Should You Be Standing At Work?


I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer. That’s just the brutal truth of being a programmer. It’s exacerbated by the fact that, more and more, I spend my leisure time in front of a computer as well (curse you internet!).

So I’m definitely not happy to see that amount of time sitting is now being associated with shorter lifespans according to the American Journal of Epidemiology:

The time spent sitting was independently associated with total mortality, regardless of physical activity level. Public health messages should include both being physically active and reducing time spent sitting.

In other words, even though I exercise regularly it’s also important that I don’t sit so much. Along with the increased mortality rates, many report back issues after spending years hunched over computer desks:

I began working standing up a few years ago to help alleviate a back issue I was having, caused primarily from sitting too long with bad posture in an unsuitable chair. Sure I was in decent shape, stretching, and running 3.5k every other day. But back muscles aren’t meant to be frozen in an unnatural, hunching, curving position for an extended period of time (even in a good chair, like the Aeron I was using).

I think I’m heading down that route…Recently, I spent a whole day working at a client site hunched over my laptop because I didn’t get a chance to hook up to an external monitor which would allow my posture to be better. That evening my back was screaming.

So, what am I doing about it? Well, I’m not going to take this sitting down! ;)

A Standing Desk?

After doing some research online, I’ve discovered that there are many fancy adjustable desks that allow you to stand or sit at regular intervals. This seems like an ideal solution, but I’m not quite ready to drop $600 on this little experiment.

So, for now (just to test out the theory) I’ve rigged my home office as a standing desk. I completed this magical feat by stacking boxes under my monitor and then adding books under my keyboard until they were both at the correct standing height for me. It isn’t pretty, but it works.

My home office is now a permanent standing desk, and I’m not sure yet whether I’d actually want to stand all day – it seems best to sit for part of the day and stand for part of it (everything in moderation).

But given that I have very little control over my office desks (I work at various client sites). This, at least, allows me to test it out for a few hours in the evenings.

Others have tried this little experiment for much the same reasons and another benefit that they mention of working while standing is increased focus:

A few months ago, I fired my chair and brought in a stand-up desk. This move has made a huge difference in my work day. My back isn’t so achy. I’m taking several thousand more steps each day. I feel more alert, especially in the afternoon, and it seems like I am getting more done each day.

I think this will be especially true for my home office work in the evening when I’m more likely to be sleepy. I’m currently writing this standing up and I’m definitely able to focus better standing even though it’s late (10:39 pm), but it’s too soon to tell what impact this is having on my back or my general health.

At least it’s nice to know that I’m that I’m in good company–apparently Jefferson, Hemingway and Churchill liked to work standing. But then so did Donald Rumsfeld, so I’m not sure how that ends up on balance…

Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.

-Ernest Hemingway

5 Comments » for Should You Be Standing At Work?
  1. Jess says:

    Whenever I see something connected with mortality I always have to ask: causation or correlation? Like coffee drinking and good grades in college have been linked, but the link is more correlative (people who wake up early and/or have jobs tend to drink more coffee, and those same groups also tend to have higher grades) than causative (coffee helps the brain work harder?).

    So forgive me if I wonder about the sitting.

    Is this link found because if you make a Venn diagram of people who sit at work and people who are obese, the circles overlap quite a lot? And a few people are outside the circle (you, the 3.5 mile/day lady you mentioned) are just the outliers? I guess what I’m saying is maybe it’s a more simple function of exercise, rather than standing.

    I started thinking about a few standing professions off the top of my head, like stripping or waiting on tables. Those professions have been associated with a lower life expectancy, but that is due to secondhand smoke intake at the workplace.

    Good blog though, Bryant, and the longer I comment the more I can put off my “productive” work.

    (For the record, I do think you have a point. Back pain/posture are greatly improved with the standing desk, and as you say concentration goes up as well. And to take it to the next level, have you considered the treadmill desk?)

  2. Bryant says:

    Yeah, I think it’s good to be skeptical. My feeling is that it’s bad to do too much of one thing. Standing for 8 hours would probably not be that great either. It seems that the human body is not meant to be in one position for too long. Maybe the treadmill desk is worth checking out ;)

  3. Guido says:

    A friend of mine wanted to use a large inflatable exercise ball in place of his office chair at work. He had heard that, instead of the sort of “passive sitting” one usually does in an office chair, he could use that time at his desk to get a little exercise.

    According to one source online: Sitting on an exercise ball, one’s body is “constantly making small adjustments with the postural muscles, abdominals, gluteals and leg muscles. It is ‘active sitting’ rather than the slumping and poor posture one might develop even in ergonomic desk chairs.”

    That’s basically what my friend had heard. Unfortunately for him, my friend’s supervisor thought it looked dangerous, so he was asked to switch back to an office chair.

    I’ve heard a couple individuals that have tried it and liked it, but I understand there have not been many studies on the benefits.

  4. Bryant says:

    Yes, I’ve heard really good stuff about the exercise ball as well.

    I considered getting an exercise ball for my home office, but it seemed like a standing desk would work better for my purposes of writing/programming in the evening and trying to stay alert.

    Maybe I’ll try the exercise ball at some point in the future…

  5. Ergodesktop says:

    Ernest Hemingway had it right. This explains why women more than men are interested in standing desk.

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