7 Reasons Writing is One of the Most Dangerous Professions

Filed in The Healthy Writer by on April 22, 2014 • views: 1764

Skeleton working on laptopMost people probably think writing is a pretty cushy gig.

Kick back in your easy chair with your bon-bons and jot down a few words when the inspiration strikes. Go for a walk in the park. Enjoy the sunset from a rocking chair on the porch as you indulge your musings.

Surely just about every other profession on the planet is more dangerous than that.

If this is the attitude you get from friends and family, all you can do is shrug it off, or better yet, nod and agree. Yep. I’ve got it good.

Then go back home and recommit to your healthy habits, because trust me—being a writer is dangerous, so much so it could significantly shorten your life. Here’s why.

1. Sitting for hours.

Writers typically sit for hours every day. Add in the extra sitting that takes place on the commute, while at an office job, while eating, and while watching television, and you can quickly go over eight hours a day. Research over the past decade has found this to be terrible for our health.

A study published in 2009, for example, found that sitting time was associated with all causes of death. In 2010, another study conducted by the American Cancer Society reported that women who reported sitting more than six hours per day were 37 percent more likely to die during the study period than those who sat fewer than three hours a day—men sitting the same amount of time were 18 percent more likely to die.

In November 2013, an analysis of studies published between 1989 and 2013 showed that adults sitting 10 hours a day had a 34 percent higher risk of mortality—after taking physical activity into account.

Most of us have to sit to do our work. The solution? Get up and walk around more often—every half hour is ideal.

2. Gaining weight.

All that sitting often results in weight gain, unfortunately. Not only are you sedentary, sitting also screws up your appetite, making you crave more food. A few pounds isn’t likely to hurt you, but if the numbers keep climbing, it can be dangerous.

A 2013 meta-analysis found that obesity was associated with higher rates of death from all causes.  Overweight and obesity also increase risk of other diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. An earlier 2003 study, for example, found that heavier participants were more likely to die of cancer than those of normal weight.

The fix may lie in learning to read your hunger cues. Are you really hungry, or just bored? Maybe what you really need is a walk, a short chat with a friend, or a long, tall glass of water.

3. Lack of exercise.

Unless we make regular efforts to combat our natural tendencies, writing leads to a sedentary lifestyle—which increases risk of death. A 2011 study of over 240,000 people found that those with higher levels of sedentary behavior had higher mortality rates than those who were more active. Even those who exercised 4 to 7 hours a week but watched television 5 to 6 hours still had a 50% increased risk of mortality.

A 2010 study found similar results—men who spent more time riding in a car or watching television had a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Scheduling time every day for exercise is crucial for writers. Hard to stick to when you have deadlines looming, but crucial!

4. Poor diet.

Writers are notoriously poor eaters. We snack on foods high in fat, salt and sugar; skip meals; and make unhealthy choices on the run. Bad idea. A 2007 study on over 40,000 women found that those who regularly made healthy dietary choices—consuming more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats—were less likely to die than those who made poor dietary choices.

A 2005 study made similar conclusions, and went so far as to state that though smoking remains the leading cause of mortality, “poor diet and physical inactivity may soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of death.” A 2013 study took it a step further, stating that dietary risks were responsible for more deaths than smoking, high blood pressure, high body mass index, and physical inactivity.

Writers like to snack while working, so swap your chips and candy for fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, plain popcorn, and other healthy munchies.

5. Chronic back pain.

Because of all that sitting, writers often suffer from chronic back pain. It hurts. But dangerous? Life threatening? Studies suggest it can be. Research from 2007, for example, found that women with daily back pain had not only reduced mobility and a lower quality of life, but were more likely to die than those without chronic back pain. Worse, they were more at risk for heart attack and death.

A later 2012 study found similar results—that those with chronic pain were more likely to die than pain-free individuals.

Chronic back pain can be a tough one to beat. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to make your work space comfortable, then try some exercises that may help, like yoga—it’s shown in a number of studies to help relieve work-related back pain.

6. Isolation.

All that time alone can be great for your novel, but not so great for your health. Unless you make a regular effort to get out there and socialize, you could be putting yourself at risk.

A 2013 study found that social isolation rivals smoking and high blood pressure when it comes to mortality risk factors. In fact, greater social isolation was actually more dangerous than high blood pressure. An earlier 2012 study found similar results, noting that both social isolation and loneliness were associated with increased mortality.

7. Depression.

We’ve all heard the stories of great writers who battled depression. Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Kurt Vonnegut, and Emily Dickinson are just a few. Though we all get the blues once in awhile—particularly when a project isn’t going just right—clinical depression that lasts more than a few weeks can take it’s toll.

A 2002 study found that participants who were depressed had a higher risk for mortality than those who weren’t. More importantly, it wasn’t just major depression, but so-called “subclinical” minor forms that also increased risk. A 2009 study reported that depression was just as dangerous as smoking when it came to mortality.

Take Care of Yourself

The good news is that all of these risk factors are within our control. We can choose to get up from the chair more often, make time for regular exercise, eat healthy foods, maintain a healthy weight, schedule time out with friends, and get help for things like chronic back pain and depression.

The most important thing is to be aware of the issues. Writers probably know when they’re neglecting themselves, but most don’t realize just how serious the consequences can be.

Do you take your health seriously as a writer? Please share your thoughts.

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  1. Icy Sedgwick says:

    I’ve been suffering from joint pain because of the way that I sit when I’m typing so I’m making a conscious effort to move about more!