Dec 11

Standing work station for better health

by in Sheila

I sit at my desk, often without getting up, for way too many hours a day. Over the years I’ve tried setting alarms to get me up imagining I’d do a little yoga or climb some stairs in the building. It never lasts long. I’ve been aware of the standing desk movement for 20+ years but I’ve always thought it wasn’t for me due to the plate in my foot and my “bad back” (from scoliosis). Recently I connected up with a WordPress colleague who is a massage therapist and has a new niche called Office Fitness. He’s big on standing desks which got me exploring what’s out there.

The Whys

As it turns out, there’s a ton of new research out there and it’s pretty convincing. Mark Lukach‘s review of standing desks includes a host of links worth checking out. I’m not going to copy all he wrote but I do want to share a little in case you don’t head right over and read his whole article. Here are a couple of links and quotes from his detailed review:

The problem with sitting is essentially two-fold. AJ Jacobs, editor-at-large at Esquire, and author of the book Drop Dead Healthy breaks it down this way in his newest book:

The first part is obvious: We burn fewer calories when we’re sitting. The second part is more subtle but perhaps more profound: marathon sitting sessions change our body’s metabolism.

Jim Carlton writes, for The Wall Street Journal, ” A 2010 study by the American Cancer Society found that women who sat more than six hours a day were 37% more likely to die prematurely than women who sat for less than three hours, while the early-death rate for men was 18% higher.”

And the final info from Mark’s article was the most convicincing for me (as an exerciser):

No, really, exercise only helps a little bit, or not at all. Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist and research fellow in biology at Imperial College London who writes on the “influence of science and biology on modern life” for The New York Times, says,

It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.

My process

Suddenly I had a fire lit under me to do something about this. I decided to experiment. First I borrowed a “perching stool” from our cohousing friends at Schemata Workshop. I liked it conceptually but my desk was the wrong height and the stool a bit too uncomfortable for long usage.

Then I had good friend Bill W. create blocks to lift my desk so I could see what it was like to stand at my desk. Surprisingly, not too bad. In fact I found that just the very act of standing caused me to do more stretching and moving around which is great. BUT…one cannot (and should not) stand still all day any more than sit all day. The borrowed stool needed my feet on the floor which was no longer possible with the taller desk. So I borrowed a different one from Spencer’s school. It was too high and too hard. Sounds like Goldilocks doesn’t it?!

So I started looking on the web to see what was out there and stumbled on a nearly local expert on standing work stations, Ergo Depot “the healthy sitting experts”, located in Portland, Oregon. In case you’re doubtful why I even bothered exploring standing desks let me share their compelling video called  Sitting is Killing You:

After exploring stools that would work at my height-boosted desk for when I needed to be seated I decided I liked the idea of a saddle stool. The higher quality ones are the Bambach and the Salli. I needed to TRY them before buying online. Luckily Portland is only 3 hours by car. We spent my birthday driving down to try these two plus a couple of other options on the showroom floor. I came home the proud new owner of the Bambach (shown below). It’s not been a week yet so I’m still getting used to it. But I like it. It really puts my spine in alignment and feels good.

BambachI had hoped I could just use my desk on blocks for awhile but I’m already seeing that having an adjustable height desk will make a big difference. While I can both stand and sit now with my monitor and keyboard at approximately good heights, I’m already noticing that depending on my shoes everything needs adjusting. I do not want to trade back pain for carpel tunnel from having my keyboard at the wrong height!

So now I’m in the process of deciding about an adjustable desk. One interesting possibility was the Kangaroo adjustable height desk. However I decided for the money the surface wasn’t large enough. This Forbes review: Six Desks to Save You from Death by Sitting offers many other options. The best bang for the buck is clearly Ergo Depot‘s offering if you want something electrically powered. The staff are knowledgeable, friendly, and patient. And they stock the best selection at the best price. I highly recommend them. They ship free so you don’t need to live nearby. I’ll be buying my desk from them in January.

The latest offering in this burgeoning category of furniture is from the founder of Keen who has invented an innovative combo solution called Focal. Check out their website’s article on Sitting Disease and their current list of what major medical research is finding out about the health risks of sitting to much, sitting disease and more.

For those on a tight budget you can skip the electric aspect and find many low cost standing desk options at this creative site called Ikea Hackers (search on standing desks). And for those who want something less static try treadmill desks! I’m pretty sure they’re not for me! But you never know, I didn’t think standing was either.

New links

Is Standing the New Smoking by Eileen Lonergan

Update: Brian Williams did a feature story on NBC January 10, 2013:
Obesity expert says daily workouts can’t undo damage done from sitting all day

Update: The New Yorker, May 20, 2013 Walking Alive,  an article on treadmill desks

Update: Another website called Just Stand offers a lot of research and facts.

Update: Just found this excellent post that includes video on posture and proper sitting/standing.

Update: Washington Post, Health Hazards of Sitting, January 2014

Follow-up: I returned the stool and bought a Focal!

FUN Option: Hamster Desk will keep you moving!