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McCallum: Taking A Stand

(Host) Current medical reports predict that Baby Boomers will live longer than their parents but be less healthy, with sedentary work lives partly to blame. Educator, writer and commentator Mary McCallum passes along a simple suggestion.

(McCallum) Some years ago I attended a lecture in Vermont by a famous American novelist known for his quirky style. When an aspiring writer in the audience asked the author to describe his creative process, his reply was simple and direct. I write standing up. He added that there was nothing better than standing and walking around his studio to energize his process. I never forgot his no-nonsense advice.

These days, I do some of my best work standing at the kitchen counter, tapping away on a laptop that shares space with cooking implements, jars of herbs and a plastic compost bucket. My straight back and the grounding of my feet on the floor keep me conscious that I am actively standing and I am working. I too, find that the physical connection between the keyboard and my feet stimulates the flow of words and ideas. And when I get stuck, it's easy to look up and glance out the kitchen window at the world beyond my screen, or give whatever is bubbling on the stove a quick stir - still standing, of course.

But while my working method is usually a vertical one, the majority of Americans spend eight-hour days sitting down. Computer screens in office cubicles hold them captive during the work day, followed by more sitting at dinner and capped by a nation of tired workers taking a load off their collective feet in front of the television. And the accumulating medical studies indicate that all that sitting is killing us.

Living the sedentary life leads to lowered metabolism, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and a host of related health problems. One prominent physician has gone as far as declaring that excessive sitting for hours is a lethal activity that we engage in on a daily basis - possibly as bad for us as smoking. His advice is to stand up whenever you can and keep moving. With emerging options like upright workstations, treadmill desks and stationary recumbent bikes, today's office workers can turn the eight-hour work day into a health advantage instead of a life threatening activity. Instructional websites show a handy person how to convert their own treadmill into a desk, making working at home a moving experience.

As a stand-up writer I'm in good company. A list of famous novelists who wrote vertically includes Ernest Hemingway,Vladimir Nabokov and Lewis Carroll. Philip Roth paces while he writes and claims to walk a half mile for every page he pens. So I'll keep my laptop on the kitchen counter and be diligent in remaining upright. While being on my feet doesn't always make my written words sparkle, I suggest a healthy new mantra for sedentary American workers: I love this job but I won't take it sitting down!

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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