Our society nearly all share one thing in common. We all sit a lot. Have you heard that sitting is killing you? There is lots of evidence to support the idea that he who sits the most dies the soonest.
Though our great shift towards computer-based work has done great things for productivity, it has, unfortunately, done terrible things for our health including increased risks for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
In 2012, I decided I was moving to Scotland. My employers were very supportive and encouraged me to work from home. I was conscious that staying home all day might not be the healthiest. I thought that this might be my chance to experiment in ways to stay healthy.
There were lots of ideas out there on how to make work less static – from the clever (like a WorkRave) to the eccentric (like a Treadputer – similar idea also covered by the NYT). There were lots of novel ideas but I needed something effective and achievable. I couldn’t be distracted or out of breath on calls. One idea kept recurring; standing.
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.
Indeed, if you consider only healthy people who exercise regularly, those who sit the most during the rest of the day have larger waists and worse profiles of blood pressure and blood sugar than those who sit less. Among people who sit in front of the television for more than three hours each day, those who exercise are as fat as those who don’t: sitting a lot appears to offset some of the benefits of jogging a lot.
A standing desk is basically any desk where you can work while standing. Typically the monitor, keyboard, and mouse are elevated to match the ergonomic position required to operate while standing. Moving to a standing desk can sound like an odd/extreme change along with being a big commitment to do all day. I’ve worked in lots of fields (construction, retail, entertainments) where one of the ‘perks’ of an office job is the permission to sit!
My new found sedentary lifestyle, where my commute involved walking in slippers from my bedroom to my ‘office’ would quickly see me become lethargic and unhealthy. In this case, perhaps an extreme solution might be needed. A lot of reading seemed to support a range of health and productivity benefits. I was sold.
Obviously not everyone is the same size when standing. When I looked around online, I came across all kinds of motorized/adjustable height standing desks. It was clear that buying a purpose made standing desk could become a fairly costly and involved exercise. I even found a desk that tracked calorie burned while standing. If money was no object theWireCutter (a great website) maintains a list of the best standing desks for purchase. On the whole, they varied from 250-1000 pounds and without being based in the US they were rarely easy get hold of or set up.
For a standing desk all you really need is a surface at standing height. I set about my own ‘IKEA hack’. As it is fairly easy to assemble as any IKEA table, I was fairly confident I wouldn’t have to live with some wonky Frankendesk.
My chosen standing desk was a repurposed IKEA kitchen utility table. It offered me a wide desk with lots of space for writing, files and my laptop. It was also a particularly low risk option. The four adjustable chrome legs I chose could actually be dropped back down to a ‘normal’ desk height if I really found that it wasn’t working for me. A smaller second shelf also propped up an external monitor.
What you’ll Need:
- Vika Amon Table Top (cant find on IKEA.co.uk but they do have the Gerton
- 4x Vika Byske Legs
- 2x packs of Capita Legs
- 1 Lack Shelf
- You’ll also need a drill and a screwdriver for putting the brackets and table legs in place.
The instructions that come with the legs and brackets will get you through the entire process, as long as you understand that the small shelf goes on top of the large one. I positioned the desk itself to a level whereby I could lean my elbows on the desk.
The original ‘wired’ setup:
- Plantronics 37852-11 Audio 310 Mono PC Headset
- DELL USB Black Optical Scroll Mouse
- DELL USB Keyboard BLACK SLIM
- Dell UltraSharp U2412M 24 inch LCD TFT Monitor
- Dell Latitude E5420 Laptop Notebook Core i5 2.5Ghz, Windows 7 Professional
- DELL E-Port Plus Advanced Replicator Docking Station
Obviously, the idea of a standing desk is to… stand. Almost everything I read about standing said it was good for you. There was a convincing counter argument though, anything for prolonged periods isn’t healthy. As I was new to the idea I hedged a little. I went for an IKEA Franklin 29″ bar chair to sit down when my legs got tired. This was used heavily early on or later when I felt I really needed to sit down for concentration.
Like many things, switching to a standing desk is a habit change, and changing habits is something you have to work at. Not having a sitting desk available pushed me forward, but it wasn’t about willpower alone. To really make the switch, you need to start small and practice every day—The 28-Day Stand Up and Work Challenge helped me make the transition gradually, starting with just a 12 minutes of standing on day one. They progressively added more time each day, working up to an hour after the first week, and by the end of the challenge, you’re standing for half a day. The other option I looked at but didn’t try was Stand or Die. I found myself shifting from leg to leg and moving around often, as standing still is a pretty difficult task.
Over time, I’ve made a few changes to my work environment. Moving the desk around in the room to find the ‘best’ bearings etc. I added a small box to prop up my laptop. Not exactly high tech, but it was exactly the right height and depth. Later, I moved to having a wireless headset, this allowed me to walk around the room while on calls, sync my mobile via Bluetooth and listen to uninterrupted pod-casts. I liked the new wire free me, so I added a wireless keyboard and mouse. Not strictly necessary, but a nice addition and tided up my work-space. I also added a rug. Aside from helping me to protect the carpet, it also softened the ground under foot.
The ‘wireless’ updates
- Anker® High-Precision Wireless Mouse
- Anker® 2.4G Wireless Ultra Slim USB Mini Keyboard
- Logitech H800 Wireless Headset
- BT Home Hub 4 with a shared/connected WD 500GB My Passport HD
- Samsung DTV Monitor
- HP Deskjet 3070a – used mostly for scanning, this could do with an update to a laser printer with a top loader.
In terms of health, I don’t have much by way of my own comparable scientific data. Taking into account my lifestyle change as a homeworker, I’d have taken no weight change. Yes, I’ve lost weight since but I’ve also taken up regular exercise. I have noticed a marked difference in my posture and core strength. At first, standing is a bit uncomfortable, with lower back pain, but your body adjusts accordingly to accommodate the new habit.
Recently, the BBC and the University of Chester conducted a simple experiment with a small group of volunteers that showed that standing on weekdays burns calories like running 10 marathons a year. Even if it is only partially true, it sounds good to me.
Infographic from medicalbillingandcoding.org