A standing desk experiment
In 2017 I made a big improvement to my daily routine by committing to a five-mile walk before every working day. Other than a handful of times when I’ve skipped my morning walk for whatever reason, I’ve stuck to this routine, and it’s made tangible improvements – I’m fitter, feel healthier, and have become radically more productive1.
But I still spend a lot of time sitting down, and I’m considering another change for 2018.
My daily routine
Let’s examine my current daily routine.
07.00 Wake up
09.00-10.00 Breakfast and planning for the day (sitting down)
10.00-12.00 TGO Online work (sitting down)
12.00-13.00 Lunch break / personal errands (some sitting down, some moving around)
13.00-18.00 Other editorial work or writing (sitting down)
Evening Reading, family time or TV (invariably sitting down)
That’s a lot of sitting down.
There have been a number of studies done on the health risks of sitting down in recent years (I won’t link to any here, but they’re plentiful and a quick Google search away). I have read articles based on a few of them, and the SfEP2, of which I am an Intermediate Member, recently highlighted the potential health problems freelance editors face.
It’s generally agreed that prolonged sitting isn’t good for you:
- Increased risk of obesity
- Significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk of diabetes
Other studies show a weaker correlation, and nobody really knows just how bad prolonged sitting is for you. But current thinking is that even daily exercise isn’t enough to completely offset the negative side effects of sitting down for the rest of the day.
A thread I’ve picked up from multiple articles I’ve read over the last few months is that regular movement – and in particular more standing up – is significantly better for you than sitting down.
While I have no particular concerns about my health or fitness right now, I am worried about the potential consequences a decade or two down the line.
Enter the standing desk
Standing desks are in vogue at the moment, but they are nothing new: many 19th-century writers swore by them, including Dickens and Hemingway3.
The idea is simple: you just increase the height of your desk, and use it standing up instead of sitting down. Ergonomics apply as usual here. It’s very important that keyboard, pointing device and monitor are all in comfortable places and at the right height.
As an experiment, I decided to give it a try for a couple of days. My approach has simply been to jack up the height of my keyboard and trackball on piles of boxes and books. I had to detach my monitor from its articulating arm and mount it back on the stand it came with, but now everything is at the right height.
It feels a little weird to use a computer standing up at first, but I’ve found it surprisingly easy to get used to (maybe it’s because every job I’ve had before this one was conducted standing up).
Of course, it stands to reason that simply standing in one place for hours on end is probably nearly as bad for you as sitting, but I’ve found that I tend to move around a little on my feet as I work. Also, I’m still doing a couple of hours of work sitting down per day, as I’m writing a novel by hand, and I doubt I could do that standing up.
So far at least, it’s a thumbs up from me, but it’s early days so far. This is a big potential change – I’m not going to rush in and convert my setup to a standing desk permanently. I think the next step will be to find some furniture risers to increase the height of my current desk. After trying it out for a few weeks or months I might consider changing my setup to something more permanent.
- I’m not sure if the productivity improvements are due to the walking itself or the act of setting aside 1.30 hours of uninterrupted thinking time at the start of each day. I suspect a little from column A and a little from column B. Read more about Walk2017 here: http://www.alexroddie.com/2017/01/making-time-for-fitness.html ↩
- https://www.sfep.org.uk/ ↩
- http://www.openculture.com/2013/10/ernest-hemingway-standing-desk.html ↩