Friday, September 7, 2012

Benefits of Standing Desks

One of the perks of working from home is that I have total control over my work environment: chair, desk, computer, climate, light, etc*.  However, like many professionals, I sit for a lot of the day; 45+ hours a week, 48+ weeks a year for the past 12 years.  This isn't healthy or natural.  I've been pretty good about getting exercise regularly, but since 45, or more, of my 120 waking hours during a week are spent working, there is a great opportunity to lead a healthier lifestyle with simple changes during work; small, simple sustained improvements can have a huge overall impact on your lifestyle and goals.

Many non-cycling fans may not be aware of Great Britain's total dominance in track cycling during the 2012 olympics.  They won 7 out of 10 gold metals along with an additional silver and bronze; an incredible performance.  One of the ways that Great Britain dominated the track was taking by taking total control over their cycling ecosystem and finding lots of little improvements that, when added together, make a big difference.

Dave Brailsford, the performance director for Great Britain cycling and general manager of the top tier cycling team, Team Sky, sums up this philosophy as "The Aggregation of Marginal Gains".  Any one gain in particular isn't significant, but when added together, they are.  Along those lines, earlier, I mentioned that I use a crontab + growl to purposefully and gently interrupt my day with pushups or sit-ups.  Another way that I've found to make a small improvement in my daily life is with a standing desk.

Here are some of the benefits I perceive of a standing desk:
  1. Standing instead of sitting burns about 38% more calories.  The 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities lists sitting at a desk working and typing (code 09040) as 1.3 METS and standing working (codes 07041, 09070, 09055) as 1.8 METS.  MET is the ratio of the work metabolic rate to the resting metabolic rate and 1.0 MET is roughly equivalent to the energy cost of sitting quietly.
  2. It changes up the work day.  For me, working from home, sitting in one place and not seeing anybody in person all day gets boring.  I go to coffee shops sometimes and move around the house a little bit, but a standing desk gives me another place to work.  My standing desk also looks out a window which encourages me to shift my focus off my screen occasionally which is good for my eyesight.
  3. I move around more.  I pace while I'm on the phone, I shift my weight back and forth and overall, I don't have sore muscles at the end of the day from being in the same position.  I do have sore muscles sometimes, but because a standing desk is hard work, not from bad posture. 
A standing desk can be cheap and easy to hack together.  Mine is setup with an extra wire shelving unit.  This made it easy for me to get the height adjustments correct.  I have the bottom weighted down for stability and simply move my laptop from my sitting desk to the top of the unit whenever I want to use the standing desk.  A bluetooth keyboard and mouse go on the second shelf to make the ergonomics work.  

I don't use my standing desk all the time, right now, I used it for 2 to 4 hours a day. Its a nice change of pace and burns a few extra calories, and who knows, maybe it will add a few years to my lifetime.  Maybe someday I'll add a treadmill for a walking desk.

How do you stay healthy at work?  Have you tried a standing desk? What do you like about it?


* One downside is that there is no dedicated cleaning staff.  Another is few noise barriers with three children downstairs.

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