I remember as a child I was always on the move. I spent my afternoons running through the wooded trails of our local park, riding my bike down quiet country roads and playing street hockey with the neighborhood kids. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, I lost the liberty of that active life to the mundane pattern of school and work. I managed to incorporate physical activity in my early jobs as a server. Eventually, I moved to desk jobs but kept up regular exercise through dance and theatre. I was pretty consistent until the unexpected arrival of RA when most of my energy was depleted struggling against the symptoms of my disease. The pain and inflammation made it difficult to continue with additional activity and in the months that followed, I sank deeper into the sleepy routine of a deskbound life.
A new phrase I’ve been hearing in the last many months is “sitting is the new smoking”. A sedentary life has become standard in a world of developing technology. Technological advances make it easy to experience the world through a screen, and the more technology progresses, the less active we become. It’s easy to fall into the same repetitive pattern day after day. As a writer, I spend most of my time sitting. My vocation doesn’t do much to endorse physical activity. Gone are the days where my job required me to be on my feet for hours at a time. Being inactive contributes to slowing metabolisms which depend on activity to burn energy. Sitting for a long time without regular activity can lead to weight gain, which, in turn, can lead to obesity, diabetes and a host of other medical issues – not to mention the extra pressure I’m putting on my back, hips and bottom.
Being inactive for a long stretch can make the disagreeable stiffness of arthritis more arduous. There are times I get up to get a drink or take a bathroom break, and I find I am just as stiff as when I wake in the morning. When I know I’ll be at my desk for a long period of time, I make an effort to break up my day as much as possible. I stand up every 20-30 minutes and do some stretching. Sometime during my day, I go outside for a walk. It helps keep my joints fluid, and increases my heart rate and circulation. In addition to the physical benefits, the fresh air and change of scene boosts my mood and stimulates my mental acuity. It also helps to drive away the fog of fatigue that can settle in during inactivity, and it reminds me to be grateful of my mobility. It can be challenging to find time in the middle of the workday to be active but little actions performed throughout the day can produce positive benefits.
Arthritis is enough of a trial to bear without opening the door to any further health problems. Taking several stretching or standing breaks throughout my day prevents me from becoming a sitting duck to the myriad of difficulties waiting in the thicket of our sedentary nature.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.