Ever since we started blogging – indeed, ever since we created a website to support our photography business in 2013 – the actual act of content creation has occasionally felt like an assault on my body. Work in any digital industry can be a little bit counterproductive to the goal of staying fit and living well. There are definite upsides to working like we do, but we’ve had to make conscious efforts to be sure that the downsides don’t hurt us, physically or emotionally. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to practice healthy blogging habits.
Health Challenges Posed by Blogging
There’s no getting around it. Blogging means sitting around and creating content for others to consume. The job is never done, and there is always more that you could be doing. That means you are always incentivized to sacrifice other areas of your life to feed the insatiable beast that is your beloved blog.
My main job here at Jake and Dannie is to edit photos. It’s a necessary part of running our website, since we use it as a platform to share our photography and to give advice to other travel photographers. We really want the images we post to look good. Jake captures great photos for me to work with, but I still spend hours after each photoshoot, culling the photos, making corrections, removing distracting elements, and just generally fixing up the fine details.
Photoshop and Lightroom are powerful tools, but they entail a good amount of time hunched over a computer or editing tablet, with your butt in a chair. This doesn’t exactly get your heart pumping, and it certainly isn’t good for your posture. Jake does the majority of our writing, and though he at least has the option of sitting up straight, he can’t seem to focus unless he’s in a dark, soundproof box, constantly sipping on coffee. That must have some kind of health consequences.
In addition to the direct health threat posed by sitting still for hours, blogging has other, long term liabilities. One example is the stress that comes with uncertainty and pressure to perform, two hallmarks of blogging. Most people probably picture bloggers lounging around the house in their pajamas, occasionally pulling out a laptop to share their mind. I won’t deny that I’ve worked in my pajamas. But here’s a fact: comfy though they may be, pajamas are not a cure for stress.
It may be rewarding to see your traffic grow over time, but when you are actually sitting down to create posts or edit photos, there is a huge disconnect between what you are doing right now, and the impact it will eventually have on your life. Sure it feels good to cross something off your checklist, but knowing that the reward for that task will be spread out over future years, really reduces that rush of reward hormones in your brain. Jake recently wrote about this relationship between long term goals and short term work in his monthly report, Operation Digital Nomad.
Because we never really know for sure how a post or photo will be received, we never truly feel like we are in full control of our futures. Of course, no one really is, when you think about it. But having that lack of control rubbed in your face every day can really take its toll on your emotions. Sometimes that stress can boil to the surface. Other times it just smolders, possibly leading to long term health consequences.
Building Healthy Blogging Habits
We’ve tried our best to deal with these problems by developing healthier habits when we work (and when we’re not working). We still have a lot of room for improvement, but it’s better than it used to be.
If the main obstacle to healthy blogging is staying still for too long, then the obvious solution is to move. I can’t edit photos and bounce around at the same time, so that means I have to take breaks.
I find that yoga is a two in one fix for both a lack of motion and an abundance of stress. Stretching out my muscles makes my body feel better, and a little stillness and focus helps me to clear my mind and recenter my psyche. I set an alarm for myself, and after every hour of work at the computer, I take a 20 minute yoga break in a nice sunny room. Sometimes I follow a guided yoga routine through one app or another. Sometimes I just do as I feel. That 20 minutes makes a big difference in my wellbeing and my performance.
I have a problem where I always forget to drink enough water. Our office and living room are littered with half empty (or half full!) cups of water that I poured but then forgot about. When I take my breaks I use them as a reminder to hydrate myself.
Making Health a Lifestyle Instead of a Chore
It’s becoming a cliche, but if you want to be healthy, a diet or a new workout routine, are usually not the answer. Those things are really hard to stick to, and once you stop, everything goes back to the way it was before. A healthy, sustainable lifestyle is really the only viable, long term solution.
Living in Dali, China
We’ve discovered that our decision to settle for the year in the Chinese city of Dali has presented us with a great opportunity to change the way we live. We’re located in a beautiful and safe community where we feel comfortable going outside all the time. There are playgrounds for Lisa with exercise equipment for adults. Unlike many large cities in China, the mountain air in Dali is very clean, and Yunnan province is full of farms that produce fresh produce that we purchase all the time.
Located not far from Tibet, Dali has a large Buddhist population, which means an abundance of vegetarian food for us, including many options that are healthier than noodles. Our refrigerator is small, and we like it that way. It forces us to go out regularly and buy fresh fruits and vegetables to replenish our supply. Most produce is seasonal, which means we get a variety of flavors and nutrients.
We decided not to lease a car, even though we will be here for at least a year. Our home is within walking distance of nearly everything we need to live happily. We are near three food markets, and though we can take a bus or a Didi when the weather is bad enough, we typically get in 4 to 6 kilometers of walking a day. Even taking Lisa to the playground means half a kilometer up a steep hill while pushing a stroller.
An added benefit of walking is that we see more. We get to look inside shops and cafes to discover new favorites. We take in amazing views that we wouldn’t see from a car, and make note of them for future photo shoots. And off course, it gives Jake and I a chance to spend time together, without devices in hand, talking about our business, our lives, and the world around us.
We don’t have a very big garden, and the vegetables I’ve planted will only amount to one or two very expensive, very time consuming salads. But feeding the family wasn’t really the point. I planted the gardens with Lisa in mind. As part of our effort to help Lisa understand her food and the way it impacts her health, we want her to know where it comes from and how it got to the plate in front of her.
Every morning, one of the first things Lisa does is pitter patter on her little two-year-old legs to the balcony where she checks on the plants and how much they have grown (usually not much overnight). She loves helping in the garden, and Jake and I have to hold her back from overwatering. She knows the names of our plants by sight, and she sometimes spots them and points them out when they are growing in someone else’s garden.
The photos in this post are all from our visit to Rainbow Farms, a small farm that produces fruits and vegetables and is home to various small animals as well. Lisa loved the chance to run around in the grass, but we were especially excited to see her pointing out plants that she knew, tasting ones that she didn’t, and watching intently as Lili, the owner of the farm, showed her how to pick a few samples. The experience was so obviously positive for Lisa that we intend to make outings like this routine for the family.
Cooking With Our Daughter
Much like Lisa’s rapidly developing language skills are forcing us to watch what words we use, her interest in food has us minding what we eat as well. Her attention span may be short, but she clearly has at least some inclination to learn about cooking. Because we want to teach her to prepare and eat healthy meals, we find ourselves cooking healthier food for ourselves every day as well.
Sure, she’d rather eat a cake than a carrot, but when she helps us prepare her own vegetables, she’s more excited about eating them, and that in turn encourages us to cook for ourselves rather than order from one of the many affordable restaurants we’ve found nearby. The restaurant food we’ve found here is probably healthier than what we used to get back in the States, but nothing beats home cooking.
And finally, a healthy lifestyle is more sustainable when it is rewarding. To make sure that we feel like we’re accomplishing something when we treat our bodies and our minds well, we keep track of the exercise we get and the other healthy decisions that we make. I use a fitness tracking app (keep) to monitor how much I walk every day, and we pay attention to how our bodies look and feel. I’m sure some of it is psychosomatic, but every day when we get out there and move around more, I swear I look better in the mirror when I’m getting ready for bed.
Of course, there’s no psychosomatic way to loose 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds), which is about how much weight I’ve shed after living in Dali for one month, paying attention to my lifestyle.
Choosing Healthy Post Topics
Regardless of how we spend our time when we aren’t working on our blog, or our photography, the fact that our blogging goals run counter to our health goals is still a problem. That’s why we’re also trying to focus on creating content that aligns itself with a healthy lifestyle. In other words, we are choosing topics for our posts that will require us to do things that benefit our health while giving our viewers a good read.
Prioritizing Healthy Exploration
In the Dali Old Town, there are endless stands peddling candy, skewers, and fried cheese on a stick. Those things are popular with tourists who are only in town for a day or two, but they aren’t healthy by any means. We have always focused on slow travel and slow living as our favorite way to experience the world, and this gives us a big advantage when it comes to writing about travel, and Dali in particular. We tried those snacks once, and then we were ready to move on and see what the city really had to offer.
The places we explore always seem to involve a lot of exercise. Whether it’s taking Lisa to play with other kids on a farm, or climbing up a mountain to visit a temple, we are always on foot for most of the day. We are cataloging the farmer’s markets and the healthy restaurants to share with our readers in upcoming posts, and we are skipping the bus tours that force you to sit all day while only giving you a passing glance at the amazing place you’ve come to visit.
And finally, when we work on our blog, we aren’t just thinking about the health of our numbers, but the health of our own minds and our family relationships. Sometimes we have an argument about the focus or the content of a blog post, and we take that as a sign that it’s time to work on something else for a while and let that problem sort itself out over time. We have enough material to keep us busy for a long time and there’s no point in forcing something that will create conflict.
We also think about what everything we write says about ourselves. Are we being honest with our readers and ourselves? Are we making recommendations because we actually like something or because we think it will drive traffic or affiliate sales? By looking at whether our blog reflects about us, it forces us to think about the people we want to be and the life we want to live, and contemplate whether we are being our best selves. Articles like this one, where we analyze our own behavior, take away one more opportunity to become complacent in our own well being.
We really appreciate you taking the time to read this post. On our destinations page, you can see where we have been over the last year and a half of full time travel. If you’d like to help support our travels, you can check out our resources page while you are planning your next trip or photo shoot, or you can read about our efforts to monetize this blog in Jake’s monthly report, Operation Digital Nomad.