Why I love my standing desk

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

XKCD comid

(comic from www.XKCD.com)

I am such a convert to standing desks that it’s hard not to proselytise! If I had to sum up why they’re so great I’d say this: you try it for the health benefits and you get hooked on the psychological benefits.

Although academic work meant a fair amount of sitting at a desk, it was always punctuated by teaching, talks and meetings. When I started programming for Hire Space it was the first time that I had found myself sitting down in front of a computer all day long; after a couple of weeks I found my lower back in a lot of discomfort which is why I first decided to try standing.

My initial, commitment free trial of a standing desk involved piling cardboard boxes on top of my regular desk and perching my laptop precariously on top. I positioned myself within leaning distance of the wall, in case I needed a bit of a rest! The first couple of days the balls of my feet did get a bit sore, but other than that it was pretty easy to stay standing. My lower back didn’t instantly improve, but I persevered and within a couple of weeks felt loads better.

I’ve now upgraded from the boxes to an Ikea table on top of a desk, which works fine. I have had to do a bit of adjusting, but now seem to have settled on a comfortable height : keyboard high enough that my elbows are at right angles, screens around eye-level.

It’s well known that sedentary lifestyles are incredibly bad for us; as well as back and other postural problems, sitting for more than 3 hours a day cuts years off life expectancy, irrespective of otherwise healthy habits (Time, Wall Street Journal.) What has really struck me though about switching to a standing desk is the positive impact it has had on my mental state.

When sitting down all day, I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences an afternoon ‘slump’  – around 3pm, a real craving for sugar and/or caffeine, a struggle to concentrate and sometimes even to keep my eyes open. My revelation: if you are standing up, this just does not happen! I feel much more consistently alert and productive standing.

After sitting in chair all day, probably somewhat slumped/hunched over, I feel lethargic and just a bit rubbish. At the end of a day standing, I feel absolutely fine. In fact, I usually feel pretty great (admittedly, it helps that I love my job ;))

It’s obvious really that posture is closely linked to mental states; just think about how you hold yourself when you’re feeling anxious or sad, versus happy and confident. It works the other way around too – you can deliberately adopt ‘confident’ postures to positively affect your mind (see, for example, The Science of Posture, Postures For Self-Esteem.) Standing while you work seems like a really simple and effective way of doing this in your every day life.

A couple of alternatives, if standing doesn’t appeal: sit on a Swiss ball (encourages better posture and more movement) or use a kneeling stool (I have one of these and it is brilliant for keeping the lower back comfortable.)

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