One tweet. Just twenty-eight words. That’s all it took to start a complete shift in the way I use my iMac in my full-time Marketing Communications role at work. I’ve rearranged and modified my desk, moved my chair over to one side, and have spent the last week standing at my computer instead of sitting in the stale, stagnant position I’ve spent the last ten or more years sitting in throughout my working life.
The Tweet that started it all and changed the way I use my Mac:
Just realised I’ve had my standing desk setup at work for more than a year now. And people were laughing at me saying I’ll stop in 2 weeks.
— Alvin Ng (@AlvinNg) May 6, 2013
So what’s the deal? Well the theory is that our bodies are designed to move and thrive on continual movement and physical stimulation. Muscles need to flex, stretch and compress in order to be healthy. Even other aspects of the body such as circulation, digestion and metabolism rely on movement while standing—meaning all of these can suffer when the body is seated and remains largely inactive for most of the day. What’s even more concerning are stats like these that I found in several online articles on ergonomics:
- Sitting increases your chances for developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and blood clots or thrombosis
- Those who sit a lot are 54% more likely to have a heart attack
- Men who sit more than 6 hours a day have a 20% higher mortality rate; women have a 40% higher mortality rate
- If you sit for more than 23 hours a week you are 64% more likely to die from heart disease
But even if that sounds all a bit over-the-top, the main issue for me was the ongoing back, neck and shoulder pain, the tiredness after work, the noticeable lack of energy, and just a general feeling that I was slowly turning into a giant gelatinous blob chained to a keyboard and mouse. To the point where I’ve actually considered leaving graphic design and finding a more active career—it’s been getting that bad.
So the standing desk concept. Basically, rather than sitting the same position for most of the day in front of the computer and only occasionally standing or walking to the photocopier, the standing desk means I’m standing most of the day and only occasionally sitting to do paperwork, sketching and wasting time with colleagues … ahem, having important work-related meetings.
Now I didn’t want to go too nuts with this too early. You can buy standing desks off the Internet from $500 clamp-on style consoles that attach to your existing desk, to desks that can be raised and lowered electromechanically that cost in excess of $2,000! I instead opted for an unused coffee table that was hanging around the office and twelve reams of photocopying paper to test the setup, see if I even liked standing at the computer, and to get the various heights of the iMac monitor and keyboard correct for my somewhat underwhelming standing height.
After a couple of days of working with the setup (making minor height adjustments as I went), I headed out to the office furniture shop. We already had a 1200mm long coffee table in the office that matched my desk, but I needed a slightly lower platform for the keyboard and mouse. I found a ‘desk extender’ that is normally used for storing books and ring binders etc. which was the right length and width. It was a little too high for my height (it should be 90º or slightly lower than your elbows) so after buying it I took to it with the circular saw out in my company’s warehouse. Despite the fact that the circular saw looked like someone had been previously trying to cut concrete with it, I managed to shorten each of the three legs by around 80mm.
So I’m now all set up as you can see, and it’s been just over four months of standing at my desk … so far so good. For the first few weeks my legs got a little sore, as did my feet. But this eased off once the body adjusted to its new working position. The only other thing was my back that ached a little. According to my massage therapist and chiropractor this was because my back muscles had been wasting away in my office chair; the dull ache I felt was just the muscles working and rebuilding themselves through being activated while standing and moving around. Even now I still have days when I get sore legs and feet sometimes, particularly if I don’t take enough breaks from constant computer work. But overall the benefit to my neck, back and general well-being far outweighs the occasional physical fatigue.
The only other thing I thought I would have to contend with was my fellow co-workers. I was expecting a lot of smart-arse comments and sarcastic loaded questions. Fortunately, apart from the occasional salute (because I was standing) and one email containing a photo of meerkats, everyone has been surprisingly interested and supportive in what it is that I am doing. I suspect this is partly that I work with a pretty good bunch of people, but also that maybe the whole exercise has struck a chord with quite a few other people in the office who are also suffering fatigue from being stuck in a chair in front of a computer day in, day out.
So thanks Alvin for giving me the encouragement and confidence to give it go! It’s only been a few months, but already I’m seeing improvements in my general well-being. Things like energy, concentration levels and productivity have improved somewhat as well. And hopefully I have changed the course of my destiny from blob-like invalid to healthy and enthusiastic Mac user!