Experiments with a standing desk

For the past seven months, I’ve been on my feet at a standing desk.

It all started when I started at Vermont Tech. My office was previously used by a vastly different department, so I somehow had three desks and three filing cabinets, all of which were empty and didn’t serve my paperless work style. I realized I could start from scratch in designing the space – and it is a gorgeous space.

I’ve heard, for the past few years, that sitting all day is killing us desk jockeys. In 2011, NPR reported that “…researchers are beginning to suspect that even if you engage in regular exercise daily, it may not be enough to counteract the effects of too much sitting during the rest of the day.”

standing deskFurthermore, epidemiologist Steven Blair, a professor of public health at the University of South Carolina, conducted a study (of only men, unfortunately) exploring the correlation between sitting and heart disease and concluded that “those who were sitting more were substantially more likely to die.”

Okay, I won’t make the obvious point that we’re all going to die with equal probability (oops, I just did!), but studies across the board link a sedentary lifestyle with higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, poor circulation, and high blood pressure. The related conclusion, as Blair noted, scares me: those 30 minutes of exercise after work don’t counteract eight hours of sitting at your job (and then more at home, for dinner, TV, reading, etc.).

Across campus, a colleague has jacked up a desk on cinderblocks and is standing all day. I’ve also read about start-ups and at-home entrepreneurs experimenting with standing desks, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Standing desk
At the lowest level, you’re seeing a laptop and docking station. The keyboard is right under the monitor.

Before the Facilities team removed all of the furniture, I went shopping in the college’s storage rooms and found a desk that could be adapted. It’s a pretty simple desk, as you can see from the photos, but it’s pulled up to its highest notch on the legs. I added that extra desk mount for the computer monitor and also extended the monitor as high as it would go.

I really dove in and stood all day from the beginning. Of course, I have meetings in which I sit and those can sometimes take up several hours of the day.

Standing, at first, hurt my feet. Then my calves and shins hurt. Then the ache moved up into my knees, then my lower back, like the pain was working it’s way up and out of my body. After about a month, and especially once I added the anti-fatigue mat, the pain was gone.

Now I stand all day. I also pace and lean and sometimes I stretch.

The curious thing is that the standing desk has made me more productive. I find myself thinking about getting through a task or project, as if I were just standing for a moment and had a rest (or a sit) coming to me after the project. But, of course, I’m standing all day, so it’s one project after another and I have to consciously take a seat or go for a walk if I want a break.

I’ve also been visiting a chiropractor for the past three months, since the standing desk has brought me a heightened awareness of how I’m standing and supporting my own body. A chair is a beautiful thing, but it disguises a lot of misalignment, fatigue, pain and weakness that our bodies should naturally feel.

Overall, I love the standing desk experience. Next, I want to drop a treadmill under there to take it all to the next level!

Do you sit for most of the day?

Do you think you could stand for even a few hours each day if it meant you’d add more years to your life?


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