Standing On My Own Two Feet Again

I have engaged in a new experiment. It may not last the week, but the worst thing we can do in life is stop trying to do new things. Yes, a few things may turn out to be crazy, what-the-hell-was-I-thinking experiments, but somethings will turn out to be the best thing you ever did.

Safco Products 1929GR Adjustable Stand Up Computer Desk - Grey So what craziness am I engaged in today? I have created a standing desk at work. Given that I made it out of empty and not-so-empty storage boxes on top of my credenza, my boss may not let it stay (although I did cover it with some green velvet, so it’s not quite so ugly).

I used to work in retail, so I know people can spend 8 hours a day standing (I even used to do it on concrete!). The first few days are a bitch, because your feet hurt, and then you get used to it.

So, why the sudden switch to a standing desk? Yesterday I read an alarming study about the dangers of sitting too much (The Most Dangerous Thing You’ll Do All Day). Normally I scoff at headline-generating studies because they’re alarmist (they often manipulate statistics to make something look worse than it is–such as a study which found obese people are 50% more likely to die of kidney cancer. What they failed to mention is that the average American’s chance of getting kidney cancer was about 0.005%; a 50% increase still resulted in a next-to-no-chance of getting kidney cancer.). They’re also frequently junk science, with either not enough evidence, conclusions not supported by the evidence, or they’re financed by the very groups who would profit by a certain conclusion (which makes their conclusions highly suspect).

But in this case, the study rang true. I know I’m having lower back pains from sitting too much, because I don’t have that pain on the weekends when I move around more. Also, there have been multiple other studies which have found negative health consequences to sitting too much (one found that people who sit all day have a 54% greater chance of having a heart attack–even if they were thin, didn’t smoke, and exercised the recommended amount every day; another study found people who sit have a waistline that’s 1.6″ larger, on average, than people who don’t sit much.)

In a 2007 report, University of Missouri scientists said that people with the highest levels of nonexercise activity [i.e. standing, doing housework or chores, etc.], but little to no actual “exercise,” burned significantly more calories a week than those who ran 35 miles a week but accumulated only a moderate amount of nonexercise activity. “It can be as simple as standing more,” Katzmarzyk says. 

(From Men’s Health)

A ship’s desk, circa 1869-1890

So, I’m experimenting with the standing desk. Standing desks have been around since at least the 18th century (Thomas Jefferson used one), so this is hardly a new-age movement. I have been on my feet approximately 4.5 hours today (I have 3.5 hours left to go). I sat down to eat some breakfast, and again at lunch. I have to sit down in a few minutes to make some phone calls (while I can answer the phone from where I’m standing, I can’t write anything, really, unless I sit down).

In total, I will spend about 75% of my 9-hour workday on my feet. My 1.5 hour commute is spent sitting, obviously, and when I get home, I’ll sit. So, in total, I will spend about half of my waking day on my feet. Which, when you think about it, seems completely normal and reasonable.

“If you spend too much time in a chair, your glute muscles will actually ‘forget’ how to fire,” says Hartman. This phenomenon is aptly nicknamed “gluteal amnesia.”

(From Men’s Health)

Note: Yes folks, lazy ass is a real condition.

What’s it like to use a standing desk most of the day? My feet hurt some (but they’ll adapt). My lower back hurts some, but no more or less than it did yesterday, when I was sitting all day (hopefully that will go away as I spend less time sitting). I’m not spending much time listlessly standing; I am fidgeting, shifting my weight, tapping my toes (even dancing a little) when something good comes on the radio, stretching, and I’m 10 times more likely to do something that requires me to move away from my desk. Instead of putting all of my filing in a pile–to be done when I feel like getting out of my chair–today I have filed it all away as soon as I was done with it.

Newton’s First Law of Motion: An object at rest (like your ass) tends to stay at rest until a force acts upon it. An object in motion (like your legs, when you’re standing) tend to stay in motion until a force acts upon it.

I’ve also been more productive. Today I did something I’ve been putting off for ages: I moved old computer files into archives, copied the archives to a backup, then backed up my current files. I also password-protected my computer and made a password override disk.

Some parents have noticed that children with ADHD (a condition I certainly don’t suffer from; I can stay immobile for hours at a time) concentrate better when they’re at a standing desk, because they constantly engage their muscles, thus draining some of their excess energy. They can also fidget more without interrupting their work, which also helps drain out their excess energy.

Some other bloggers discussing standup desks:

Standing Desk Experiment and Experiences
Why and How I Switched to a Standing Desk

So how can you get a standing desk? Well, you could go out and buy one, but most people don’t want to spend $200+ on a desk they’re not sure if they will like or not (although many stand-up desks are height-adjustable, which means you can always use it as a sit-down desk if you don’t like standing).

The alternative is to make yourself a redneck desk. In my case, I put banker’s boxes on top of a credenza and covered them with some fabric. Other options I’ve seen include putting your regular desk up on supports (like concrete blocks!) or adding extenders to the legs (take a pipe with a circumference slightly larger than your desk’s legs and put a screw through it 2-3 inches below one end. Put this your desk leg, so that the leg is resting on the screw). You can also make or buy a shelving unit to sit on top of your desk. Or, if you have a laptop, you can lower your desk chair as far down as it will go, put it on top of your desk, and put your laptop on the seat (please make sure you are still getting adequate ventilation or you will overheat the computer and ruin it). If you decide you like the standing desk, you can always build or buy a permanent one.

Update available.

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