It’s been almost 3 years since I started standing at least half of my workday. Like so many, I’d often felt the result of too much sitting. After my first 5–8 years in the IT industry, I’d developed a bad habit of putting my left elbow on my desk while my right hand did all the work. This resulted in years of back discomfort and ribs constantly out of alignment.
Standing was one way to improve those poor ergonomics, as well as get me on my feet. After 3 years, I can say there are some great benefits. One, you do tend to move more when standing. I guess it must be because you’re more free to do so, but I will pace when thinking through a problem. At times, I might even dance around and do a little kick and stretch thanks to the coffee and music combination. Standing has lead to more movement in general. I recommend a good standing desk to anyone who works on a computer all day (as well as a good chair for when you do sit).
But is it enough? Signs point to no … imagine that. After these past three years, I can attest to the fact that standing vs. sitting is not the discussion we should be having. It’s inactivity, period. If you’re standing in front of a computer for 8 hours a day, you’re not moving enough. Your heart rate is too slow. While your brain is working away, your body is wasting away.
If you're a knowledge worker, your focus needs to be on how you spend the other 8 hours of your day away from the screen. Feeling tired after a day of standing should not lead to plopping down in front of another screen. And despite all the advice how to counter all the sitting all day, the fact is that our lives of convenience are simply too sedentary overall.
It’s about choices. If you’ve made the choice to have a vocation that involves using a computer for more than 6 hours per day, you should make other choices that coincide with decision. There are plenty of options, but I’ll illustrate with my own life.
We live on an acreage. We slowly moved from small town lots to larger pieces of property partly because we love gardening and yard work. But I soon discovered that I love the physical activity that was required. Now that we’re on an acreage, I can spend a good chunk of my non-work hours working my body as I “work the land”. Gardening and yard work in the summer, shovelling in the winter.
On top of that, we have an outdoor wood boiler and wood is our only source of heat. We could hook natural gas and simply supplement with wood, but I found that being required to provide 100% of the heat for our home ensures I do what is needed. I spend 20 days or so each year getting the wood to our house. Then all fall & winter, I spend time chopping and hauling wood around. Because of this, I was in far better shape in my 30’s than my 20’s (and happier for functional exercise, rather than paying money to lift weights or run in one spot).
Last, I need some cardio type of work. While hauling wood and shovelling can improve your cardiovascular capabilities, they’re not consistent enough. So I play basketball at the local YMCA. They key here is when: there are several options available for evenings, but I choose to play in the drop in lunch hour sessions. This is vital for it breaks up my workday into two sessions of physical inactivity. I’ve found that 8 hours of work with only a break for a meal (or rather, one meal with several snacking sessions) is what leads to my worst days in terms of overall health.
Returning to the my point, I’ve made choices in my life to reflect the reality of my chosen vocation. Not everyone can live on acreage and chop wood for exercise. But there are plenty of options available that can help us to a) break up our times of physical inactivity and b) spend time away from the computer being active. Sports and working out at the gym are obvious ones, but activities such as volunteering, acting, or playing music can improve our health. Even getting from one place to another gives you the opportunity to make choose between being active or inactive (walking vs. driving or transit).
I love my standing desk. But I need more than that and have to proactively make choices to ensure I’m countering the nature of my work.