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Get Up, Stand Up, Stand Up for Your (Back) Rights: The Standup Desk

Architectural Ergonomics: The Virtues of Using a Stand Up Desk

Let me guess, you're sitting down while reading this.

I presume many of you have had the following experience. Life is cruising along reasonably well and suddenly out the blue you feel a twinge in your lower back while opening the double hung window, reaching for that piece of luggage at the airport or picking up your child. You have the unsettling feeling that the pain will only get worse over the next 24 hours. 

The next morning finds you crawling out of bed or clinging to the wall like a drunken sailor on your way to the bathroom. One time the pain got so bad I burst out laughing (with a grimace) as it seemed unfathomable that my back could hurt so much. I’m actually lucky not to have a chronically bad back but I have made one change in my life that I think has made a measurable difference in my posture, back health and workflow: A stand up desk. 

Think about it. We’re animals. Most animals run around, sleep, eat and occasionally procreate. Very rarely do they do one thing for eight hours at a time (especially procreate). We’ve broken the pattern by sitting on our butt for hours while we work. Ah yes, I know, this is offset by your regular exercise so it shouldn’t be a problem. Wrong. I recently stumbled across an article in the New York Times by Gretchen Reynolds that dispelled this myth. Exercise is great but it doesn’t offset the endless hours settled on our posteriors.

Turns out, we were never meant to sit for such long periods of time and the health consequences of doing so are insidious from increased rates of heart disease to diabetes. For the more vain of us, you simply burn more calories while standing. Now I have your attention. The beauty of some stand up desks is that they are adjustable so that you can vary the height from sitting, standing or somewhere in between. Since I switched to using an adjustable stand up desk, I sense I’m more productive and alert. You oddly feel like you're standing at a ship’s helm guiding your life forward when using a stand up desk.

Stand up desks are becoming all the rage. They are the new single speed bike. Google offers them as part of their “Wellness Program” and roughly 10 percent of Facebook employees use them. Use one and you’ll be in the same club as Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo Da Vinci, Winston Churchill and Thomas Jefferson.

Since I started using a stand up desk, I’ve never looked back.

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Rico July 07, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Excellent news. I became aware of the causes of back pain many years ago, and sitting for long periods is one of the main causes. Now, I limit my time at my desk to no more than 2 hours per day. I am fortunate that the profession that I chose is not a full time desk job. Also, there are many exercises that I do every morning for my back, neck, knees, ankles and wrists, in addition to riding my bicycle almost every day. My father had a bad back, and after seeing him in pain for years, it scared me. I feel sorry for people who have to live in constant pain, especially if it was avoidable. Thank you Daniel for this valuable information, this kind of information can help millions of people.
Erik Fish July 08, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Is there a local retailer for adjustable stand-up desks? Our stacked IKEA desks are sub-optimal. Thanks!
Daniel Weaver July 09, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Ricardo, Thank you for your kind words. Seeing in others in pain particularly a relative can be a definite wake up call for behavior change. It's funny how patterns of modern living have crept into unquestioned acceptance and can compromise our quality of life. As an architect I've come to learn how important it is to question some of these assumptions of normalcy. I've referred to myself a "sustainable" architect for awhile and had the epiphany one day to ask myself, "Is the way I work and treat myself actually 'sustainable?' " Ahem... Plenty of other examples abound. Simply adding more natural light and ventilation into schools and workplaces has resulted in healthier, happier inhabitants. Imagine that? Seems like a no brainer right? Onward!
Daniel Weaver July 09, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Hey Erik, I haven't sleuthed local distributors or stores. I purchased mine via these folks: http://www.geekdesk.com/ They supply both tops and the adjustable legs. Or you can simply buy the legs and supply your own top. I've actually toyed around with starting a side business to provide higher end adjustable stand up desks to the market. So if there are any entrepreneurial folks who are of the same mind, let me know. Good Luck, Daniel
HLP July 09, 2012 at 09:54 PM
What a wonderful bit of information and so well-written. This is the kind of blog we all need and want to read. I'm a writer and sit on my bottom for far too many hours at a time, even if I try to off-set that by swimming and hiking around Marin. No pun, the bottom-line is that we all need to stand up and move. Imagine how this would change the dynamic of our learning environments and our whole culture? Thank you for sharing all this. Please keep writing such relevant, helpful posts!
Rico July 09, 2012 at 11:33 PM
I inherited an old adjustable drawing table from my father, it was originally from ABC networks. It can be adjusted for height, and angled. It is perfect for stand up use, but also a high chair that is ergonomic can be used some of the time. I rotate between using a chair and standing when I am doing drawings and plans for extended periods. I don't know if tables like these are still made, because of the advent of computers and CAD, but if they are not still made, that would be a great idea for some inventors to design and bring to market.
Daniel Weaver July 12, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Ricardo, I recall a friend's father who was an engineer had one of those desks in his home office. I remember being intrigued by all the gadgets associated with drafting. I don't know if they still make them - I bet someone does. On another note, someone piggy backed on my title in this article. http://sportsgeezer.com/2012/get-up-stand-up-live-two-years-longer/ The article echoes the positive aspects of standing up more often. Daniel
Rico July 12, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Daniel, You got it right, my father was a draftsman for PG&E and other corporations. Also, I built my own drawing table about 25 years ago. It was a simple design, and not adjustable in any way. I still have it, sitting in an outside room that I built originally as a greenhouse. Today I was cleaning out that space and I almost dismantled that old table, but decided against it. I was able to put a level surface on it and now it will be used to store outdoor furniture cushions during the winter. I like my ABC studios table much more.
Faye Simpson, MFT Intern July 14, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Great article Daniel. As a psychotherapist what I could really use is a stand-up chair. I haven't found any alternative seating that works to that end except an exercise ball which I hesitate to use in front of clients. It seems like it would be too distracting. Have you found any good chairs?
Daniel Weaver July 16, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Faye, That's a good question. I probably will be looking for what amounts to a stand up adjustable stool as well. I'm having a hard time envisioning an exercise ball that would be the equivalent of a stand up "chair" - looks pretty big in my mind's eye. I'll keep you posted if and when I run across something that floats my aesthetic and ergonomic boat(s).
Kamron Kunce July 19, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Thank you for raising awareness of the "sitting disease." Most people don't realize the ill effects sitting has on the body. Time to make a change. UpDesk is the perfect solution. It's a height-adjustable desk that allows the user to go up or down with a touch of a button (or manual crank). Worried about the price? Do some research and you'll find we're competitively priced. Unlike the treadmill desk, it takes up less space as well. We would love to earn your business and recommendation! Help us raise the standard... one desk at a time. Kamron Kunce Director of Social Media at UpDesk (Comment typed while standing up)
Daniel Weaver October 17, 2012 at 08:51 PM
More evidence that sitting on your butt isn't good for you - no surprise here: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/17/get-up-get-out-dont-sit/?src=me&ref=general

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