There are many health benefits to quilting. It reduces stress and brings about a state of well-being, and most of us find it to be a relaxing hobby. While you may not think so, quilting is also a very physically demanding hobby. As quilters, we often put excessive demands on our bodies without being conscious of doing so; how many times have you continued working even though your hands are aching and your eyes can barely focus? It's not unusual to continue working through discomfort when your focus is on finishing an important project. Sooner or later, though, you will find yourself feeling the effects of pushing your body to the limit - maybe you can't quilt as much as you would like because your body is sore, or you begin to limit the size of your projects and their complexity because you physically can't do more. Think about the last marathon quilting session you had - did your back hurt, or your hands feel tight, or maybe you developed a splitting headache. What's the answer? Get up and move!

I'm not advocating a strenuous exercise program (although if you don't exercise regularly I do encourage you to start!), but it's important to learn to listen to your body.

Any time you hold or repeat a position for an extended period of time you are going to feel it. Varying your position will help prevent aches and pains. I know many quilters who set up their sewing area with everything within easy reach so they never have to get up - they just swivel one way to press and the other way to cut and trim. I deliberately have my ironing board set up in another room, which forces me to stand up and move often. If I'm dug in for a marathon sewing session, I will set a kitchen timer for 20 minutes and I'll get up and walk downstairs to the opposite end of the house and back. I've even been known to do 15 or 20 jumping jacks if I'm really feeling stiff! The point is to take frequent breaks and throw in some sort of activity to get the blood flowing.

Stretching enables our muscles to work effectively and decreases the risk of injuries. If you are doing a lot of cutting or handwork, hand and wrist exercises are crucial.  As little as two minutes every couple of hours using these simple exercises will help reduce the pain and stiffness caused by overuse of hands and wrists.

Good posture is important while you're sewing, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you what a difference the right chair and table height can make. Even so, often we feel tension in our neck and shoulders first. Here's a simple stretching exercise you can do right at your machine. Slowly turn your head to the left and then to the right several times. Lower your head slowly to your chest and then return to normal position several times; finish by shrugging your shoulders several times. Don't strain, just stretch s-l-o-w-l-y.

If stretching exercises are new to you, just do a Google search for basic stretches to find what works for you. I love yoga for staying limber, and some of my favorite stretches can be found at this link Yoga Stretches at Your Desk, and they can all be done from the comfort of your chair.

It's easy to fall into bad habits when we have a chance to indulge our love of quilting. Being mindful of how important good habits are for our body, and moving and stretching will just make the experience more enjoyable in the long run. So next time you're quilting remember to get up and move!

-Melisa