Sitting is the new smoking – you’ve heard that right? Those claims may be a little exaggerated, but there’s no doubt that we are far too sedentary for our own good. A study by the British Psychological Society found people spend an average of 5 hours and 41 minutes per day sitting at their desk – and that doesn’t even include our at-home TV time. All this sitting can’t be undone by an hour at the gym, and not only is it bad for our physical health, it’s not doing our mental health any favors either. For me personally, it’s leading me to develop a Smeagol-like posture that is … not cute. Hence the standing desk.
This isn’t the first time I’d tried to make better use of my work time to increase my NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). In the late 90’s I got the crazy idea that wearing a weighted vest under my bulky sweaters would be a good way to burn extra calories at the office. Uh … no. It was like sweating into a scuba suit. Into the early 2000’s, I got one of those mini-cycles you put under your desk, thinking I’d pedal all day while I worked. Not so much. My coworkers made fun of the slight hissing sound it made, punctuated by the occasional bump of my knees on the desk. And talking on the phone? I sounded like someone you’d pay $9.99 a minute to hear.
My switch to a standing desk has been much more successful. Here’s how I fared the first week and a half.
Wednesday: Day one and I’m excited to get started. I’ve got my ¾-inch anti-fatigue mat and my monitor and keyboard configured to the right heights. My friend Kathryn has been using a standing desk for a while now and cautioned me that the ergonomics of a standing desk are non-negotiable.
Skimp on the mat and you’ll be sorry. Don’t have your arms at a 90-degree bend and you’ll be sorry. Kathryn also said the first two weeks are kind of miserable, but I was relying on my enthusiasm to see me through. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as I later learned), I spend most of Day One sitting – yes, sitting – in meetings. But when I do stand – about an hour total – I like it.
Thursday – More meetings, but this time they’re scattered throughout the day. I stand for an hour at a time, about four hours throughout the day. I definitely feel my calves, low back and shoulders are working to adjust to the new position but I’m pretty comfortable – pleasantly alert and productive, and I love being able to look out the window when I work. I have on good shoes – low-heeled Eurocomfort Born booties, so my feet aren’t hurting too badly. Standing desk, FTW!
Friday – Booties again and a shoot in the afternoon. Standing is harder today, but I chalk it up to a little soreness from a hard spin workout the night before. I land a freelance job writing a brochure about varicose veins and try not to see it as a sign from the universe. I sail into the weekend thinking I have this standing thing down cold.
Monday – Spring makes an unscheduled appearance and my booties don’t seem right for the lightweight outfit I can’t resist wearing. I opt for a maxi skirt and Frye sandals that hide my tragic lack of pedicure and fake tan. Yes, the sandals have a wooden base but they’re flatforms so I think I’ll be alright. Within the first two hours, it is painfully clear that I’ve made a terrible mistake. My feet are burning. My calves are screaming. And my low back is throbbing. To make matters worse, the sun is pouring in through my office window and I realize I’m not only sweating, I’m getting ridiculous amounts of UVA on the left side of my face and, if I don’t take drastic measures, will look like that Australian long-distance trucker whose face only aged on one side because of the UVA rays pouring in from his side window. Unilateral dermatoheliosis, it’s called. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I close the blinds. Good-bye view. Then I kick off my shoes and work barefoot till lunch. It’s not unpleasant but I do bend my knees anytime someone comes into my office so my maxi skirt will cover my feet. When I say “tragic lack of pedicure,” I mean Seabiscuit had daintier feet than I do right now. I go home at lunch and switch to Vans, vowing to get more comfortable shoes and a pedicure ASAP.
Tuesday – Vans again. My schedule this week makes shoe shopping and pedicures unlikely. I have to embrace athleisure without drifting into Sporty Spice territory. Today is the hardest day yet. I have no meetings and am standing for longer periods of time. My back hurts. I feel stiff and distracted. I admit to myself that I’m not enjoying this but am determined to power through. After several hours, I decide to Google all the benefits of a standing desk again to pep myself up and immediately see an article entitled, “Four Ways Your Standing Desk is Doing More Harm than Good.” Yikes. Turns out, “standing too much can compress the spine and lead to lower back problems over time. It can also boost your risk for carotid arteries, varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis and other cardiovascular problems since the heart has to work against gravity to keep blood flowing up from your toes.” Ugh. That brochure had been a message from the universe about varicose veins. Why don’t I listen to the universe? I begin to cycle between sitting and standing like the article recommends and feel much better.
Wednesday – I’m back to loving my standing desk. I get into a groove where I stand for about ninety minutes and sit for thirty. I also sit when anyone comes into my office so I’m not towering over them. I walk around the office more instead of relying on emails. I wear boots because it’s rainy and my feet don’t hurt. I feel like my posture is getting better and I’m not such a Smeagol. I imagine my body opening like a flower after years of sitting like this:
Thursday: Another good day. I’m rocking Adidas today and even close my office door to do some lunges and stretches during a conference call. Obnoxious, I know, but I love the opportunity to move more. I wonder for the millionth time if the people in the office building next to ours can see me. Am I someone’s reality show? I hope not. Unless I can get a corporate sponsor. Adidas, are you listening?
Friday: A rainy day and I’m back in booties. I’ve made it a week and a half with my standing desk and I’m hooked. And turns out, I’m in good company. Both Hemingway and Dickens preferred to work upright and I can see why. I discovered some definite advantages:
- I’m more alert and productive.
- I move more and walk around more. No more inertia of sitting in my chair.
- I don’t rely on email as much. I have more face-to-face conversations.
- I take the opportunity to stretch more – something I’m notoriously neglectful about.
- My mood is better.
- My posture is better.
Of course, there are a few disadvantages too, including:
- I still haven’t worked out my shoe situation. I need comfy non-athletic shoes. Stat!
- I have a sit-down and a standup station now, but my big monitor stays on the standup station. Not ideal.
- I do detect a slight feeling of moral superiority about standing. Never a good look for me.
Overall, though, I’m going to stick with standing.
What about you? Have you made the switch? Or do you have other ways to stay active during your day? Any suggestions for comfy shoes?