Movement for the Writer: 6 Physical Exercises to Stimulate Your Brain

by Anne A. Wilson

Authors rely on brain power. We exercise our writing “muscles” by the act of writing. But we can also boost our brain power with physical exercise. Increased blood flow means more oxygen to the brain and exercise also stimulates the growth of neural connections in the brain. So not only does aerobic activity improve physical fitness, but brain health and memory, too.

One of our writing greats, Stephen King, certainly knows the benefits of physical exercise for the writing brain. In his book, On Writing, he described his routine of walking four miles every morning as part of his writing day. Respiratory rate up, heart pumping, blood flowing, muscles flexing and stretching—all of it clearing the cobwebs.

Sedentary writers, take heart. You can reap the benefits of exercise for brain power, too. You just want to start small. Getting your body used to some kind of movement would be the first step on the way to a realistic, sustainable exercise routine. You’ll see in the list below that most of these activities can be done by anyone and right at home.


     1. Shoulder shrugs and circles.

Wherever you are reading this—at your desk, in a doctor’s waiting room, wherever—do this now. Sit up straight (your back away from the chair back) or stand, lift shoulders to your ears, inhale through nose as you do it, then roll shoulders backward, while exhaling through mouth. Finish with shoulders low. 5-10 reps.

     2. Shoulder and chest stretch

Sit up straight or stand. Reach arms behind you and clasp fingers. Straighten arms. You’ll feel the shoulders pull back. Inhale through nose as you straighten your arms, exhale while holding, then release. If you can’t reach your hands, grab the back or sides of your chair—hands somewhere behind shoulders—inhale, and pull shoulders back.

     3. Back stretch (my favorite)

Standing or sitting. Lift arms above you, shoulder width apart. Inhale through nose as you reach higher for the ceiling, then lean back gently to look behind you. Exhale as you return upright.

     4. Walk

Around your office. Your living room. Your apartment complex. The shopping mall. The neighborhood block. Focus on posture. Shoulder carriage. Pull shoulders back. Chest out. Eyes looking forward. Insert intervals of brisk walking. From here to the lamp post. From this bush to that tree. Swing your arms well. Increase the frequency of your gait.

     5. Yoga

Calming. Centering. Great for strength and flexibility training. Again, if you don’t have access to a yoga studio, download a yoga routine you can do at home.

     6. Swim. Cycle. Run.

I would be remiss as a triathlon coach if I didn’t mention these! But seriously, you don’t have to think of these athletic disciplines in a competitive sense. Think of them in a meditative sense. You get in the zone and you go. Your mind is free to drift and daydream and this is when the writing magic happens!


“Well, Anne, that’s all well and good, but I don’t have time to exercise.”

In my job as a triathlon coach, I hear this a lot. So it’s my job to design training programs that fit into my clients’ lives and facilitate consistency. You’ve got some exercise options above, but how do you make them stick?

  1. Start small. For example, commit to walking down the block and back—five minutes—three times a week. Do this consistently. You want this to become as natural as brushing your teeth. It’s just what you do on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Once it starts to stick, you can think about increasing your duration. Or not.
  2. Fold your exercise routine into something you’re already doing. I mentioned several exercises above that you can do while sitting at your desk. Or, for example, if you have grocery shopping to do anyway, park at the farthest end of the lot so you get a good walk on the way.
  3. Exercise first thing in the morning. Not only is it done and out of the way before the day gets away from you, but you’ve stimulated the brain just before you’re sitting down to write. Which leads to the last tip . . .
  4. Change your mind set about exercise. Focus on the mental benefits. This is exercise for your mind. And a stimulated brain is a very good thing for a writer.

Whatever choose to do, make exercise part of your daily writing routine, and you may just find that it takes your writing to an entirely new level.

Anne A. Wilson is the author of Hover and Clear to Lift. She was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, and graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a degree in ocean engineering.  She served nine years active duty as a navy helicopter pilot, including three years flying search and rescue, where she specialized in high-altitude technical mountain rescue. Following her military service, she worked for four years in the semiconductor industry. Currently, she and her husband own a triathlon coaching company, Camelback Coaching. Anne lives in Fountain Hills, AZ, with her husband and two sons.  To learn more, visit

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