Another lovely morning (not) wasted at the swimming pool.

A VSL reader sent along a link to a blog post from Neil van Niekirk the day before yesterday. It was sobering. Neil was the person who helped me decide to become a Craftsy.com contributor and he also provided a great section of photographs and writing for my book on LED Lighting back in 2010. He's a great photographer and a popular blogger about photography but this blog from him was completely different. 

In it he talked about having a heart attack on his first day of vacation in Italy. It sounds like he was treated promptly and got great care. He's on target to make a good recovery. But his post sounded alarms that should be heeded not just by photographers but by anyone who has let their diet, fitness and stress management get out of whack. Just what Neil admitted he had done in his post...

Neil and his cardiologist partly blamed the sedentary lifestyle of most visual creators for causing his cardiac event. Photographers and videographers spend long days sitting almost motionless in front of their workstations editing their still images, making precise corrections and, in the case of videographers, working an edit over and over again to get it just right. Sitting, it seems, is as bad for us humans as smoking cigarettes or knocking back Scotch and sodas. 

And I've noticed that the more focused we get on these sedentary tasks the more importance (and stress) we attach to what we're doing and the deadlines surrounding the processes. When we're stressed time management tends to fly out the window and we fast track our food consumption, replacing healthy meals and snacks with things that are highly pleasurable,  and easy to eat with one hand while keeping the other hand on that all important computer mouse/pen tool/touchpad/phone. Pizza. Chips. Soft drinks, etc.

It's a killer combination. Business stress, large periods of sedentary isolation, junky, convenient food.  

I had my own health scare a long time ago and I've never forgotten the lessons I learned back then. I used to think of my time in the pool as a bit selfish and self-indulgent but now I think my disciplined approach to exercise is a benefit to me and my family on which I cannot put a price tag. Swimming every morning has kept me healthy and focused. I am within five pounds of weighing what I did when I left college nearly forty years ago.  And my blood pressure is probably lower.

Swim practice started right on time this morning at 7am. I was in lane three, leading my three other lane mates through the workout. I felt like I could accomplish anything. But I also realized, after reading Neil's blog post, just how important the ongoing camaraderie is as well. The joking around during the short breaks between sets, catching up during kick sets and checking in with each other as we leave the pool. 

Most people have ample opportunities to socialize all day long in their workplaces but creative people tend to spend a lot of their work lives in solitary pursuits. I remind myself how important it is to hit "sleep" on my computer and head over to the coffee shop to catch up with friends. How vital it is to my general health to meet Paul for sushi on Thursdays or to meet a few other friends for a stroll through the salad bar at Jason's Deli. 

Exercise, diet, sleep and community. It's worth remembering that none of these things are wasted time. None of them are diminished productivity. It's the opposite. We should work just enough to be able to do these things. Everything beyond work should be play. 

I'm sending all the good thoughts and positive energy I can to Neil. The great thing is that creative people tend toward resilience and discipline. I think Neil will do well. It sounds like he's focusing on creating a healthier lifestyle.

It's a reminder to me that taking time to take care of yourself is not selfish. Remember that when cabin pressure drops it's vital to put on your oxygen mask first and then help the people around you. That's just how it works. 

Think good thoughts! I think I'll head back over to the pool and get in a few more laps before lunch....


  1. Thanks Kirk for a message well shared!


  2. The idea "if you want it done right, do it yourself," is what kills people. I've never had a budget so small, that I could not hire a retouch-er or an editor. YMMV.

  3. Awww. Anonymous, you make it sound like some of us are taking a break to go outside, change our own motor oil and dump it down the storm drains. Can't believe you couldn't retouch one portrait for one little client by yourself..... "Never a budget so small"? Really? Not even when you were a tiny, young photographer or videographer? Not ever? Lucky.

  4. Kt,
    No truer words ever spoken ( or written ).

  5. Really? Not even when you were a tiny, young photographer or videographer? Not ever? Lucky.

    Not ever. I've found that delegating work to experts gives me more time to do what I do best. Things like pre-pro on upcoming projects or sales calls to get me more upcoming projects.

  6. This is such a timely post...as I am wrapping up 15 hours at the computer, which has kinda been going on the last several months...

    So, instead of catching up on this blog (and a bunch of others) and spending more time sitting here...I am logging off and going for a summer's night walk in my MA neighborhood right now...and will indeed set tomorrow AM and get back into an actual LIFE groove, instead of enhancing shareholder value.

    Please post something like this every 3 months to help backsliders.

    ILVSL (I Love Visual Science Lab),


  7. And it's incredibly important to keep in mind that even the apparently fit can still have heart attacks. I was just talking last evening with a friend about someone she knows who is a top-tier squash player who, had he not paid close attention to symptoms (basically, in his case, heartburn) would be dead today. Keeping fit is the best idea, but paying attention to anomalous physical symptoms is vital.

  8. Its easy to trool when your Anonymous. zzzzzzz

  9. So true, Kirk. As Stephen said, the apparently fit can suffer heart attacks, which was what happened to me when I was out for a run. Unfortunately being super fit doesn't protect you from your genes as all the males in my family get heart disease sooner or later. However despite having a 99 percent blocked main coronary artery I never lost consciousness or collapsed because my heart had such a good collateral blood supply. I then had a triple bypass operation and didn't even get sent to intensive care afterwards because I was so fit. I also recovered faster than two of my fellow patients who were younger than me and had their operations earlier than I did. So keeping yourself fit does pay off, although not always in the way you expect. All of this treatment free of charge thanks to our great British National Health Service!


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