Opinion » Cybernaut


The standing desk



Sooner or later you have to poo or get off the potty. (No, Pique doesn't censor the "s" word in most contexts, but I have been potty training a three year old and watching my language.)

For years I've talked about standing desks and the considerable health benefits to standing while working. A few months ago, after coming across yet another graphic on the health risks of sitting on your ass for a minimum of eight consecutive hours a day, five days a week, I decided to finally take action.

I didn't want to shell out for a full standing desk - they're not for everybody and I have disc issues in my lower back that could go either way. So I took a trip to Ikea and bought a box to put on top of my desk that raised the height by 14 inches. Then I bought a folding bar stool so I could sit from time to time, and a workshop mat to make the floor a little softer. The total cost was less than $110.

I wasn't sure how it would work. For the first two weeks standing seemed to amplify my back issues but then - as my core grew stronger - the pain disappeared. Even after working a 14-hour day my back is better than ever.

I did use the stool a lot at first, maybe 10 minutes every hour, but use it less and less. Now I pretty much only sit there when I'm eating and to rest my feet for a few minutes every few hours. I do get tired legs and feet on occasion, but all I have to do is sit for a few minutes before I'm ready to stand up again.

I've lost weight. Since I haven't been biking at all or running as much as usual (late spring and bad cough that turned into pneumonia) I'm giving part of the credit to the standing desk. According to research, when you sit at a desk your entire system slows down and you burn just one calorie per minute. When you stand you tend to use more energy and move around more. For someone my weight, that means burning an additional 322 calories on a regular day or 563 calories on a long day, which is the equivalent to walking at a moderate pace for about two hours. Visit www.juststand.org to use their calculator.

I've discovered that I like standing and working. It's harder to fall into a stupor and I have more energy through the day. My neck feels better and my posture has improved - I stand taller and don't slouch, which means I breathe better (aside from the pneumonia, that is).

It's not a perfect system, but I like the experience enough that I'm not going back.

One of the drawbacks is that 14 inches wasn't high enough. Your forearms should be at an angle of around 90 degrees to your body, and I'd need another three or four inches of desk height for that.

Another drawback is that my computer should be higher. The top of the screen should line up with your eyes, and mine's about three inches too low.

The configuration - dropping a box on top of a desk - could also be improved. With a real standing desk you can put a box or bar under the desk to rest one foot at a time. In my case, the position of the original desk under my box prevents that.

You should also be able to lean on your standing desk a little, and while mine is pretty stable I wouldn't put my weight on it. The surface of the box is also a little too small, making for a crowded space.

In the next year I will build or buy a proper standing desk. You can spend a lot of money on this, but I'd probably go for a cheaper desk and then reinforce it. One example is the Fredrik Work Station at Ikea, an adjustable height desk you can pick up for $169.  There is also an underground trade going on for Ikea's now defunct Jerker desks - a modular and adjustable desk that people claim to be the best and most versatile workspace ever.

As well as a desk, I'll also probably invest in a better mat to stand on. Mine was $12 and they go up to $300 for professionals. The one I want, the Smart Step Anti-Fatigue Mat, is available at Costco for $99.

After watching my experiment and trying it out, several co-workers are also planning standing desks. I think everybody should at least give it a try - sitting at a desk all day will put you at an elevated risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, back problems and fatigue. What have you got to lose?