March 19, 2012

Stand-Up Workstations, Revisited


Remember those scary studies about how sitting too many hours a day can kill you, even if you try to make up for it by running ultra marathons or cross-fitting your body into a state of exhaustion or zumba-ing your ass off all week?

And if disease and early death weren't incentive enough to get your butt out of your chair, all kinds of experts have cited studies saying that calories burned from standing versus sitting was some awesomely huge number, leading to incredible weight loss results.

Inspired by these statistics, I decided this summer to try the switch to a stand-up workstation. I wrote a blog post about it back then (which, I've now linked to twice with two different keywords, for those of you noting what a shameless googlewhore I am), but since then it's been 7 months and one cross-country relocation. So now I have some further experience, complaints and suggestions about the whole issue.

Curious about the benefits and pitfalls of stand-up desk arrangements, and up for some trouble-shooting ideas from my own trials and tribulations?

No?

Well when has that ever stopped me from explaining something before?!?


Stand Up Desk FAILs and how to fix them.

1. Cost

There are plenty of nifty stand-up workstation options if you want to fork over hundreds or even thousands of dollars for them.

However, if you lack a lucrative source of income or a wealthy benefactor, there are cheaper options!

You basically need to create a surface higher than a normal desk to put your keyboard on, and a place even higher than that, at eye level, to stick a screen.

How many bazillion different ways are there to approach this?  Many bazillions!  You can raise a normal desk up, or you can create additional shelves, monitor holders, etc by various means.  If you are handy and know your way around a search engine and a hardware store, there are lots of DIY resources, like this $40 Standup Desk or this more elaborate stand up workstation.

There are also cheap and cheapish pre-built options which pop up as ads when you google; I have no idea how good they are.


Then there's the really low-tech approach that I started with:



Or you can use the "find a weird ugly adjustable shelf left by the side of the road conveniently built to tuck in above a desk" method, the one I bored you with documented in last summer's blog post.

Do you happen to have a TV screen mounted on a wall somewhere in your house that can be used as a monitor, and don't have any entertainment-starved family members competing for it?  In that case you can put a desk under the tv screen, plug your computer into it (if it has the right sort of connections), and raise your keyboard with whatever you can find.  This is the method I am currently using.

Wait, what's that square thing on the floor?
Patience, Grasshopper!

The general notion is: find what's lying around anyway or cheap to obtain, and improvise a temporary solution until you figure out if you like standing up or not.

2. Acclimation/distraction

It may take a while to get used to concentrating on work while your body is in a whole new configuration, and this may feel icky.  So don't be stupid and try to go instantly from sitting down all day to standing up all day. (And in fact, it's not even a good idea for you to stand up all the time, as discussed below). 

Try your stand up experiment when you have mindless or even entertaining work to do, and build up gradually from a few minutes to longer stretches of time.  In other words, don't do anything rash about your workspace arrangements just yet.


Ungrateful ass... after all I've done for you!
Photo: bondidwhat


3. Standing For Hours at a Time is Also Bad for your Health.

After reading countless studies on why I should stop sitting down and start standing up, and then dutifully going out and doing that... then I start reading that standing all day has negative health repercussions too! According to a study in "Hazards Magazine" (which, as a recovering whiny worrywart, totally sounds like my kind of publication), health problems linked to standing all day can include "varicose veins, poor circulation and swelling in the feet and legs, foot problems, joint damage, heart and circulatory problems and pregnancy difficulties."

WTF?  These all seem like kind of a crappy reward for all that stand-up virtue.  (And like another standing desk experimenter, I discovered I was getting a few more spider veins on my legs than I used have.  True, I am also getting older, but the timing seems mighty coincidental).

So, I wondered, what am I supposed to do if I'm not supposed to sit all day or stand all day?  Just refuse to get out of bed at all? 

Well, duh, Crabby--rather than just stand there, I realized I should vary my position throughout the day.   Sit down sometimes, walk around, rock back and forth, get a step stool to raise a leg at a time and shift weight back and forth, do headstands or the hula or whatever I can think of rather than maintaining the same rigid position for hours at a time.

However, once I got comfortable standing and felt so smug doing it, it took me a long time to put this "mix it up" notion into practice. Not only do I not know how to hula, I find that even pulling over a nearby chair or a stability ball for an arbitrary sitting break feels like an annoying interruption when I'm immersed in something.  Go figure! But now I do try to check in with my body more often, to see what it wants (though it usually says "a hot fudge sundae and a nap, please" which is not actually all that helpful). But a brief walk, some squats, a client call taken sitting down, some calf raises... the variety thing is starting to become more of a habit.

And just the other idea I had an flash of inspiration and "invented" a partial solution to this problem!  Which leads us to another Standup Desk issue which my invention helps a little with, which is... 

4. Those Calorie Burn Statistics Are Apparently Totally Bogus!

I got so excited by the claims around the calorie burning aspects of getting out of my chair that I couldn't wait to see the pounds drop off once I started standing and moving around more!

But I didn't notice any difference at all.  @#$%!  Sadly, I had to start counting calories and stop eating so f--king much for any actual weight loss to happen. Theoretically there's got to be some increased metabolic activity when your muscles are working against gravity to hold you upright, don't you think? I can only conclude that I have gravity-defying superpowers.  So I just had to content myself with the fact I wouldn't die prematurely from sitting down so much. Which is actually more awesome, but in that boring mature long term way and not as fun as quick effortless weight loss.

So... if you are like me and standing up, on it's own, is not a big factor in your metabolism, is there any way to take advantage of the standing position to get a little movement in that isn't too distracting to the work you're trying to accomplish?

A treadmill desk is the obvious answer, but not having one handy now I was contemplating other options. (Also, a brief experiment on the East Coast wasn't success as I found walking more distracting, but I want to try it again).  One option  I was sort of tempted by was a cheapo mini stepper thingy, but I don't know anyone that has one and whether they're any good or not.  Anyone know?

Hi! Anyone recognize me?
Am I loud and rickety or smooth and fun?

Crabby's new invention: the TeeterStation!

Like the Crabitron and other cheap DIY exercise equipment, this is an improvised gadget that is optimally obtained for free or well under $10.  You take a board (we had an extra shelf) and put some sort of stick or dowel under it.

 

Note: this dowel was a bit too thin and has been replaced by one just a bit thicker, but I wouldn't suggest going too thick if you want to keep this a mindless background activity.  Losing your balance entirely and doing a faceplant into your desk, or landing with a loud thud on your ass could indeed be distracting to yourself and others.

No adhesives or anything else seem to be necessary to construct your TeeterStation, at least not if you're on carpet.  You could also go out and buy a fancy balance board, but not only would that cost more, it might be a bit too challenging for all-day use.

You can balance, rock back and forth from foot to foot, switch to a horizontal orientation and rock from toes to heel (which is handy to do one leg at a time to build foot, ankle and calf strength). 

If you keep the height short and mellow, it's pretty unobtrusive. You can rock and rest and rock again.  I've been tipping and rocking my way THROugh thIS WHOLe post cOULD YOu tell?

It's still important to sit and walk too, but this just adds another option--and it's especially good for people who like to rock and fidget anyway.


Has anyone else been trying to work standing up?  Any other ideas for getting asses out of chairs in relatively comfortable ways?

27 comments:

  1. Shocker! I have one of those mini-steppers! My husband picked one up in someone's roadside garbage! It's actually an ok little stepper. The range of motion sucks though. I've tried to tweet and step, but synapses in my brain stop firing and I seem to stop one while I'm doing the other. I actually like YOUR invention much better! I'm gonna give it a go :)

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  2. Hey thanks Joyce! And I have special affection for fitness equipment rescued from dumpsters, garage sales etc.

    Good to know about range of motion and the distraction factor. And somehow I'm not surprised you were trying to tweet and exercise at the same time!

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  3. If I wasn't bone lazy I'd try a stand up desk with your TeeterStation. If looks interesting, and a bit of a challenge for those like me who are balance-challenged.

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  4. If I used that wobble board I'd be flat on my butt in 2 seconds...
    I went from a lab tech job where I stood a lot to a lab manager job where I sit more...I just make a point of getting up every hours and walking. Or not :)

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  5. Funny how "promotions" in the work world often mean fitness demotions! Good for you Geosomin for adjusting accordingly.

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  6. I have sometimes thought of rigging up some way to secure the laptop to the handlebars of the exercise bike, but it seems like a lot of effort. I love the idea of the fidget-board. I could never stand to just stand in place, or sit for long either. I'm so grateful I get to move around constantly at work.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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  7. Well, i've been standing most of the time for years, at the computer and doing just about everything else, too. Most of my day is spent on my feet, walking the house, working, doing. Sitting actually bugs me except when i'm in the car or with my feet propped, doing a crossword.

    Great suggestions for adapting to standing more.

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  8. I definitely cannot stand all the time, I have terribly flat feet, if I stand for any length of time my back will kill me as will my feet. What about getting a big ball and sit on that, so that you are working your core the entire time to keep yourself straight on it?

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  9. I have been standing up at my desk for 7 months now. I was able to recycle a higher table and some filing boxes to create my standing desk. It did take me a few months to get used to but I am in my mid 50s and overweight. I find it difficult to stand still and usually have a leg propped up on a stool.. I keep changing over. I'd love a treadmill but it is too difficult/ expensive to organise.. I like your idea. Standing up hasn't worked miracles with my weight but it feels healthier .
    Kay (NZ)

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  10. Cool idea!!

    At home, I have a stepper that I often use while surfing the net.

    I don't use the keyboard when on the stepper, yet :-)

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  11. YOU ARE AMAZING!!!!!!! I love that idea of yours! I am a major overpronator so this should be a big challenge for me!

    All these studies - never believe anything anymore! ;-)

    One could always do squats & lunges & push-up s& things like that while moving around! :-)

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  12. I have seen some of those treadmill work stations and they are really expensive! I love your DIY version because not only does it cost little but you are in control of the movements. I can't get my head round having an electric machine making me exercise while I am concentrating on something else. I'd probably end up falling off the end of the treadmill...

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  13. I've got a cheap acrylic laptop stand that attaches to the treadmill. It works well if you don't need anything but your laptop AND if you keep the speed and incline low. I keep wanting to speed it up though. Would a high density exercise mat work to help with spider veins (or those compression socks?)?

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  14. My cheap version is standing at my ironing board when I have to do reading or something. I just get restless about sitting so I fidget and move around a lot.

    I have sat on a ball at times as well as one of those backless "chairs" that was more of kneeling? It was never particularly about fitness, more about not sitting still particularly well.

    I truly can't believe there is a Hazards Magazine...of course I had to check that ray of sunshine out!

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  15. The human body was not designed to sit in front of a computer all day

    Benjamin Raucher

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  16. Having worked in jobs requiring you to stand all day as well as jobs where you sit all day, I much prefer the sitting all day option. You can get up and move around in those types of jobs and no one cares, but you cannot sit without censure at the standing jobs. In an ideal world, all jobs would require and even balance of sitting and standing and neither would cause health problems... if you find that ideal world, give me directions please ;)

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  17. I use an indo board to help me with my balance for surfing but i think it's too big and I'm not good enough yet to actually use it while working lol. I'd most definitely do a face plant if I tried. I have been looking into standing desks though. The idea intrigues me although in my case it's more because of the novelty of it than for weight loss. I probably have gravity defying powers anyway, much like yourself. Still, i might just engineer a makeshift standing desk like the ones you made some time soon.

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  18. It has been estimated that by the year 2020, 80% of jobs will be cerebral. This means that more people will be sitting down to do their jobs.

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  19. I'm a pharmacist so I have to stand all day, often for 13 hour shifts with very short breaks. I graduated last May, so I'm fairly new to it. I definitely haven't lost any weight despite all the standing. It could be that I eat more though because when I get a spare moment I feel like I have to eat everything in sight since I don't know when my next break will be.

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  20. I've been standing at my desk for a few weeks now. I was moved to a new cubical at work, so I was no longer sitting next to people and had walls to hide me. I had tried to let my boss let me use an exercise ball as a chair, but that was a no go because they where afraid of people hurting themselves. So I had an epiphany and went to the supply closest and got some left over boxes to prop my keyboard and mouse up, plus an extra box for paper work that I have to write on through out the day. I've never loved sitting for long periods of time. I'm short and desks, chairs, everything is just not proportional to me. So I normally sit on my feet and legs anyways. I was hoping maybe standing would help tone my legs, if I lost weight to that would be awesome. It didn't take me but a couple of days to get used to it and I feel so much happier now that I can stand and move around and dance at my desk. My co-workers think I'm strange but they are getting used to it. I've found that people always feel uncomfortable if you stand while they sit. I personally think its a habit/feeling that people should break. You've made your choice to sit and I don't care, let me make mine to stand!

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  21. That's great Christina!

    I haven't found it making a huge difference in calorie burn, but it's funny how natural it starts to feel once you get used to it!

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  22. First day at my standing desk. Being a woodworker I built a stand for the keyboard and mouse, can cut out the existing hutch and added a hanging shelf for the monitor. Works great. I am in good shape, exercise almost 120 minutes per day (1 hr morn, 1 hr eve), and I felt the burn standing after just a couple of hours. Now I am looking for a keyboard that spreads my arms out a bit. Good article, thanks!

    JackL

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  23. Completing my first day working at my stand up workstation.

    Being a woodworker, I built a shelf for the keyboard/mouse, then cut the computer desk hutch and built a dropdown shelf for the monitor. Working great.

    I exercise about 120 minutes per day (2 1hr sessions)and I still can feel the burn of standing instead of sitting.

    Now searching for a keyboard that will spread my arms out a bit.

    JackL

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  24. An update. I am still standing 10+ hours a day at my computer station. I have yet to alter my setup to allow sitting, so sitting is not an option. I have been trying to get to a goal weight since July 2011 and so have been watching my calories, exercising and weighing in daily. I had hit the plateau of all plateaus with 15-20 pounds yet to go. I lost nothing from January through June, not matter what I tried. Then, after standing at my desk for two weeks I lost 3 pounds, and have since lost a total of 10 (June 7 through August 1).

    I have also cleaned up my diet even more than before, so that has something to do with it, but I am convinced that standing helped to lose at least 5 of those 10 pounds.

    On the bad side, I am considerably hungrier throughout the day. Way more hungry. Again, a sign that standing burns calories faster than sitting.

    On the down side, I have swelling in the calves. Some days worse than others.

    I stand on a yoga mat, and added to thickness of floor cushion material used for exercise equipment. Typically I work in stocking feet, but lately tend to wear my gym shoes.

    Hopefully I will find time to finish my workstation so that I can stand without hunching down to see the monitor and sit when I feel like it.

    Jack L

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  25. Hey what about standing in a tray of rocks. Smooth, round ones. It could be like a foot massage.

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  26. I have been standing at my desk for a couple of weeks now and feel better. No weight loss, per se, but I can feel muscles strenghthening. My posture is much better and the muscles that usually knot at the back of my neck and shoulders are getting less tight. It is also a great time management took in that when people cone into my office, they don't just grab a seat when I am standing, so conversations are shorter and they leave sooner. If I need a longer conversation with someone, I just pull my chair over and they immediately sit and get comfortable.

    So far, I've been keeping a pair of Crocs next to my desk and switch in and out of them . My office is carpet over concrete, and standing in regular shoes all day was too painful. The crocs are great and I just bought a cute, black fashion pair instead of using the bright pink ones I started with. They give me a bit of support and a great bouncy spring.

    I'm loving the change.

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  27. I have just recently tried the "box on the table" approach to prop up my laptop and it is excellent. What I noticed was that when sitting, I tend to get sucked into the screen, my back unconciously hunches, and I realize too late that my body is aching. However, when I stand I get less sucked into the screen and tend to stay more aware of my body and my environment, it's great! But if you must sit a great way to keep your body aligned and moving is sitting on a ball, and it's fun too! Thanks.

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