I Quit My Addiction to Sitting Down — and You Can Too!
As I write this article, I’m working at my “stand-up” desk. It’s nothing fancy and wasn’t expensive. I just placed cinder blocks under the legs of my regular desk – a total investment of $10. It’s been over a year now of standing – all day, every day at work – and I’ve never felt better. Now that I’m entering a second year of standing up at work, I’m quite certain that I’ll never go back to those dark days of sitting for 10+ hours a day.
Why would I choose to be on my feet all day? Simply put, it’s saving my life. I’ve written several times in the past about my personal battles against chronic muscle, knee and back pain. In my early years, I relied too much on doctors and traditional treatments to fix my problems – as if someone else was responsible for my personal health. It was only when I took matters into my own hands that I started to experience meaningful and lasting results.
Since I started working a desk job at the age of 22, I’ve hated sitting in a chair all day. It made my back ache, my muscles sore, my neck stiff and by the end of the day, I just felt exhausted. At first I thought my discomfort was all just a normal part of the long work day. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that sitting down all day was to blame for my physical discomfort. In addition to articles I read on the detrimental effects of sitting at a desk all day, the biggest clue to me was that I generally felt great on the weekends when I was very active and on my feet most of the day. It had nothing to do with how hard I worked — it was how I worked.
Yet for years I just accepted the pain and discomfort. That’s not to say I didn’t try to mitigate the negative effects of sitting down. I experimented with several different types of ergonomic chairs. I even sat on one of those inflatable exercise balls for a while. I purchased back massagers that attach to your chair and different types of keyboards and monitors designed to improve posture. Nothing really helped, however none of my attempts were all that radical. After all, I was still sitting down all day.
Then one day I read an article in the Washington Post about how 10% of AOL’s workforce was using stand-up desks. That got me thinking. I’d heard about stand-up desks before, but I needed to learn more. As I kept researching, I was amazed at what I found:
- A 14-year study by the American Cancer Society found that the death rate for men who spent six or more hours a day sitting was 18% higher than that of men who sat for three hours a day or less. For women, the risk was more than 37%!
- A 13-year study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that those who sit for most of the day were 54% more likely to die of a heart attack.
- A Yale University study showed that people who sit for more than half a day at work have a 60-70% greater risk of slipping a disk than more active co-workers.
- The conclusions of various other studies show that people who sit for long periods of time have higher rates of cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
- Standing up for long periods of time has been found to engage leg, back and abdominal muscles, boost metabolism, improve posture and help to burn more calories.
After concluding my research, there was no question that I was going to give standing up at work a try. That’s when I invested in my $10 cinder blocks. That was January of 2011, and I’ve never looked back. That’s right, I’ve probably spent about 300 work days standing up all day, and like I said earlier, I’ve never felt better. No back, neck or muscle pains. My knees are perfect. I feel energized at the end of the day, and I’ve lost weight.
The desk I put my cinder blocks under is nothing fancy – a $200 desk from Ikea. However, I did benefit from the fact that it has adjustable legs so I was able to fine tune the height. I should note that in addition to the cinder blocks, I also eventually invested in a $100 gel pad that I stand on, which reduces impact and fatigue. And I also bought a stool to use as a backup. I’d say I spend about 10 minutes (a few minutes at a time) of each hour resting on the stool.
It’s easy to get started. I’d suggest putting something under your desk to raise it – enough so that your hands rest comfortably on the top when your arms are bent at a 90-degree angle. You can use cinder blocks, milk crates, phone books, anything.
Then if you like it, you can move to something more permanent. I found one website that provides detailed instructions for how to attach your desk to a wall at the height that’s best for you. A company called Geek Desk sells motorized desks that allow you to easily switch between sitting down and standing up, and Amazon.com also has an excellent selection.
If you hate sitting down all day, or just have aches and pains you wish weren’t there, why not give it a try? If you think that sitting down at work is just an unavoidable part of life, consider this. Given how long humans have walked the earth, the concept of sitting all day at desk job is a relatively new – maybe 50 to 75 years old depending on how you look at it. So being crouched in a chair all day is an incredibly new adjustment for our anatomy.
If you have any questions, or things to add to this article, I’d love to hear from you below. Otherwise, good luck “standing up” for your right to feel better and be healthier.
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Article updated on: January 29th, 2012