Sitting is the new smoking.
This is a phrase that has been increasingly heard over the past few years, and perhaps for good reason.
In England the average sedentary time for working age adults is about 9.5 hours. This increases even more as we age.
A 2011 study documented 800,000 people and their sitting habits. The study found that people who sit the most, compared to people who sit the least, have a greater risk of disease and death:
- 147% increased risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke.
- 112% increased risk of diabetes.
- 90% increased risk of death from cardiovascular events.
- 49% increased risk of death from any cause.
Even those who are active, working out for a minimal of 30 minutes a day but still sitting for large amounts of the day, may still not be avoiding the major health risks associated with sedentary life. The situation has been dubbed Active Couch Potato Syndrome.
Look at a typical day structure for many.
You wake up, wander down stairs, and sit down to eat your breakfast.
You get in your car (sitting) and drive to work, where you sit for the best part of 8 hours, maybe getting up to go for lunch, most likely eating it sitting down.
You drive home (sitting), just in time to sit down ready for dinner. By this time you are knackered and all you really want to do is sit on the sofa and watch something on Netflix.
So what’s the answer? What can you do if your day to day existence revolves around a desk?
Enter the Standing Desk
Whilst obviously not suitable for everyone, the standing desk offers a simple and elegant solution to the growing problem of excessive sitting.
There are plenty of studies (like this one) that show the effectiveness of standing and sit-stand desk on both health and productivity.
They are are now readily available all over the show, with prices ranging from the cost of a pub lunch to several thousand quid. Many employers are now realising the benefits of the standing desk and offering them to their employees, so it’s always worth asking.
With the sudden standing desk boom, one might be forgiven for thinking this a modern trend, but you’d be mistaken.
Even as far back as the 1400s, the standing desk was being used, most notably by Leonardo da Vinci, and was documented as being used in the library of Cambridge University in 1626 catapulting it to become the must have office accoutrement for the wealthy intellectual.
Other users of note include Charles Dickens, Thomas Jefferson, Napoléon Bonaparte, Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill, and Ernest Hemmingway.
There is some pretty good pedigree behind the modern standing desk.
Why are standing desks useful?
There are many reasons.
When we are sitting our bodies are completely supported, muscles do not need to engage at all to keep us upright.
After sitting for about 20 minutes, blood starts to pool in the large muscles of the legs, like the hamstrings. Without the muscle contraction and acting as a secondary pump to the heart, this blood has a hard time getting back to the brain. The brain then takes this as a signal that we are in rest mode and then downregulates the need to focus.
This is why I believe it to be ridiculous to expect kids to focus in school when forced to “sit still” all day. We are dynamic creatures. We need to move.
The lack of muscular engagement for extended periods of time may cause the the muscles to become ‘sleepy’ and unable to engage fully when we need them. Weak glutes are rife and may be due to all the sitting.
Being in the constant state of hip flexion can effectively shorten of hip flexors, the ilio-psoas muscles, and thus in turn can lead to painful lower back issues.
And because we are seated and supported in increasingly comfortable chairs, there is little incentive to break the day up into frequent positional changed and movement breaks, thereby exacerbating the issues.
When we stand for extended periods of time we shift our weight around and stand in different positions, effectively creating small but constant movement.
And this is the key, really. It’s not about sitting or standing, is really about movement.
Standing still all day isn’t ideal either. This is were the Sit-Stand kind of desk is really good. These shift easily from a standing position to a seated one.
One of the cheapest sit-stand desks I’ve seen, and one that is on my list to try, is the Ikea Trotten Desk.
This simple, hand cranked variable desk should suit most people’s needs. But it is still nearly 200 quid.
Totally worth it I’m sure, but as I have mentioned many times before, my pockets are deep but my arms are short.
So can you get a stand up desk for cheaper?
You’re damn right you can!
The DIY Standing Desk
So this my set up. It’s what I have been using for a number of years now. And while I’ve got my eyes of one of those highfalutin sit-stand jobs, I have so far been unable to justify buying one, as this set ups works so well,
My set up consist of a standard height desk top on two trestles. These came from Ikea, but are discontinued. You can get similar ones for about £25 each and £15 for the desk top. A cheaper option is to get some screw on legs for £5 each.
That takes care of the standard height element pf the set up. You can of course use any existing desk you already have and save yourself some pennies.
I work from a laptop, so the standing portion of the set up needs to be at a height that is comfortable for me to see the screen and type.
For typing, I prefer to have my arms at a 90 degree bend. This is important when we come to setting the height of the typing platform.
Over time I have come to prefer to use my laptop as the monitor at a slightly higher height and type on a second keyboard. So, to achieve this I now use a laptop stand that can be adjusted to different angles and hieghts.
But to raise it all up I nip back to Ikea to get one of their cheap Lack side tables, for a tenner.
If you are tall this may be perfect for you straight of the bat. For me, it’s a bit too high.
To work out my final height I simply hold my hand above the desk,at the desired height for typing, and measure down to the top of the low desk. I then take this measurement and measure down from the top of the Lack table and mark this point on the legs. I then remove the legs and cut them at this marked point. When the legs go back on and it’s placed on top of the first desk it should all be the right height.
And that’s it.
The upper part is removable so I can revert to a classic sitting position. You do have to be a little careful not to knock the top section off when in use. You could fix it to the lower desk, but this would obviously remove the variable nature of it.
I like a second screen. I have this screen fixed to the wall at just above eye height.
The reason for this is to change my angle of focus and to cause me to look upwards. Science has shown that an upward gaze helps to create greater alertness.
Andrew Huberman explains this excellently on the link here.
I also try to keep the screen high up on my left side.
Why? Nowdays, we (right handed people) spend so much time looking down and to the right whilst we are checking our phones. To balance the muscles in my eyes I like to force myself to look in the opposite direction.
I like to be either barefoot or wearing minimalist ‘barefoot’ shoes.
The reason being, wearing elevated heeled shoes puts us into an unaligned posture.
Standing all day in a compromised posture may give rise to other problems down stream.
To further engage my muscles I like to add a little instability to my working posture in the form of a number of tools.
The wobble board means that I am constantly moving my ankles and lower limbs, as well as activating my core stabilising muscles. It’s actually easier that you’d expect due to the fact that your hand are achored on the desk
I love a balance beam. It’s a big part of my daily mobility. So to keep it through my working day I have a small 2 foot balance beam that lives under my desk.
I can balance on it in a number or orientations, as well as using it to stretch out my feet and calves.
The shakti mat is something I use as a sleep aid for power naps. But increasingly more, I now use it on the ground for my feet. Its an amazing way to liven the old clod-hoppers up and increase blood flow to the area.
I am never far away from a lacrosse ball. I use it to roll the bottom of my feet to stretch the intrinsic muscles and plantar fascia of the foot.
I have another Lack table that I keep on the floor, and combine this with a zafu cushion or a meditation stool and zabuton mat for working on the ground.
This set up allows me to work in a low squat position as well as a plethora of other ground resting positions. This constant changing of position all adds to my nutritious daily movement.
This has been a game changer for my productivity. I use pomofocus.io.
It splits my focus work up into 25 minute blocks with 5 minutes of rest in between. It really helps me plough though projects.
For the 5 minute rest period, sometimes I rest, but more often I move.
I’m lucky enough to have a matted area next to my desk where I can do mobility. I can run through my mobility flow, or use some of my mobility tools I keep in a basket.
I also have a kettlebell and a rowing machine on hand to get in a quick 5 minute micro workout to reinvigorate my body and enliven my mind.
You can off course just use your own body to achieve the same results.
So there you have it, my quick, cheap and simple DIY standing desk.
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