Pilates, especially for the all over body streeeeeeetch it provides.
Speaking of stretches… Danielle, you’ll often hear writers complaining of a sore neck, shoulders, or back from long stints in the chair. While it’s always recommended to have your workstation ergonomically designed, can you suggest some DIY stretching techniques to help relieve tense muscles?
The biggest issues I witness in people that sit for long periods of time at a computer are postural: Short and tightened chest muscles, rounded shoulders, thoracic spine, and weak back, core, and glute muscles. Try these great stretches to alleviate tension and improve posture.
Doorway Chest Stretch. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees and place your forearms on a door frame, push your chest forward through the open doorway.
Thoracic Stretch. Place a rolled-up towel on the ground. Lay on your back with the towel placed under your shoulder blades. Bend your knees. Bring your arms over head and either lay them on the ground above your head, or place them on your forehead.
Hip Flexor Stretch. Your hip flexors run down the front of your hips. When you are sitting, they’re in a shortened state, so they need to be lengthened. Kneel down, step one leg forward so your front foot is flat on the ground, tuck your bottom under, then push your hips forward.
Neck Stretches. Sit up tall. Take your left ear to your left shoulder and then extend your right arm down towards the floor. Hold. Then turn your nose towards your left shoulder. Hold. Repeat on the other side.
I would also recommend strengthening your core muscles to help support your lower back. Pilates would be great for this.
Thanks, Dan, I’ve tried all your recommended stretches, and they’re brilliant. So, let’s talk routines. In writing life, we often talk about our writing routines, and a writer’s approach to their routine can be as individual and varied as their writing style. Danielle, you’re an expert on routines. When it comes to health and wellness, what are your top tips for carving out a daily routine that will deliver long term dividends?
When I start working with a client, the first thing I get them to do is come up with a vision for their health. I ask them to paint me a picture in words. It’s a BIG picture of their desired physical health in the long term. We then dig deep into why this is important to them. If people don’t have a clear understanding of why their vision is important to them, it won’t happen.
The next step is to set goals. Start with long term goals and then break these down into short weekly goals. To ensure success, it’s important the goals are achievable, so start small. Your weekly goals will become your new routine. The new routine then becomes your new normal. It is just what you do! It’s about making small changes and being consistent.
I’m a big believer in putting pen to paper. Write down your goals, and share them with the closest people around you. I ask my clients to tell me what exercise they are doing, down to the day/time/location/person they’re doing it with, for the entire week. It then needs to be booked into their diary and not cancelled. Treat it like a specialist’s appointment you’ve been waiting six weeks for. The difference between people that exercise and those that don’t is mostly where it sits on their priority list. And the same can then be applied with food.
These tips are really motivating, Danielle—no wonder you’re such an inspirational leader in your field. Now, we’ve talked a lot about physical fitness, but let’s not forget our inner health! What’s your favourite “go to” breakfast for all-day writing fuel?
If you like a sweet breakfast, my choice would be oats. Either warm as porridge or cold as bircher muesli, or a homemade muesli. Make sure to add nuts and seeds for good
healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and nutrients. And use whole traditional oats—none of the pre-packaged quick oats!
For a savoury breakfast, you can’t go past a beautiful omelette (with full eggs, none of that egg white omelette rubbish!) using lots of veggies: spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, avocado.
Both breakfasts will give you a high level of satiety so you can write all the way through to lunch. They will also break down and release energy into your bloodstream slowly, so you don’t experience blood sugar level lows.
Thank you so much for your time and tips today, Danielle! You’ve provided so much valuable information and advice to help writers add a focus on fitness to their day-to-day routines. One more question before you dash off to your next personal training session:
I know you’re an avid reader yourself, so what’s been your favourite read of 2020 so far?
I’ve just come off a great run of books! Where the Crawdads Sing, American Dirt, The Silent Patient, The Wife and the Widow, The Crooked Branch and currently reading A Rip in Heaven.
I would have to say Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens would be my favourite for 2020. But I’m really loving A Rip in Heaven because it’s based on a true event in author, Jeanine Cummins’ life—absolutely tragic.
Snap! My standout book for 2020 (so far) has been Where the Crawdads Sing too. And I recently finished The Wife and the Widow. I just looked up A Rip in Heaven, and I’ll be adding that to my “to be read” list—it sounds harrowing but fascinating.
A big thanks again to Danielle Grant for her time and expertise, and for participating in my Wellbeing for Writers series. For more information about Danielle, her sought-after wellness coaching, Reach Your Peak personal training, and more resources on health, fitness, wellbeing, and achieving your peak, check out Danielle’s website and follow her social media Instagram @daniellegrant or @reachyourpeak and Facebook @ReachYourPeakpersonalTraining
As an Exercise Physiologist and Wellness Coach, Danielle structures her business on the three powerful pillars of lasting transformation; Mindset, Nutrition and Physical Fitness.
Her leadership, knowledge and expertise along with her charismatic people skills brings sincere loyalty and longevity among clients and trainers alike—many having been with Reach Your Peak 10 years and more.
Danielle’s authenticity will not be compromised with the latest ‘sexy’ exercise and diet crazes. The truth, she says, is that there is no quick fix for lasting change. With many years of experience proving that accountability increases success, Danielle designed the Accountability & Food Diary. She also creates and publishes comprehensive Eating Plans for group programs that include menus and shopping lists.
As a mother of two young children, Danielle understands the juggling act of being a working mum, and loves to help other mums prioritise their health. ‘I love to see people discover how fantastic they can feel with regular exercise and healthy eating – ‘it’s amazing’ she says!
Danielle has a great love for exercising outdoors having completed two Half Ironmans, a marathon, many half marathons, Round the Bays, and walking the Kokoda Track. She also loves hiking, mountain bike riding, and took up surfing at forty years of age.