Last September when author Regan Taylor (http://www.regantaylor.com) noticed that her left ankle was swollen, she thought she must have twisted it, although she couldn’t remember having an accident. She’d been preoccupied by the death of her much-loved 22 year-old cat Molly and the adoption of two new cats. So she treated the ankle for a sprain by icing it, keeping it elevated, and taking aspirin. But nothing helped. Two days later the pain became so excruciating that she took herself to the nearest hospital. “I went over to the emergency room thinking I was just a big baby and they’d give me something stronger than aspirin and send me home.”
Regan was shocked when the doctor told her she had a blood clot, or deep vein thrombosis (“DVT”). DVT can be developed in a number of ways but the three main ones are by a blood clotting disorder, being bumped, or sitting for long periods of time. The risk of DVT is the reason that passengers on long flights are encouraged to stand up and walk around every so often.
An ultra sound showed that the clot ran from Regan’s groin to her ankle. After more investigation, her doctor confirmed that what she’d thought was a bout of pneumonia back in June was probably a pulmonary embolism. Part of the clot had broken off and travelled to her lungs, causing shortness of breath and fatigue. Regan was told she’d been very lucky. If the clot had travelled to her heart it could have caused a heart attack. A clot in the brain might have resulted in a stroke.
Regan works in an office full-time in addition to career as a writer. Although she walked about two miles a day prior to becoming ill, she spent long periods of time sitting, as do most writers. Aren’t we told that the correct attitude for a writer is BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard)? Medical researchers believe that BICHOK is hazardous to our health; the effects of our increasingly butt-bound, tech-driven lives has been called "sitting disease" and it can be deadly.
According to Women’s Health, sitting disease can result in many other unhealthy possibilities:
- Obesity – Weight gain is most commonly caused by overeating, lack of physical exercise and genetic predisposition. When you sit for an extended period of time, your body starts to shut down at the metabolic level, says Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri. When muscles—especially the big ones meant for movement, like those in your legs—are immobile, your circulation slows and you burn fewer calories. Fat-burning enzymes responsible for breaking down triglycerides (a type of fat) simply start switching off. When we sit all day, those fat burners drop by 50 percent, says James Levine,M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and author of Move a Little, Lose a Lot .
- Diabetes - The less you move, the less blood sugar your body uses; research shows that for every two hours spent sitting per day, your chance of contracting diabetes goes up by 7 percent.
- Heart Disease – When you are sedentary, enzymes that keep blood fats in check are inactive, increasing your risk of heart disease.
- Depression - With less blood flow, fewer feel-good hormones are circulating to your brain.
- Spine and back problems – According to Douglas Lentz, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the director of fitness and wellness for Summit Health in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, "When you sit all day, your hip flexors and hamstrings shorten and tighten, while the muscles that support your spine become weak and stiff." This has resulted in a threefold increase in chronic lower back reported by women since the early 1990s.
So what can writers do to reverse this trend? Get up and move!
Think NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) That's the energy (i.e., calories) you burn doing everything but exercise. NEAT can be fidgeting, folding the laundry or simply standing up. A few simple suggestions for burning more calories:
- Stand while reading emails or talking on the phone.
- Walk while conferring with colleagues.
- Limit TV to two hours or less per day.
- Walk on a treadmill while watching TV.
- Park your car farther away from the mall and walk to the entrance.
- Take the stairs inside of the elevator.
NEAT is in addition to regular exercise. Everyone needs at least 30 minutes a day.
Regan Taylor is now recovering. She was started on a course of Coumadin, a medication that thins the blood and helps to dissolve clots. Because it took 14 days for the Coumadin to reach the correct levels in her blood, Regan needed injections of another medication, which was injected into the subcutaneous tissue of her abdomen. She had a lot side-effects and complications, from excessive bruising to inappropriate bleeding. She must monitor everything she eats and drinks because so many foods, alcoholic beverages, over the counter drugs, and even multi-vitamins interfere the absorption of the Coumadin. The good news is that her doctors expect that she will only need the Coumadin for about six months.
In the meantime, she’s made some changes in her lifestyle. “I set my alarm at work to make sure I get up and walk the length of the building (at a minimum) every hour. Even if I get up to go to the printer or copier, I make sure I take a longer walk once an hour. At home I get up every hour as well and walk up and down the stairs 2-3 times.”
And being a writer, even Regan’s health scare has become grist for the mill. “I’ve met some really interesting people that have some wonderful attributes I will give my characters.”
Do you sit for long periods of time? Do you get enough exercise? What do you do for exercise? Do you experience any of the unhealthy side effects of a sedentary lifestyle? What can you do to increase your NEAT factor?