Columns > Published on March 3rd, 2022

High Impact Exercises and Low Effort Diet Hacks for Busy Authors

Original image via Cup of Couple

Disclaimer: Whatever you do, DO NOT take medical advice from LitReactor or Jay Wilburn. For God’s sake, that’s what doctors are for. Consult someone who has a medical degree framed on their wall and your medical records on file before you take any health advice you read online. Jay Wilburn literally had a heart attack one month before he wrote this, and the only thing he has framed on his wall is a certificate for employee of the month from the Giant Crab Seafood Buffet from back when he was a busboy. This article is for educational purposes only, and should not be seen as individual medical advice.

Starting from an Unhealthy Place

I literally had a heart attack one month before I sat down to write this. So, what do I know about exercise or diet? I know about starting over and building back slowly from an unhealthy place. I was born with polycystic kidney disease, which led to full kidney failure and a transplant. The same bad genetics running through my system contributed to brain issues and heart disease.

Before transplant, despite being in full-kidney failure, I had to be “healthy” enough to pass treadmill tests and other exams to show I could withstand and recover from the surgery. I joke that to get a transplant you have to be a very healthy dying person. I could barely walk prior to transplant. How was I going to exercise? During one of the orientation classes, a guy who had gone through transplant said he had ridden a bike to get in shape prior to surgery. I thought, well, maybe I could do that. I could barely walk, but I got to where I could ride ten miles a day. I felt like crap when I got on the bike, I felt like crap while riding, and I felt like crap when I was done. I believe that may have helped me. There was never a moment when I went from feeling okay to feeling winded. I pushed through because I already felt bad. Nothing was changing for me, except that I became a healthy dying person and got the transplant that saved my life.

We all have to start from somewhere, even if that somewhere is zero.

After transplant, I could taste food again, regulate my body temperature, and walk without feeling pain. I could get through the day without taking a nap. This led to me eating more and putting on weight. I cut caffeine and only drank water. I walked and continued to bike. I ate healthier and controlled portions, but continued to put on weight. I couldn’t figure out what else I could do. Then, to my horror, I thought, oh, no, I’m going to have to start running!

The guy who gave me a kidney was a marathon runner. He called around the time of my running revelation to plan a visit and asked if I would do the fun walk as he ran a 5k. I said, "I think I need to run the 5k." So I started the training routine and it was torture. On the anniversary of my transplant, I dragged myself through the 5k with my kidney donor by my side. I continued to train afterward. A year later, I dragged myself through a half marathon with him. After that, I ran a full marathon.

When the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2019, I had to be more careful than most. I was on immune-suppression meds for my transplant kidney. I got my first vaccine before most people my age. I got the booster early when it was offered. I also stayed inside more, didn’t eat as well, and dropped off exercising. I put on weight. I tried to start running again a few times, but I was dragging. I had zero stamina. In late 2021, I tried to start walking regularly again. Every time I walked, I experienced a little bit of chest pain. It felt like indigestion. In the back of my mind, since it coincided with exercise, I thought it could be angina, a blood flow issue, but I concluded it was probably heartburn. Then, on New Year's Eve, it got really bad.

I Almost Died

I went into the emergency room on New Year’s Eve with bad chest pain. The place was packed because of Covid. It took hours to be seen. My EKG looked fine. They found nothing, but set me up for a stress test to rule out heart blockages. That was scheduled for January 12, 2022.

I stayed in pain for two weeks. It wasn’t continuous, but there were 24 and 48 hour periods where I hurt all day and had to sleep sitting up. I probably should have gone back to the hospital, but I’d already been there, they hadn't found anything, and the treadmill test was the next thing.

On the 12th, I had a heart attack on the treadmill. The EKG showed nothing because the blockage was in my LAD (Lower Anterior Descending Artery). That type of blockage is known as a widow maker because it hides until it's too late. I took my final scan after the treadmill and then collapsed in the hallway. They wheeled me to the emergency room where I sat in the lobby until I had a rise in pain and blacked out again. That’s when they identified the heart attack, got me on blood thinners, and scheduled the heart cath for the next day. They found the blockage and put in two stints. I could have easily died at any point along the way.

Starting from Zero

I’m now in cardiac rehab. My heart is damaged, but they believe it can heal. I exercise in a hospital health center at six in the morning three days a week, wearing a heart monitor while medical staff tell me what to do and for how long while regularly checking my blood pressure. I’m one of the youngest people there, but a lot of the older guys are moving better than I am right now. The place is full of lung and heart patients and we’re all starting from zero and rebuilding from unhealthy places.

I’ve been a full-time writer throughout all of this craziness. Writing demands sitting still for extended periods of time. There is a benefit to getting up and moving around to get ideas flowing, but there is also great reward to staying in the chair to write. Staying in the chair is looked on as a virtue. Caffeine and snacks are staples of the industry. Heavy drinking is a long-held writing tradition. A lot of authors have had heart attacks, though. So what does it take for an author to be healthy?

Highest Impact for Lowest Effort Exercises

There are more effective exercises than these. There are programs that progress you towards better results. This is a good place to start, though. These examples are lower effort compared to more strenuous or advanced exercises, but they are exercises that can make a difference.

1. Walking

It’s hard to beat walking for impact on weight and health. It is the first thing they have you do after a heart attack. It is what athletes do when recovering from injury. It is the first step if you have a severe weight problem. It produces results, too. If you are starting from zero, you will see immediate impact from walking. Early weight loss tends to be water weight, which usually equates to inflammation, so getting rid of it is positive. You can add distance or time as you progress. Even marathon and ultramarathon programs typically include walking days. No matter where you are in your health journey, walking is important.

2. Stretching

This can be yoga or the cool-down stretches people typically do after running or walking. One of the things I miss most from my regular running days is the flexibility I developed from stretching after runs. I started out very stiff and inflexible. After a while, I was able to bend much better. I’m back to being stiff again, and could benefit from getting back into stretching. You can look up a number of videos that give examples of various stretches, or you can join a yoga class or practice along with yoga videos to improve strength and tone.

3. Biking

Especially if you are dealing with flat ground or if you have an indoor option, biking gets you healthy results with a low entry point of effort. Adding speed, time, or hills/difficulty as you progress increases those results. There is a school of thought that pushes away from cardio exercise, because under certain conditions it is not as effective at eliminating belly fat. Losing weight and fat is important, but we shouldn’t discount the impact of cardio-vascular health. Your heart and lungs keep you alive and, if neglected, they can kill you. This type of exercise also lends itself to people with mobility issues.

4. Squats

There are several styles of squats, believe it or not, and each one has big impact on strength and calorie burn for the motion involved. These may be harder than they look, but you start with a number you can do and add to that number over time. Good videos or people who know the proper form can help you get these right for the best results. As you build endurance, you’ll see more and more results.

5. Planking

This exercise takes more effort, so be prepared to only be able to plank for short stretches. As you add on time, you’ll get strength and tone results. This is high impact, especially for a body weight strength building exercise.

Low Effort/Big Result Diet Hacks

There is no shortage of information on dieting. Many opinions contradict one another, and those with opinions are sure of them. As always, default to the opinions of people with medical degrees on the wall and your medical records on file. These hacks include little things you can do to give yourself an edge, no matter what long-term strategies you and your doctors decide to adopt.

1. Drink Water

Like with the exercises, this hack is progressive in results with how far you take it. Start by drinking some water if you are drinking none. Have a water bottle with you to remind you to do so. Use alarms or apps to remind you to hydrate. Buddy up with others for accountability. If you already drink a little water, drink more. If you regularly drink water already, replace other drinks with water. If you really want to push it, switch to only water. Whichever level you take this to, there are a lot of positive side effects. A few benefits include less hunger, feeling healthier, clearing out your system better, improving several processes within your body, lowering the amount of calories from liquid sources, and lowering the amount of sugar from liquid sources. Drinking more water or only water will cause you to drop some initial weight quickly and help to stay within daily calories marks.

2. Sleep More/Go to Sleep Earlier

Rest by itself generally contributes to health and weight loss. But life does not lend itself to going to bed early or getting a full night’s sleep. Getting the proper amount of rest involves sacrifices if you want to do it consistently. Your body will stop you if you deny yourself rest for too long. You’ll crash or burn out if you don’t rest by choice. Resting will give you more energy to exercise, especially if you are getting up early to do so, or during a mid-day lull or after a long day of work. Feeling better will make it easier to stick with other disciplined choices or health goals. Going to bed earlier also makes it easier to cut late-night snacking.

3. No Snacking After Dinner

Late night snacks tend to undermine the day’s efforts. Any calorie deficit you achieve during the day can be undone by a few random calories at night. Our habits tend to push snacks at these hours toward unhealthy choices. This is typically more about bored or mindless eating than true hunger. By not snacking between dinner and breakfast, you technically get a fasting period that contributes to weight loss. You’ll have to overcome deep-set habits to avoid this. You might have to go somewhere in your house farther away from the kitchen, or get rid of your biggest late-night temptations with a pantry purge. It helps if others in your house are onboard with this plan. As mentioned above, going to bed earlier can help with this, too. Again, this is certainly not an effortless choice, but it’ll have a big impact on your weight loss.

4. Use Smaller Plates

This might seem silly, but it’s psychological. Smaller portions on a smaller plate don't leave you feeling like you’re missing out as much. It helps with portion control and will throw off a false sense of hunger. It can help with snacks too (healthy snacks preferably). If you use a small ramekin or sauce cup instead of a bowl when getting a small snack, you’ll limit your portions better. Chips (or crisps) don’t fit well in a ramekin, so choose something else. A small container is also better than eating straight from the bag or box until you feel full.

5. Decide What You’re Eating Next and Stick With It

Decide what you’re having for breakfast the night before. Do some prep before bed to make it easier. After a meal, decide that the next thing you eat will be a banana or a ramekin of almonds. Whatever it is, don’t wait until you are hungry to decide on a snack. If you feel a twinge of hunger, ask yourself, am I ready for that banana? If the answer is not really, then drink some more water and keep working or go for a walk. When you are ready, eat the healthy snack you picked out then decide the next time you eat will be your next meal. If you feel yourself getting hungry, start getting dinner ready instead of grabbing snacks. After dinner, decide that breakfast is your next meal and take steps to make that happen. This doesn't mean you can never indulge or treat yourself, but deciding in advance what is next is a good hack to retrain yourself to eat better and to stick with your plans.

None of these hacks will solve all of your problems, but they can help, especially if you are starting from an unhealthy place. You may not be able to do them all, but adding at least one of two will make a difference. Writing is a sedentary occupation. You can be unhealthy and do it, but you are likely to be better at it and live longer if you take steps to improve your health. We all have to start from somewhere, even if that somewhere is zero.

About the author

Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in beautiful Conway, South Carolina. He is a full-time writer of horror and speculative fiction. Jay left his job as a teacher to become a full time writer and has never looked back. Well, that’s not entirely true. He wants to be sure he isn’t being followed, so he looks back sometimes.

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account: