A Writer’s Fitness Regime

If there’s one thing a writer needs to stay on top of more than industry insights or secret tips on screenwriting craft, it’s fitness. Or, more accurately: health. Sitting hunched over a computer in excess of eight hours a day isn’t doing anyone any favours. You got to get up and move around. You got to get your heart pumping, and work up a sweat. Ideally, at least three times a week.

Here are three perfect exercises for writers: swimming, walking, jogging. Swimming: very low impact, great for stretching out the hunched over joints. Walking (1 mile+): low impact, good cardio, good calorie burner. Jogging: great cardio, great calorie burner, enough to earn that beer/wine at the end of the day.

I think lots of writers (or people in general, really) are willing to do exercise but launch into a programme too quickly, with not enough prep or build-up time. For example, say it’s the tail end of Christmas and someone’s gung-ho for some exercise to kickstart the New Year. They might race straight into a run, or dive into 30 laps of the pool, and find themselves knackered by the end of day 1, never mind week 1. Then they find it gets harder, so it prompts them to quit. To avoid this, here’s some things I recommend which I’ve done (from a standing start of non-fitness, more on that below):

  • Walk around the block. That’s it. Stretch your legs. Grab a pint of milk. Whatever. It might be around 10 minutes. Great. Go home. Have a biscuit an apple.
  • When you’re comfortable walking around the block, consider a dedicated distance walk: 1 mile. 1.5 mile. 2 miles. 1 mile should take around 15-20mins, but if it takes longer, so what? The main point here is to walk non-stop without a break.
  • Done with dedicated walking? Try a gentle jog around the block. The walk around the block that took you 10mins will take you about 5mins to jog. That’s it. Go home. Relax.
  • Gentle jog too easy? Go the whole mile. Do whatever you feel is comfortable. The point is to build your endurance and fitness, not expect it to materialise immediately.
  • If you’re now jogging 1 mile or 2 miles with relative ease (ahem, yeah), try your first 5k (3 mile) run. It’ll probably take you around 30-35mins first time out, but if it takes longer, so what? Hey, raise some money for charity while you’re there.
  • Once you achieve the 5k milestone, you can schedule regular 5k runs into your week. Start off with once a week, build to twice a week, and ideally, three or four times a week.
  • Swimming: use a similar approach to the above. Start off slowly. Build your endurance/stamina. Swim 1 lap, take a break. Swim 5 laps, take a break. Swim 5 more laps, take a break. Whatever works for you. When you’re tired or have had enough, go home. Build to an objective: ‘by the end of the month, I want to be able to swim 20 laps without stopping’. That kind of thing.

One of my discs in my lower back gave me trouble for years. It was a miserable time as no treatment seemed to help (physio, osteo, acupuncture, etc, even goddamn homeopathy) until, finally, a MRI scan showed the cause of the damage, and how it could be repaired. After a couple of back surgeries (first one being non-invasive to see if that would work), the disc was fixed but because my body had compensated so much for the pain over the years, I still had aches and pains that ran from my back to my shoulder/neck. I then found the BEST PHYSIO EVER who realigned my pelvis, and I took slow steps towards being ‘normal’ again. However, all the while I had back problems, I never stopped exercising. I was in my late 20s and early 30s; I knew I was fairly fit despite the back pain, so I felt it was important to exercise. I chose swimming, twice a week, and my back seemed to hold up to this level of effort. But once the BEST PHYSIO EVER got my posture back into shape, I started taking bigger steps towards fitness.

Jogging. Slowly at first. I worked my way up to the 5k distance, and completed it in 2008 (see post/photos here!). I was more emotional and thrilled than having run the Dublin marathon in 1999! I never thought I’d be able to run again, and now it seemed I had room to develop my fitness once more. So I swam, I jogged, and that was great. But as I neared my 40s, and the beer belly became more prominent, I took on the next exercise challenge: HOME AEROBICS!

This might sound totally naff but honestly, it’s changed my life. I use Shaun T’s T25 home aerobic workout, and it’s amazing. Neatly structured to just 25mins of aerobics a day. My back has never felt better (although I remain careful not to antagonise it). You may have seen or heard of Shaun T because of his Insanity workout. Do that if you feel up to the challenge, but T25 will probably see you right. Don’t be put off by the adverts either; they make it look like it’s for extremely hard-core exercise freaks. Shaun T is very constructive and motivational, and he encourages you to do what you can, and build from there. I love it.  I feel fitter and healthier than my 30s, and it’s also increased my work efficiency and overall attitude (I even did T25 workouts while I was filming Nelson Nutmeg!).

I’m not being evangelical about exercising (do it, don’t do it, up to you), but if you’re a writer who wants a change but is concerned about the effort, then remember to start small and develop realistic goals, and everything will improve, I guarantee it.

Got any of your own recommendations for writer’s fitness? I know some use a treadmill desk, for example. Leave suggestions in the comment section below, um, to the right, or wherever the comment box is floating about!

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