Office Chair Be Gone: My Standing Desk Experiment


My DIY standing desk set-up.

A few months ago I decided to try out a standing desk. Long hours sitting in front of my computer had made me feel like an old woman: creaky and cranky. I'd read about standing desks (and treadmill desks, and bicycle desks) but never seriously considered it to be an option for me. But then our CTO made the switch, I read this article in The New York Times, and I thought, well, why not? Here's how it went:

Pin it button

Our Marketplace editor, Mat, mugging it for the camera at his own (non-standing) desk.

First of all, what's so bad about sitting? Turns out a whole lot. Sitting increases your all-cause mortality rate, according to this study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and this study from the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal, as reported on by The New York Times. In fact, the amount of time spent sitting trumps physical activity, meaning no matter how physically active you are, the longer you sit the greater the chances you will die. (Gulp.) Prolonged sitting also shuts down the circulation of a fat-absorbing enzyme called lipase, according to this study. Brett and Kate McKay of the blog The Art of Manliness sum it up this way:

When you sit, the electrical activity in your muscles flat lines, and your body uses very little energy. Powering down your body like that for long periods of time leads to a cascade of negative effects. Your heart rate, calorie burn, insulin effectiveness, and levels of good cholesterol all drop. Your body also stops producing lipoprotein lipase and other molecules that are only released when you flex your muscles, such as when you are standing and walking. These molecules play an important role in processing fats and sugars; without them, your metabolism suffers. Add these factors up, and it's no wonder that those who sit for long periods of time each day have larger waistlines and worse blood sugar and blood pressure profiles and are at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer than who sit less.

Is it any wonder I was looking for a change? It turns out standing desks are nothing new; there are repeated mentions of them throughout history and literature. Known standing desk users included Thomas Jefferson, Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck, and Winston Churchill, as well as Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway. ("In Ernest's room there was a large desk... He never worked at the desk. Instead, he used a stand up work place he had fashioned out of a bookcase near his bed. His portable typewriter was snugged in there and papers were spread along the top of the bookcase on either side of it..." - AE Hotchner, from Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir.)

Pin it button

You can buy adjustable standing desks, but I took the poor man's route and DIY'ed my own.

How I Made My Standing Desk

• 2 bankers boxes
• 2 shelves stripped from the wall in my office
• 2 stacks of magazines to adjust the height for my keyboard
• 2 small orange metal drawer units to prop up my monitor to the correct height

It ain't pretty, but it's functional.

As I told Gregory, the managing editor of our sister site Unplggd, in this post reviewing the GeekDesk (which our CTO now uses), standing was very fatiguing the first week or so. I had to sit down every couple of hours. But gradually my body adjusted to the habit, and now by day's end I get a I-feel-I've-worked-hard-all-day-and-really-deserve-to-just-chill-out-now feeling. I've also discovered that standing helps keep me focused, and I'm less likely to procrastinate than when I'm sitting. In order to stand for most of the day, though, I do the following things to make it easier:

  1. I may wear my beloved heeled clogs everywhere else, but when I'm in the office, I stand in Birkenstocks.
  2. I focus on my posture: lift my head, tilt my pelvis forward for improved spinal alignment, push my shoulders back, try to "lift myself" up tall and straight and look directly ahead into my computer screen.
  3. I fidget. I stretch. I play music and I let myself dance. I don't worry about keeping still. If I feel like moving in any way, I do.
  4. I sit down over lunch and during meetings to give my legs a rest. It should be noted that too much standing isn't a good thing either, which is why I make sure to take sitting breaks throughout the day.

The one area I haven't really experimented with yet is trying to do vigorous exercise after I've been standing all day. (I try to do my workout routines in the morning and on the weekend.) But one commenter in this post mentioned that once he started using a standing desk, his "energy levels and evening fitness routines dropped way off. It's not a workout but it's fatiguing enough during the day to really sap you." For evening exercisers, it could be a little more challenging.

Do you use a standing desk? Did you try it out and go back to sitting? Tell me your experiences and share your tips!

More Resources:

Phys Ed: The Men Who Stare At Screens | The New York Times
Is Sitting a Lethal Activity? | The New York Times
Stand Up While You Read This! | The New York Times
Are You Sitting Down? Why a Stand Up Desk Might Save Your Life | Mashable
My Standing Desk Experiment | ZenHabits

(Images: Cambria Bold)

21 Comments