Writing Can Cause Premature Death?! How to Avoid Wrist Pain, Headaches and More

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My wife suffered headaches and red eyes after hours in front of her computer working on a poetry book. So a few weeks ago, she bought tinted computer glasses that are supposed to ease eye strain.

They seemed to cut the glare, but I notice she isn’t wearing them any longer.

That’s not surprising. The evidence for computer glasses is mixed. Whether or not they work may depend on how they’re constructed and who is wearing them. So if you have eye strain and headaches from hours in front of your computer, the only way you’ll know if computer glasses provide relief is to try them.

But achy eyes may be a minor problem compared to some of the other health risks of writing.

In fact, if you sit in front of that computer for enough hours every day, you might even die!

Don’t panic. Read on to learn how to deal with wrist pain, fatigue, and other health risks of being a writer.

Premature death and other hazards of writing

Too much sitting is linked to diabetes, heart disease and premature death, according to a recent study highlighted by the Harvard Medical School Health Blog.

It noted that the average person spends more than 50 percent of his or her waking hours sitting down, but that figure might be higher for the average writer.

The study was a meta-analysis of 47 other studies, which makes the findings pretty solid. The researchers concluded: “Prolonged sedentary time was independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity.”

Yes, they found that your risk of dying increases with prolonged sitting, even if you exercise up to an hour per day!

Apparently, the only sure way to reduce your risk is to sit for shorter periods of time. The authors of the study offered these two tips:

  1. Stand up and/or move around for three minutes every half hour.
  2. Use a timer or alarm app to remind you to get up.

I just got up to vacuum the living room. Now where was I?

Clearly, you have to find natural break times so you don’t lose your train of thought or interrupt the flow of your writing. But avoiding premature death probably makes it worth the effort.

You might consider trying a standing desk. Standing has an additional advantage of burning more calories than sitting (and yes, sitting is correlated with obesity). According to one online calorie calculator, I could burn almost 300 more calories daily if I worked standing up.

Some desks are convertible, letting you sit and stand depending on the task and your mood. I tried a standing desk and found that hours on my feet were hard on my back. Alternating between sitting and standing would probably help. An anti-fatigue mat beneath your standing desk space may be a good idea too. (Maybe you should let friends and family know these make great gifts for writers!)

How to manage the writing-related health issues

Eye strain and fatigue. Pain in your wrists, shoulders, and neck. Repetitive motion injuries. The University of Pittsburgh Environmental Health and Safety department notes these among additional health risks of computer use.

Been there, done that — every one of them. Writing is dangerous for your health!

Fortunately the University of Pittsburgh’s EHS department and other experts offer some tips for avoiding these problems, or at least relieving the pain. They include:

  • Alternate tasks frequently
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Use a good ergonomic chair
  • Sit against the back of the chair
  • Relax your shoulders
  • Use a light touch on the keyboard
  • Have your arms parallel with floor and level with keyboard
  • Stop to let your arms relax from time to time
  • Keep work materials within easy reach
  • Adjust the computer screen angle to reduce glare
  • Blink often when working at your computer
  • Frequently stop to focus your eyes on more distant objects
  • Have your computer screen at eye level or slightly lower

I’ll add an obvious tip to that list: Spend less time writing.

To do that and still get some work done, I brainstorm while taking walks, carrying a recording device as I go. I probably have more ideas for new articles during a 20-minute walk than I get from an hour in front of the computer. And it’s good exercise.

Well, despite having splurged for a good chair and adding a soft pillow, my bottom is sore as I write this — along with my eyes and shoulders. I don’t like pain. I also don’t like the idea of dying prematurely. So I’m going for a walk and a swim before I start my next post. You might want to take a break too.

Have you suffered any health problems from writing? What do you do for relief?

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Steve Gillman's experiences inspired a website about odd businesses and jobs, which in turn led to writing .

Webhiker Services | @stevegillman

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Comments

  1. Hi – just a note to say there is a grammatical error in the first sentence.

    My solution was to get a puppy. Nymeria seems to have an internal timer that requires walking, feeding or play time.

    • Thanks for catching that typo, PJ!

      And a puppy seems like the perfect solution when you need a reminder to keep moving!

      Thanks for reading,
      Lisa
      TWL Editor

  2. Great tips! I have had my share of headaches and eye strains from looking at the computer for too many hours each day. I will try some of these tips!

  3. kc Williams says:

    I will definitely start exercising. I’ve noticed how quick my mind starts sifting through the next scenes for the stories, chapters or articles I’m working on when I take a break. I’m going to dust off my exercise bike tomorrow and give it a whirl.

    Katie

  4. I have placed things so that I have to stretch or stand up to reach them – ie. the box of tissue, my printer, stapler, telephone, etc. I placed a framed mirror (about 10 x 18) to the left of my desk and look at it many times while writing. It reminds me to sit straight plus it motivates me to comb my hair.:) I tuck my feet behind my chair which helps keep my back straight rather than curved shoulders. I have special prescription bifocals made; the upper part is for looking at my computer, the lower part is for looking down at text on my desk.

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