Andrew's Stand Up Desk 30
Day Trial And Why Sitting Can Be Lethal
I was hoping a stand up desk would decrease back stiffness, improve
mental clarity, and increase my productivity, and I'm happy to report
that during my 30 day trial
all of these things happened, far outstripping my initial hopes.
The Stand Up Desk Trail: Why Try One?
In March of 2011, after a few months of intense desk-jockeying spent
working on a new book, something occurred to me: I was the an extremely
athletic sedentary person.
contradiction? Not really. Although I average 45 to 60
minutes a day of intensive exercise to keep me in shape, and another
30-120 minutes a day doing light exercise, such as casually riding my
bike to the market to buy fruit or doing my morning yoga routine, for
the rest of every 24-hour cycle I'm overwhelmingly sedentary.
sleep seven to nine hours a night, which means I'm mostly
laying motionless. Outside of the exercise I just mentioned, my waking
hours are almost totally spent sitting or laying down as well.
Running raw-food-health.net and doing various other
keeps me desk-bound, and while I almost
TV, I do love reading and am usually sitting or laying
down for that.
Moving around for a maximum of three hours per 24-hour cycle mean that
only 12.5 percent of my life is spent moving, and that's if we're
looking at my best days. My guess is that the average person spends
significantly less time moving than I do, perhaps just 4 or 8 percent
of their days.
We are not a species that evolved in a sedentary environment. Our
distant past as fruit eaters in the tropics, the roughly 200,000 years
we spent as hunter gatherers, and the last 10,000 years of intensive
agricultural work kept up active, climbing trees, searching out food,
running across the plains, and pushing plows. The inactivity we've
embraced over the course of the last century -which has
become a true epidemic
in the last 30 years -is completely unprecedented, and the consequences
The Stand Up Desk
Trial: Why Sitting Is Lethal
movement is critical; without it we die.
Everyone knows that blood is pumped out by the heart, but without
return pumps, how does it fight gravity and get back to the torso? The
body relies on the contraction of our muscles to send the used blood
(now depleted of oxygen and full of metabolic waste products that need
to be expelled) back for processing, an ingenious double use of
But in the sedentary population blood does not circulate properly
because the muscles don't contract all that much, meaning that
metabolic waste pools in the extremities. During multi-hour
transatlantic flights we see this played out, with people developing
blood clots from not moving around at all. Many die when these clots
reach their heart.
Short bouts of
high-intensity athletic activities don't protect against
the disease risks faced by people who spend their days seated, as
convenient as that would be. Studies have shown that regardless of the
amount of time you spend at the gym, the more hours you spend sitting,
the more likely you are to develop cancer (1), for instance, but that's
just the beginning.
The more time your butt in a chair, the more likely you
are to develop heart disease and metabolic problems, put on
excess weight, live a shorter life, and develop various psychological
and psychosocial problems, such as depression (2), (3).
Many bouts of low-intensity, meandering-style activity, such as you'd
experience at a
standing desk while occasionally stretching and pacing about, seems to
more beneficial in the long run than a few intense exercise sessions.
In other words,
total time spent sitting is a bigger problem than not enough intense
One interesting Australian study figured out that for each hour
spent watching TV per day, their chance of death from all causes rose a
staggering 11 percent. This figure applies even after adjusting
for age, sex, education, smoking, hypertension, waist circumference,
body-mass index, glucose tolerance status, and total time spent
We have to put this in perspective, of course. Dietary factors, such as
consumption, still cause the lion's share of the diseases that most
westerners suffer form, such as heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and
vegetables are hands down the best bulwark against disease and
aging, which is why a healthy raw food diet
is so powerful.
Yet a chair-bound life is still a danger we should all be concerned
The Stand Up Desk Trial: The Rest Of The Body
Outside of disease, the function of the rest of our bodies
degrades when we don't move.
When you sit, electrical activity in the muscles plunges to virtually
nothing, leading to a cascade of negative metabolic effects. Your
calorie-burning rate immediately drops to about one per minute, a third
of what it would be if you were walking. Insulin effectiveness drops
dramatically within a single day of being sedentary, and the enzymes
responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides decrease, which
in turn causes levels of good HDL cholesterol to fall (5).
Many people find that they eventually develop back problems from
sitting so much. Although I learned a long time ago that a yoga
routine was needed to keep my troublesome back in line, after hours of
sitting it still stiffens up and I find it unpleasant to
bend or twist.
I've also found computer work makes me mentally hazy after a few hours,
a problem I've long associated with concentrating on my work for too
long. But then I started to think about how clear my mind is when I
exercise and wondered if it was actually less of a computer problem and
more of a lack of movement and circulation problem.
With all this in mind, I realized that there was no reason why I Had to sit while I was working, so
I decided to try a standing desk for a 30 day trial
to see how I liked it.
The Stand Up Desk: The Minimalist Trial
As is my nature, I decided to just
dive into the project, replacing all of my seated computer time, which
amounted to 4-10 hours a day, with standing computer time. I figured
from the planning stage that I might have some soreness and gave myself
permission to take a few hours off per day if I was really suffering
during the adjustment period.
Since I was temporarily staying in a furnished apartment in Chiang Mai,
Thailand, and I had no desire to splurge on a proper standing desk I
may not have even liked, I decided to just make do with what I had on
My apartment came equipped with a three-quarters-size fridge, the top
of which just happened to be at the same height as my elbows, so I
decided to commandeer it as my trial standing desk.
I had no gel standing pads, which I've seen recommended as an
accompaniment to standing desks, and usually just stood barefoot on the
tile floor in front of the fridge.
I also experimented with putting boxes on top of counter tops to raise
my laptop to the right level, which worked relatively well, but not as
well as the fridge setup.
Stand Up Desk Trial: The Results
After 30 days of standing up for all of my computer time I don't think
I'll ever want to go back to a sitting-predominated work routine.
The improvements to my mind and body have been fairly substantial, and
found the adjustment to be easy.
After about a week of mild soreness in the legs and feet I had no more
problems, but I imagine a less fit or older person would have a longer
Although I sometimes hear sales clerks complain about standing on hard
for their entire work day, after having no problem
standing on a tile floor for hours, I actually think their
problem must be that they're using shoes with raised heels that also do
not allow for the proper splaying of the foot, an issue that causes major injury
problems for runners.
Although at the outset I imagined myself just standing still all day, I
actually ended up moving around a lot. I was regularly shifting my
weight from foot to foot and often had a kind of continuous sway from
side to side going on.
Instead of staying still when I was trying to figure out how to
formulate a sentence, I'd walk
away from my desk and pace a time or two around the room before
returning to type some more.
Assuming an eight-hour work day and 90 minutes of exercise, I'm now
moving for 39.5 percent of my day, up from 12.5, a pretty impressive
There's no question that many of the concentration problems I once
associated with long work sessions are actually caused by lack of
movement. I find that while standing I can keep working with optimal
clarity for almost twice the time I used to, which has lead to a nice
gain in productivity. I think the "microbreaks," of walking away from
my computer to pace and think also kept me from getting mentally worn
Even later on when I'm sitting or laying down, my mind seems more
positive and energetic. I also seem to be having more good ideas. That
may be coincidental, but inactivity researcher James Levine doesn't
think so. He's on a personal quest against what he calls the
chair-based lifestyle, and believes our work environments are stifling
“Go into cubeland in a tightly controlled
corporate environment and you immediately sense that there is a malaise
about being tied behind a computer screen seated all day," he said.
"The soul of the nation is sapped, and now it’s time for the soul of
the nation to rise (5).”
-Inactivity researcher Dr. James Levine
of the Mayo Clinic
The Back and Body
only did the back
stiffness brought about by sitting disappear at my stand up desk, but
rest of my body remained loose and warmed up for virtually the entire
day, allowing me to easily transition into other activities.
Previously I would
never want to move around much after a few hours of
seated work because I was feeling stiff and sluggish, but the stand up
desk keeps my muscles continuously warmed up.
I began experimenting with spending a few minutes during every hour of
work pumping out body-weight exercises, or doing a bit of stretching.
The switch between the various activities was smooth and comfortable,
with no warm up necessary.
physical issue I did notice was that my heels would sometimes get
sore, so I started experimenting with different standing postures,
shifting my weight and spine around. I recalled that while attending
Dr. Doug Graham's Health and Fitness Week in 2009 Doug taught a session
on proper walking posture, where he made the point that we're more
balanced and steady when our butt sticks out in back of us a bit. I
figured I'd try this for standing. This posture shifted the weight off
my heels and into my forefeet, ending the heel soreness. Since ram-rod
straightness is my default, I've had to spend some time adapting, but
so far it hasn't been a big problem.
One completely unexpected benefit has been improved sleep. I've always
had a hard time falling asleep at night, but I seem to drift off a lot
quicker since I've been doing this trial.
Stand Up Desk Trial: Giving It A Shot
that the majority of people are
not self employed and probably have their office furniture dictated by
their company, you can can still give this a shot. To try it out,
you might want to use a file cabinet or just put some boxes on top of
your desk to boost up your computer.
If you're still liking it after a few weeks, you can always ask
your boss for a standing desk of some kind. You can cite back pain and
productivity gains as your reasons. Many companies have a written
policy of accommodating the physical needs of their workers, so you
might want to check out your employee handbook. Back problems are
generally considered pretty legitimate.
Stand Up Desk Trial: The Selection
currently enjoying my
vagabond lifestyle, when I next settle down I'll be sure to get an
actual standing desk. Unfortunately, most standing desks tend to be on
the expensive side.
Geek Desks, for instance, a brand of standing desks aimed at tech
adjusts to your height with a motor and allows the desk to
sink down so you can use a chair, start at $750. The Fredrik stand up
stocked by Ikea doesn't have a motor, but costs a more reasonable $149.
If you don't want to
spend a lot of money, you may be able to pick up a second-hand drafting
or artists table off craigslist. While these might not be labeled as
stand up desk, artists and drafts people often use them in this manner.
Some are height adjustable or have tilting tops to accommodate various
1) Patel AV,
Bernstein L, Deka A, Feigelson HS, Campbell PT, Gapstur SM, Colditz GA,
Thun MJ. Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a
prospective cohort of US adults. Am J Epidemiol 2010;172:419–429 2) Patten SB,
Williams JV, Lavorato DH, Eliasziw M. A longitudinal community study of
major depression and physical activity. Gen Hosp Psychiatry
2009;31:571–575 CrossRefMedline 3) Sund AM, Larsson
B, Wichstrom L. Role of physical and sedentary activities in the
development of depressive symptoms in early adolescence. Soc Psychiatry
Psychiatr Epidemiol. 1 April 2010 4) Dunstan, D.W.
Television Viewing Time and Mortality Circulation. 2010 Jan
26;121(3):384-91. Epub 2010 Jan 11. 5) VLAHOS, James.
Is Sitting A Lethal Activity? The New York Times. April 14, 2011
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