It’s been practically impossible to ignore the number of downright frightening articles, reports and statistics that have emerged over the past year or two regarding the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. More specifically, the fact that sitting for 6+ hours a day at a desk can literally kill you. Here’s a fun statistic:
“Last year, the American Cancer Society concluded that a woman who sits more than six hours a day is 34 percent more likely to die prematurely than a woman who sits less than three hours a day. For men, the differential is 17 percent. Among the entities reporting a connection between sitting and cancer, heart disease and other serious health problems are the American Cancer Society, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association” (John Stodder, Jr., Finance & Commerce).
What’s worse, they report that no amount of exercise before or after the period of sitting will undo the damage. So, even if you wake up and go for a run every morning before work, walk around on your lunch break and make a few trips to the water cooler, if you’re sitting at your desk for 6 of your 8 hour work day, you’re still doing serious damage to your health. Going beyond the scary premature death statistic, there are a whole slew of health risks (cancer, blood clots, diabetes, circulatory/skeletal/muscular problems to name a few) all directly tied to sitting for long periods at a time. If you’d like to read about them yourself, check out these reports from the American Cancer Society, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the Mayo Clinic, the American Heart Association.
These stats startled me enough to try out the growing trend of standing at work. A number of major corporations have already adopted standing desks, and after discussing the experience with a few people who’ve tried it, I decided to give it a whirl. Below are a few tips and observations from my experience.
Quick disclaimer: I’m not a doctor nor claim to be one. These are my personal findings based on my unique experience. Standing desks are not recommended for everyone, especially if you have certain health conditions.
A few things I’ve learned:
The first thing I learned as I ventured into this whole thing was just how expensive standing-desks and table-top contraptions that enable standing are. The most basic of table-top style mechanisms runs you over $300, and once you get into the desks themselves you’re climbing into the thousands.
Browsing all of these product options, I kept thinking “I don’t understand why this is so difficult. It’s a fairly simple concept. Something that allows you to adjust the height of your workspace doesn’t sound like rocket science.” I predict that if this trend of standing at work catches on more and more, we’ll see cheaper options emerge.
Until then, bust out your DIY chops and get creative. For me, this meant a scavenger hunt around my office for items that could be used to build a temporary desktop platform of sort. I played around with a few configurations (and a few hilarious failed attempts), but found the most success by laying the computer tower horizontally and stacking 5 reams of 81/2×11 paper on it, topped off with the monitor. I’m a hardware novice, so I can’t speak to whether this set-up could potentially be an issue in terms of weight on the tower, so proceed with caution (or ask your friends in IT).
For the keyboard, I used an empty banker box. Next to that is another stack of paper reams for the mouse and mouse pad.
Like I said, it’s not pretty…
This all sounds a little more complicated than it is, and while it doesn’t look pretty, the ability to easily pull the monitor and keyboard back down to sitting level is a key factor in the success of this arrangement. Unfortunately, one of the biggest downsides is the loss of desk space.
I learned after Day 1 that unless you are a fairly active person that is accustom to standing for long periods of time, it takes some easing into. I made it about 3 hours the first day before I gave in due to sore legs, a not-so-friendly reminder of how out of shape I’ve become.
The transition from sitting to standing in terms of doing work on the computer was less of an issue than I had imagined. For whatever reason, I thought I’d have to get used to an arduous adjustment typing, reading the screen, scrolling, etc. in the standing position. After about 20 minutes (and an emergency task that required some serious focus) I was mostly comfortable with the setup. Thus far, about 4 days into it, I’m spending the first half of the day sitting, the second half standing, and this arrangement seems to work well.
If the image of yours truly running around collecting boxes and building a tower of paper seems a little, er, unconventional in a conservative office setting, I assure you—it was (did I mention that my office doesn’t have a door?). Therefore, I feel it’s only necessary that I give fair warning to any of you who take on this endeavor: be prepared for strange looks, unwanted attention and a little embarrassment. Unless you work at an extremely progressive company, like say, Google, that has already incorporated standing desks and other “new age” health-conscious measures for employees, your standing-desk adventure will likely raise a few eyebrows around the office. For one, it’s difficult to fly under the radar when your head peeks out over the walls of your cubicle, or those passing by your office notice a rather odd structure atop your desk (let alone your missing office chair). Be prepared to feel a little silly for the first few days. By day 2 I already had a scripted answer to the seemingly endless question: “What’s going on with your desk? Why are you standing?” Just keep in mind that it’s a relatively short amount of time before your unconventional office setup becomes old news, or better yet, you’ve started a new trend.
Stay strong, my friends, because the pros outweigh the cons. Along with the obvious health benefits, here are a few other perks I’ve found (in no particular order):
• Increase in energy. We all know that 3:00pm feeling. Late afternoons typically yield frequent glances at the clock, a few yawns and easy distractions. Standing kept my blood flowing and my energy up. I was more alert, and was able to keep up the pace.
• Burn more calories. I don’t work out. I’ve been lucky enough to maintain a healthy weight by eating well, but as I am now reaching the end of my twenties, it’s becoming more and more apparent that this perk of youth has a fast approaching expiration date. From simply standing for 4 hours at my desk, I’m burning around 50 more calories an hour than I would be sitting. That number increases when you take into account that you’re also more likely to move around your office when already in the standing position (it’s science!). I may be standing, but I’m certainly not standing still.
• Sleep better. People who burn more calories a day tend to sleep better at night, and we can all use a little more sleep. Of course, it could be psychosomatic, but I feel like I’ve had better rest recently.
• More awareness. I’m quite guilty of getting in “the zone” at work and becoming completely oblivious to what’s going on around me. As I mentioned above, standing does not mean you’re standing still. Most of the time I’m tapping my foot or shifting my weight or even dancing a little (Spotify Premium + headphones=more fun at work. Also science.) So, as Newton noted, if you’re already moving you’re likely to keep moving. Thus, I’ve been walking documents over to coworkers rather than interofficing them, have been more aware of movement going on around me, etc. I can honestly say that standing has made me feel more in touch with my coworkers.
It’s only been about a week, so I hesitate to claim that my new routine of standing for half the day reflects a major, long term change in my office life. I suspect that other issues—good and bad—will arise as time goes on, which could of course alter my opinion on all of it. Or I might just become lazy. Nevertheless, for the present moment, I’m enjoying the benefits of it and encourage all of you to give it a shot, and of course, let me know about your experience.