Zena’s Health Tips for Writers & Readers

Spring is here in Sydney, which means people are starting to think about their health and fitness. Anyone who knows me well will also know I have a personal goal of living until I’m over 100 years old – I want to see it all!

But as a writer and reader, I also lead a fairly unhealthy lifestyle. What’s that, you say, you do too? Well how about we share some tips about how to keep ourselves healthy this spring? Not so much to look good on the outside – more to look after what’s inside us. I’ll start… with a refresher of some basics I do everyday to keep my writing and reading lifestyle as healthy as possible – they can also apply to anyone who works on a computer. I’m not a qualified health-anything, consult with your doctor before commencing any new health regime, etc… I’ll be happy if you get even one idea out of all this….


Most people who write and read a lot have bad backs. It’s because we sit still so much while writing, typing or reading our stories. The solution? To strengthen your back as much as possible, and move around more. When I’m at the gym (and I just use my free local outdoor gym), I use the lever chest press to strength my back. But if it’s raining or I can’t get to any gym equipment, I simply lie on my tummy, raise my hands by my ears and lift up my rib cage using only my back muscles. Try it! If you concentrate on each of your vertebrae in turn, your back gets a full workout. Woo hoo! There are some other great floor exercises here as well: http://www.wikihow.com/Strengthen-Lower-Back

Alternatively, get a pal to give you a back massage. If you don’t look after your back, it can plague you when it’s time to read or create.

Once you’ve strengthened your back, take a look at where you’re sitting when you read and/or write. Here’s a photo of my desk. Do you see my chair and how its back curves in? That’s what you need to support your back properly if you sit at a desk each day.

My beautiful desk!

My beautiful desk!

When I’m reading, I like to sit here…

No internet to tempt me here!

No internet to tempt me here!

Do you see those long thin cushions? Again, I use those to support my back. What do you use to support your back? And please don’t say nothing! There’s so much on the market these days – get yourself a standing desk if you want, an Aeron chair, a kneeling chair, or simply move around a bit more. Just take care of that thing – you’ve got it for life.


The other part of our bodies we writers and readers put under strain is our hands and wrists. Whether we’re holding a book or ereader aloft, or wiggling that mouse around and typing for hours, our hands get put under strain, especially our wrists. So do some wrist and hand stretches! I do wrist circles regularly throughout the day and stretch by placing one hand at a time somewhere behind me and leaning back on it until I feel some tension in the right places. There’s more good wrist-advice here: http://www.wikihow.com/Strengthen-Your-Wrists.

Once you’ve found a stretch that works for you, have a think about improving how you read or write – for your hands. Can you get yourself an ergonomic keyboard or mouse? What about a trackball mouse? Can you rest your book/ereader on a pillow as you read? Prevention is better than cure, right? So don’t forget to take care of your hands!

Hey, if you’re not using the mouse while you read – why even hold it? I rest my hand in my lap instead 🙂


Okay, so I’m just picking subtitles that rhyme now – there’s no station in this section. Unless you reckon a workstation counts. He he, why not… it’s a play on words and that’s why we’re here, right – because we love words! Now, what was I saying? Oh yes… concentration!

Tell me, what do you do when your concentration wanes? Me, I reach for the chocolate, naughty me! Naughty because once I start it’s hard to stop. Yum for chocolate! Whether the sugar speeds up my brain, or the effects are purely psychological – I start to refocus after a sugary snack. But it’s also naughty because once I get that sugar high, I also get a craving that would have me maintaining that high all day if it could. It’s the same with caffeine. The problem is, the more sugar and caffeine I consume, the harder it is to wind down later at bedtime.

So, from time to time (not always – because us writers need our caffeine and chocolate!), I try different ways of finding my focus. I might:

  • Go for a walk. It’s free and helps keep sore back supple. Add fresh air into the equation and the extra oxygen helps your brain too.
  • Sit in the sun for a while. Make sure you’ve got your sunscreen! Sometimes I think I must be part-lizard, because I like to soak up the heat so much 😉
  • Have a quick shower (if you’re at home). It might sound weird but, gee, it sure wakes me up when I hit a slump.
  • Have a cup of tea. Avoid the sugar and the simple act of taking a break from your story will help you refocus once you’re back into it.
  • Close your eyes for five minutes. Not only will this set your mind free but it will help your retinas too. Actually, while we’re on the subject of eyes…


Yep, I’m still picking subtitles that rhyme. Sorry! I’m in that kind of mood.

Anyway, whether you’re staring at a computer screen or the print of a book for a while, your eyes are going to experience strain. So I make sure I blink properly – none of those micro-blinks here – and I give my eyes a good rest occasionally. It feels so good! Why not try it? No time like the present! Go on, just stop what you’re doing for a minute and close your eyes. Hmm, your eye muscles relax, your face too. Just listen to your breathing for a minute and when you open your eyes again, not only will you have given them a break, your mind will feel refreshed too.

I also do eye exercises from time to time, to help with focus. These ones are good: http://www.wikihow.com/Exercise-Your-Eyes

Sleeping Beauty

Are you a writer and/or reader who doesn’t sleep well? I love my sleep! So I always try not to drink too much in the hour before bedtime, and cut down on caffeine and sugar during the day where I can. Add in some exercise, and I find sleep comes easier.

I keep a notebook and pen beside my bed too. That way, if my active mind wakes me with an idea (an epic one, no doubt), I can note it down without getting out of bed. Staying in bed will mean I’ll get back to sleep more easily once the idea is out of my mind.

Why is sleep important? For creativity and journeying into all those different worlds of course! A good night’s sleep also means I won’t crave those sugar or caffeine highs the next day, which will in turn help me sleep better tomorrow night.

If you’re simply a night owl, that’s cool too – as long as you can sleep in the next morning! Ever heard of sleep deprivation being used as a method of torture? As anyone with kids would know… it definitely is! So sleep tight to keep your writing and reading lifestyle healthy.


No, I’m not going to talk about Kevin Costner! This is all about staying hydrated. Yes, you know it. It’s easy to forget, that’s true… Sometimes I lose myself so far in a bookish world that I forget to drink any water in a day. Tsk, tsk. If my body is thirsty, it will distract me from enjoying those worlds to their fullest. Thirst will distract you too – and no one wants that. So drink up. (Though not in that hour before bedtime, see above!) I keep a bottle of water beside my desk and sip on it throughout the day. It’s probably not enough, but at least I try.


Finally, I try to watch what I’m feeding my body, because sitting still requires a lot less calories than working on a building site. I don’t need as many carbohydrates as I would if I were doing a more active job. So instead I focus on veggies and lean iron-rich foods – to give me energy, keep my mind alert and prevent those sugar/caffeine cravings.

Your Turn!

So there’s seven simple health tips to improve your writing and reading lifestyle.

Now it’s your turn – what tips have you got for me?

Zena Shapter

I write from a castle in a flying city hidden by a thundercloud. #Ditmar Award-winning author. Movie buff. Traveller. Wine lover. Story nerd. Book Creator & Mentor. Founder & leader of the award-winning Northern Beaches Writers' Group / ZF Kingbolt.


  1. Thank you Zena, for the excellent health tips….VERY helpful indeed. You’ve hit the nail right on the head with a combination of new ideas and reminders that we can all use. My first book, “On The Balcony”, is being published next month, and I’ve had to increase the frequency of my walks/swims and my “get-up-and-stretch” breaks in the past 2 years. My mother, who’ll be celebrating her 100th birthday next month, would also agree with and appreciate your advice thoroughly, I’m sure.

    Best regards,

    • Congratulations on publishing your book, Jerome! And Happy 100th Birthday to your mother – wow, that’s simply amazing. I hope I make it to her age 🙂

      Keep up the stretching!

  2. I like this set of eye exercises: http://eyepitstop.com

  3. Cat Sheely says via Facebook that shoulder and neck stretches are a good idea too:

    “I have OOS/RSI from nearly 45 years at a keyboard. I must break at least every 1/2 hour, roll the shoulders, stretch the neck, lift the chin, etc, to keep my neck and shoulders from hurting too much.”

    Great advice, Cat! I’m going to do some neck and shoulder stretches right now 🙂

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