Did you ever have one of those moments when someone calls you on the phone and tells you
“I’ve got news for you. You better sit down.”
Imagine that I am calling you right now and here is what I am saying
“I’ve got news for you. You better STAND UP.”
Let me tell you the news now.
Last year and earlier this year I wrote about my struggles with lower back pain. I even made a short video of a lower back release routine that I use to get through a bad spell of this irritating discomfort. However, I was thinking that it was time to make the next step to keep the back pain from controlling my life.
I decided to stop sitting and transition to a standing desk. I’ve been standing at work (and anywhere else I can) for 4 months now and my lonely office chair is collecting dust (and some of my clothes) in the corner. And I’m not planning on paying it a visit
Why I decided to use a Stand Up Desk
I wrote before about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Here is the most recent recap:
- Women and men who sit for more than 6 hours a day and are not physically active are 94% and 48% more likely, respectively, to die prematurely (reference is here.)
- A sedentary lifestyle speeds up aging by increasing the risks of developing cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
- Sitting shuts down the production of fat absorbing enzyme called lipase. This can lead to both increased cholesterol levels and extra cushioning on our bodies (love handles, beer guts, spare tires, flab in the caboose and every other expression that we never want to hear in our lives – check out the scientific proof.)
- Sitting is the WORST position for your spine. When we sit we are putting most of the weight of our body directly on our pelvis and lower back, compressing the intervertebral disks. Poor sitting posture also contributes to the strain that we put on our low back muscles. All of these factors lead to muscle imbalances, premature degeneration of the spine and plain old low back pain.
The Unexpected Benefits of a Standing Desk
Standing has proved to be the best experience for me. While I do exercise 5-6 times a week I knew that it was not enough to keep my back pain free and my body healthy. However, I didn’t expect to gain all the cool “bonuses” from switching to a standing work station.
- Weight Loss. I lost the stubborn 3 pounds that I was battling for a while. Standing burns 25-50% more calories than sitting does (you can calculate your exact numbers with this handy tool)
- Decreased cholesterol. I was blessed with a genetically low cholesterol levels (my husband envies even my worst cholesterol results.) However, a week ago I got my blood work down and was shocked that the numbers have dropped even more. Part of it is due to my new and improved nutrition plan (more about it in the future posts) but part of it is also related to the standing experiment (I believe so, at least.) My cholesterol levels decreased by 11%, my “bad” LDL cholesterol dropped by 12% and my triglycerides plummeted down by 43% (I am absolutely serious here!)
- Standing is fun. When I stand I constantly shift the weight of my body from one foot to another one. I balance on one leg (in a modified “Office”-Tree pose.) And I can actually dance a little bit to my favorite tunes while designing a website or editing the latest blog post. All of these activities burn a few extra calories and prevent me from getting stiff at the end of the day.
- Helps me avoid time traps. I must admit, I do get tired standing eventually and I get the urge to plop down into a comfy chair. When I get tired from working on a project I also get tired from standing. As a result I don’t succumb to the mindless world of Internet surfing, Facebook or email checking (which were so tempting when I was lounging in my comfy chair.) I simply walk away and do something else for a couple of minutes (and yes, I can even sit down for a spell.) To make a long story short, standing keeps me from wasting my time on the Internet.
- Keeps me focused. Based on the factors I just mentioned above, I can spend limited blocks of time standing. When I get to my computer I focus on one project and don’t let anything else distract me. In about an hour I am ready to take a break, walk around, drink a cup of tea, make necessary phone calls and then I am back at my project again. Standing makes me conscious about the time that I spend at the computer.
- No lower back pain. Enough said. Hooray!
How to Make the Standing Desk Work for You
- Design your standing desk. You can take a look at a few desks available from Amazon (I liked this one the most) but if you are like me you would first want to see if this standing thing will work for you personally (and it might not, we are all different.) I managed to “construct” my desk by stacking a few shelves that were part of my traditional desk and using a portable laptop desk for my keyboard.Play around with a few items that you already have at home: shelves, boxes, even books. Here are a few examples of DIY standing desks.
- Be picky about the height. The most important part of setting up a standing work station is finding the perfect height for you. Again fiddle around with what you have at home and test the height for a few days. If the height is not right for you then you will have constant neck strain that will result in neck, shoulder, upper back pain or even headaches. Find the height that’s perfect for you.
- Use a cushioned mat under your feet. I have carpet in my office so I don’t have to worry about my feet getting too tired. But if you have hard floors in your office then consider investing in a good anti-fatigue floor mat
- Eventually get yourself a chair, but not a very comfortable one. Sometimes we just need a chair to sit down, whether it is because we are not feeling very well, we’ve been standing for a long time or we just need a break. Currently I have a bar stool near my desk that I use when I Skype with my Mom or when my legs are falling off after an Insanity workout. Maintaining a good habit means that you don’t obsess over it but rather listen to your body and learn to do what’s best for it.
- Go the extra mile. Some people set up tread mills or mini steppers as part of their standing station. I haven’t tried this approach (mostly because I don’t want to spend the extra money on the expensive props) and I think that constant movement can be distracting especially if you are typing or working with a serious project. However, I can see the benefit of a treadmill when you are checking email or Facebook as well as while working with a boring non-engaging project. No matter what you decide, don’t forget to make breaks during your standing day for a little walk, stretch or a mini-routine.
- Stretch your legs. Standing for long periods of time will obviously make your leg muscles work overtime. Do a simple hamstring stretch by folding down towards your knees, stretch out your quads or perform a 5-10 minute Yoga stretching routine.
- Let your legs rest. Another good idea is to let your legs rest at the end of the day. Lift them up above your heart level to let the blood flow easily to your heart (you can easily do it while watching your favorite TV show and propping up your legs on a couple of pillows.) Do a head stand or any other inverted position. Or simply lie down near a wall and let your legs rest on it (it’s the best stress relief at the end of the day especially if you light your favorite candle, dim the lights and let your mind and body rest in this position.)
Do you sit or stand?
Share your experience in the comments below. I would love to hear how you converted to a standing desk as well as answer any of your questions on the subject.
Keep it balanced (while standing)!