Innovative desk configuration can help promote fitness
I work for a network of health clubs, but I’m not a fitness expert. My workday doesn’t include leading a group fitness class or instructing personal training sessions. Like a lot of you, I have a desk job. But my work does keep my attention around the subject of health.
Nearly a year ago, I read yet another in a series of gloomy articles that described how sitting down for more than a few hours a day dramatically increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome – a group of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and unhealthy cholesterol levels. The Mayo Clinic even says that too much sitting increases your risk of cancer.
Scary, right? Even a moderate amount of weekly exercise doesn’t significantly counter the dangers caused by extended sitting.
I was also in the middle of a diet, so I was further dismayed to read how much sitting can impede any attempts at weight loss. When sitting, the electrical activity in your leg muscles shuts off, enzymes in your body that break down fat drop by 90 percent, and your calorie burning drops to 1 per minute.
Maintaining a handful of websites and other digital duties requires a largely stationary position in front of a computer. So, finding my weight loss efforts thwarted and facing a higher risk of disease and death, how was I to break this terrible habit of sitting all day?
The solution: a standing desk.
Using a standing desk can greatly improve your general health and has been utilized throughout human history, with an often surprisingly short period of adjustment. This workspace configuration has gained new popularity in the last few years, but has been used famously for centuries. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Winston Churchill (who lived to be 90 while reportedly smoking up to 10 cigars a day) all used standing desks, as did writers like Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Tom Wolfe and Philip Roth. Even Leonardo da Vinci was said to have done all his work while standing.
I was sold. A quick Internet search provided numerous providers of standing desks, ranging widely in form, cost and function. Most are designed to simply install upon your existing desk, and some even expand and collapse so you can switch back and forth between sitting and standing – very handy in your first few weeks of adjustment to this new style of working.
However I – driven more by enthusiasm to get started rather than cost – decided to make my own. I found instructions online that guided me through fastening a few bookshelf parts together, adding a small shelf for my keyboard and mouse, and attaching it all to my desk.
This was last October and I haven’t looked back once.
In the beginning, there was a bit of mild pain and general discomfort as I adjusted to this new style of working. It took at least a month or so before my feet and back grew accustomed to the extra effort. A padded floor mat is highly recommended for at least the first few months. Also, nobody recommends standing at attention for eight hours straight. Once every hour or two, I take a few minutes to sit down or – even better – take a short walk.
Healthy posture (an important component of your general health that deserves its own article) is crucial to a standing work schedule. Your overall success will depend on learning to keep your center of gravity low, your weight balanced, and your back straight.
Today, my weight is down, my energy levels are higher, my attention is more focused, and I generally enjoy my job more. If you are concerned about the health risks of ‘over-sitting’ and ready to make a change in the way you work, it might just be time to take a stand. ◆
Brian Dollerhide is The Alaska Club’s digital production manager.