Sitting Is Killing You - The Benefits Of A Standing Desk

I adore my standing desk.

I feel more energetic. It’s easier for me to stay focused. The health benefits are in the back of my mind all the time, helping me feel virtuous and keeping me on my feet even when the chair is calling.

Maybe you’ve noticed that anything you research turns out to be the worst thing in the world. If you Google obesity, or smoking, or drug abuse, or global climate change, or the collapse of honeybee colonies, or the pests taking down forests worldwide, or droughts in the Southwest, or the societal effects of income inequality, you will conclude that you have discovered the most important issue threatening your own survival (or the survival of the human race). You’ll be right but to keep perspective you have to remember that whatever you look into is jostling with all the other things that are Clear And Present Dangers.

With that in mind, you should know that sitting is killing you. There’s an infographic here and another one here that summarize all the reasons that we are not meant to sit all day.

—  Sitting increases your risk of death. “Sitting for more than six hours per day makes you up to 40% likelier to die within 15 years than someone who sits less than three hours per day. Even if you exercise.

—  Sitting makes us fat. You burn more calories chewing gum than you do slouching in a chair.

—  Sitting wrecks our bodies. Extended periods of sitting causes problems with blood glucose control, reduces enzyme activity that ought to be breaking down blood fats, and causes drops in good cholesterol and insulin effectiveness.

It adds up to higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer than people who sit less. Sitting is the new smoking.

Sitting is the new smoking

[June 23, 2016 – Steve Brielmaier of Miracle Desk put together a nice collection of 44 Benefits Of A Standing Desk, which covers all the health benefits plus performance and fitness benefits and more. Recommended!]

Standing desks have been around for centuries – Leonard Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov, and Ernest Hemingway all used them. In our lifetimes, though, they have mostly been curiosities until a flurry of articles in 2012 in places like the New York Times, Forbes, Wired, and Huffington Post brought them new attention. Since the health benefits are so obvious, standing desks are now becoming a mainstream option, often discussed and written about. I expect them to be a fixture in many more offices in 2014.

There is no shortage of advice about getting started with a standing desk. It can be as simple as piling some books on top of your desk to balance your monitor and keyboard.

Getting started with a standing desk

There are popular Ikea hacks that match inexpensive pieces that stack nicely. Here’s one that costs $22.

Standing desks - Ikea hacks

There are standing desks in every price range. When you do your web search for reviews, you will quickly run across this comprehensive article on The Wirecutter which appeared in August 2013 comparing the best-known standing desks and adding a wealth of practical advice about how to decide what will work for your body, your lifestyle, and your budget.

It’s a persuasive article, with all the information you need about how much you should stand (not all day), the benefits of an adjustable desk versus a fixed-height desk, and which standing desks are ugly. (Quite a few of them.)

The author of the Wirecutter article strongly recommends the NextDesk Terra for anyone with a budget that can withstand a $1500+ investment. “Last year I recommended [the NextDesk Terra] as the best desk to daydream about. Now I say that if you want an adjustable desk, get this one. All of the others pale in comparison. And even though it costs more, it is actually a great value.”

Standing desk - NextDesk Terra

I had already been thinking about standing desks for a year before I discovered the Wirecutter article in late September. It convinced me to place an order for the NextDesk Terra.

It didn’t ship right away. When I called NextDesk, they explained that the Wirecutter article (which was picked up by Wired Magazine and a number of other media sites) had caused their orders to shoot up by 900% practically overnight. They’re trying to keep up with demand and dealing as fast as possible with fluctuating bamboo prices and supply shortages.

The desk arrived in four weeks, packed in a flat 200-lb cardboard box strapped to a shipping pallet. Assembly was easy, with convenient touches throughout – screws in place where they were going to be used, clear instructions.

Desks from NextDesk are expensive. My desk was two thousand dollars after adding some accessories – a pre-mounted power strip on the underside of the desk, a dual monitor stand, and a vanity cover to route some of the wires more neatly from desk to floor. The reward is a high quality of materials throughout and a mechanism for moving the desk up and down that is whisper-quiet and smooth. The push-button controls on the front raise and lower the desk in a few seconds to switch between standing and sitting.

As you look around your office to see whether this would work for you, keep in mind that cable management is always difficult. Some of the cables won’t be long enough to reach the computer if it’s on the floor. You’ll see more of the cables when the desk is raised; it takes some effort to tuck them away and still get them to where they plug in.

Many people have difficulty starting to use a standing desk because of sore feet and back aches. Here’s one account:

Don’t your feet hurt?

“Yes, very much. In fact, the first three days were brutal, so painful I doubted the whole endeavor. By mid-day 2, I had to sit down every hour or so. I was distracted and had a hard time focusing on anything but how much my feet hurt. At night I sat on the couch with my feet elevated. I collapsed into bed totally exhausted. I never appreciated sitting as much as I did the first three days.

“Then, on the fourth day, it wasn’t so bad. On day 5, I got lost in work for 2 hours before I thought about the fact that I was on my feet once. Now it’s my new normal.”

I feel fortunate to have had no aches and pains after a month of using a standing desk. I wear shoes for the support but otherwise have spent almost no time sitting down since the desk arrived. Part of the reason that works for me is that I’m typically not at my desk for eight hours a day; I’m driving or working in your office or running errands. On the physical side, your mileage may vary and you might need a lengthy break-in period to get used to standing for long stretches. There are good health reasons to divide the time spent sitting and standing – it’s part of the reason to invest in something like the NextDesk Terra that makes it easy to switch positions.

Standing in one position for extended periods has its own health issues so I try to spend the day in motion – standing, stretching, pacing, and a kind of spastic motion when music is on that is the best I can do for dancing. The next step, so to speak, would be a treadmill designed to fit under the desk and run continuously at a low speed, 1-2 MPH. There are glowing tributes to treadmill desks online from true believers. I’m not convinced I want to go that far (and a treadmill with the right specs built to last would be another thousand dollars), so no treadmill for now.

If you’re sitting at a desk all day, make sure you get up and move around frequently. Consider a standing desk if your workspace can accommodate it. I’m feeling perky and energetic and I give the desk a lot of the credit. When you consider the health benefits, it might be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

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