Monday, April 29, 2013

Stretching Survival Guide for Writers

Now that we've talked about combating the dreaded writer's butt, let's move on to the importance of stretching.  (If you're just tuning into this conversation about writer's health, then please check out this post first.)

A major health hazard writer's face is sitting for hours on end. The only movement that occurs while we're caught up in creating the story in our heads is our fingers as they type, type, type away. This is a big No No. Why? It can cause nasty carpal tunnel that can spread up your arms, into your shoulders and even your neck. Another big yucky side effect is that sitting shortens the muscles in your body, which equals less flexibility and being more susceptible to injuries if you slip or fall.

Stretching 2-to-3 times a day is crucial for a healthy writer's body. It only takes ten minutes to stretch the most important zones. Let's start from the top:


Neck, Shoulders and Upper Torso


Computer monitor placement can greatly effect your neck and shoulder areas. If it's too low, the neck and shoulders get scrunched and hunched. Too high results in a stretched sore front neck and crinkled cranky mid-shoulders.
 

Begin with some neck stretches. Slowly stretch your neck from side to side, then with your chin to your chest. Hold each position for 15-20 seconds. Don't roll your head in a circle. Always return to the center before moving to the next area. After the first set, do a second set, using your hand to add a little additional pressure to the stretch. Don't tug on your muscles. Use gentle, slow movements.


 Next, loosen those shoulders and upper back muscles. Simply wrap your arms around yourself and hug. As the muscles loosen, wrap the hug a little tighter. When the muscles feel nicely stretched and relaxed, release and swing your arms at your side a few times before beginning the next stretch.


Open up your chest muscles. Link your hands however is most comfortable behind your back. If you can't link your hands, try using a stretch band. Once in position, roll your shoulders out and push your chest forward. Hold for 30 seconds or until you feel ready to release the stretch. This gives the most incredible stretch to chest muscles that are rarely used. It's my personal favorite.




Two fabulous shoulder stretches. For the top stretch, bring one arm across your body, then use the other arms to reach up and pull it a little more closely to your body. This gives a nice stretch to the back part of your shoulder muscles and upper arms. Hold for 15-20 seconds, then readjust as the muscle loosens. Repeat with the other arm.  For the bottom pictured stretch, bring one arm up, parallel to your head, then bend your elbow with your hand reaching back towards your mid-shoulder. Use your other hand to hold your arm in place. As the muscle warms and loosens, you can slowly add a little more stretch. This stretch helps the muscles from under the shoulder all the way through to your lower waist.



Lower Back and Legs

How do you sit in your chair? Do you have good posture or do you slump? Do you move your legs periodically? Tap your feet to keep circulation moving? Personally, I'm a slumper. I recently purchased a chair that has an ergonomic back that juts out and pushes into my lower back. It reminds me to sit better and stop slumping. The following stretches also help our lower bodies.
 


Lower back stretch. I always feel so, so fabulous after this stretch. Don't worry about actually reaching your toes. There are a few important things to remember though. Plant your feet shoulder width apart, and do not lock your knees. Keep them slightly bent. Slowly bend over and relax. Let your arms dangle. Don't strain to reach your toes. Then breath deeply. In and out. As you relax, so will your lower back muscles and your upper body will help to slowly stretch those muscles out a little more. Give this stretch 1-2 minutes to thoroughly get those lower back (and upper back thigh) muscles happy again.


 

Lower calf stretch. If you have time, finish your ten minute break by stretching out your lower calves. The picture illustrates an easy way to do calf stretches on a set of stairs. Balance on the step with the front half of your foot, then slowly drop your heel and hold the position for about 20 seconds. You can do both heels at the same time.  


This short routine will give your body the much needed movement it needs after working at your desk for extended periods of time. If you do it consistently (at least twice each day), you'll soon notice more flexibility and also be more aware of your body's movement needs. Healthy muscles = a healthier you. In my next post, I'll address a few simple exercises to strengthen your muscles during another ten minute break session.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Combating the Dreaded Writer's Butt and Other Curses

Once upon a time, I was a young mom who spent most of her time chasing kids, playing soccer in the backyard, and desperately trying to find bits of time to write. Now that all my munchkins are in school, I spend the majority of my day at the computer editing for clients, organizing writing events and working on my own manuscripts. The problem with this is that I would much rather be working at my computer than doing that dreaded other thing - exercising. But (maybe that should be "butt") that combination has taken its toll on both my body and my health.

The solution: Kick the exercise-is-yucky attitude to the curb.


I started with purchasing a FitBit. Actually, my hubby and I both got some and challenge encourage each other to meet our personal goals. I decided to get a baseline count of "normal" life, so I hooked it on and ignored it for the first three days. Holy mackerel was I shocked! I averaged less than 2,000 steps per day. Per day! On the good side, the cold hard numbers were enough to boost my determination to set achievable goals and work to meet them. Here are some examples of what I have done to make my life healthier.

Walking

I schedule 1 or 2 longer walks (30-45 minutes) during the day. If it's not raining, hailing or tornado sirens blaring, then I try to walk my son to school and take a longer route home. I don't plan an actual mileage count. I just walk until I feel like I'm done. Not exhausted, mind you. Just happily done. It started out at being about a half mile. Now I tend to do more like 1 1/2 to 2 miles. I take different routes each day to make it interesting. I also have a walking playlist on my cell phone with songs that have beats to match my walking stride. A few examples are One Directions "What Makes You Beautiful" and Colbie Caillat's "Brighter Than the Sun." If my day goes well (or if I don't lose track of time while writing), my second walk of the day is to pick up my son from school with a slight detour on the way. Not as long as the first walk of the day though. When Mother Nature intervenes, then I do one afternoon walk at the local mall after I drop my daughter off at afternoon Kindergarten. My step counts now fluctuate between 5K to 12K per day. It's a big fluctuation, I know. My goal is to healthier, but I also refuse to stress out about meeting a specific number each day.

10 Minute Breaks

Scattering ten minute breaks throughout the work day is one of the best things I added to my day. I generally either crank up the music and dance in my kitchen, do a series of stretches (check out my post on Monday for more details), fold a load of laundry while standing, do some squats (so good for your butt and legs), or go for a short walk around the block. My goal is to have three breaks in the morning and another two or three in the afternoon. Ten minutes goes a long way to giving your body a much needed break from sitting. The best part is doing something different helps rejuvenate my brain. I usually come up with great ideas for my plot or have a renewed energy to meet my next editing goal.

Easily Accessible Drinks

Drinking enough water is so, so hard for me, and diving into my own stories or someone else's makes it even harder to remember my body's needs. I've tried a lot of different strategies and finally realized I just need to schedule drinking breaks. Sad, but true. I love travel mugs for their *mostly* spill proof qualities - and shopping for cute ones helped me commit to this essential part of living healthy. I keep one at my desk all the time filled with either water, diet citrus green tea or cranberry juice. Sorry, friends, no soda, coffee or margaritas at this desk. How do I schedule drinking breaks? It's quite simple, really. I have a wind-up kitchen timer on my desk. I set it for 30 minutes. When it dings, I drink a few sips, reset the timer and move on. The interruption is less than a minute, so it doesn't interfere with my creative flow.

Healthier Snacks and Rewards

Munchy, munch, munch. There's a reason why I don't keep potato chips or chocolate in my house. I'm a mega snacker. Can't resist the temptation. Instead, I have snack baggies filled with 1/4 cup servings of mixed nuts, trail mix or Honey-Nut Cheerios. Other healthy snacks I indulge in include Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and all natural popcorn. I also keep a Rewards Jar on my desk. When I reach my daily goals, I get to choose a sweet treat--usually a Sugar Free Werther's Original candy (caramel apple or cinnamon are my favorite flavors).


It's so easy to get caught up in our character's stories or be so focused on a looming deadline, that we forget to take care of ourselves. The key to success is making your health a priority. Figure out what your needs are (moving around, eating, drinking, etc), then look at your daily routine and find ways to work those needs in. Don't just say "oh this would be nice" though or you'll never accomplish it. Which, in my case, would add more guilt to my shoulders. No guilt! Make changes that will work for your lifestyle and in a way you will actually follow through.


What tips can you share to conquer the dreaded writer's butt?




Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Autism Awareness Month Giveaway

CJ over at the fabulous website, Give, Oh Giveaway, reviewed my book - (dis)Abilities and the Gospel - today AND she's offering a fabulous giveaway in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

Here's a short blurb of something she learned from the book:

"Another great thing I read in this book is to change MY attitude on a particularly rough day…instead of day thinking, “What am I going to do with this child today” think “What does this child need today?” WOW. I know it seems basic–but to an inexperienced volunteer like myself this was a profound idea! I tried it on a rough day and saw HUGE improvements…not only in the children but in myself as well."  

You can read the rest of her review on her website and enter to win as well.

Happy Autism Awareness Month!
Review Disclaimer: Sometimes a book I review has been sent to me for free by a publisher or an author. This in no way effects my review, which is my own opinion about whether the book was a good read for me, fit my tastes, and if I would recommend it to others. Other than possibly a free book, I am not compensated in any way for posting a review.