What happens when you try to move to a standing desk?
A patient’s diary of going from a sitting to a standing desk.
I’ve always been a fan of ‘free’ exercise, by this I mean switching a mundane routine event to be a workout; commuting by bike, stairs instead of lift or bench pressing my toddler! Naturally I was intrigued to read that I could also do something all day every workday, obvious really, lose the office chair and by standing, switch my sedentary job for an all-day workout! Not only should I shed weight but maybe I’ll even live longer too. The usual carrots were dangled; reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers. Essentially I concluded, like anything else ‘as part of a healthy lifestyle’ it can only be a good thing. Moreover research also suggests that meetings standing up can be more creative and generally people can be more productive.
Giving this a shot was a little more straight forward as I had a couple of tall Ikea desks at home. As uninitiated as I was back when I bought them, I just thought tall desk = tall chair. By losing the chair while working from home I was able to have a little practice. I also have a spare desk next to me at work so felt I could plant myself down with a laptop if things went really pear shaped! Once I plucked up the courage and had consulted my employer (who are good like that) to make the change , out went the old standard and in went one of my tall desks.
After a half a day my legs began to ache, no surprise there. Nowhere in particular, just all over. I must admit that I found a few things in the afternoon to do at the other desk. I was quite relieved to go home. The following day, my first change was to swap the usual leather shoes for an old pair of running shoes. Standing was putting a deal of pressure on the balls of my feet or my heels, as I transferred my weight about. The shoes made a good difference and I actually felt more upright. That said, the next day I struggled to find a comfortable position again. My thighs were tightening and try as I might I couldn’t quite shift the tension. I began to think this was a bad idea.
About this time people started to take an interest. The window cleaner warned me of varicose veins and the pitfalls of standing for a living, others advised that I should move about more and the general consensus was perhaps I was hitting it too hard too fast. Taking this on board, I took it quite easy for a couple of days and found distractions away from the desk with a few cheeky sit down jobs. Again towards the end of the week, the most affected body part felt to be my feet. They proper ached and reminded me of my formative years working in kitchens.
The first couple of days passed without me giving it much thought, it felt like the first couple of weeks had been a warm up. I remember taking a walk at lunchtime and feeling invigorated and well postured. I was getting used to the discomfort which appeared to be restricted to just my legs and feet, no reaction in my back or hips to speak of. My main concern was my knees, they felt locked out for long periods of the day and was again warned that this might not be a good way to stand. I tried to increase my ‘at desk’ movements to try and counter this but it appears (and still appears) to be a hard habit to break, an unavoidable hazard. Another concern was sometimes transferring all weight through a single leg. You can end up fairly lopsided and need to become more conscious of when this is happening. For me, my a-symetrcial casual stances probably stem from having a displaced hip. I have improved this with stretches recommended by Align Body Clinic for years now, but it only takes a few bad habits to trigger the pain again.
Okay, tall desk might need to = tall chair from time to time. I shipped it in as backup. Not just to offer a rest now and again but also I was finding that if a task on the computer was a bit repetitive or mundane then I was struggling to take my mind off the pressure in my legs to concentrate. It was probably aiding productivity as I was trying to finish things as quick as I could to sit down for a minute! A colleague remarked “so you’ve given in then” which helped me reset my expectations. It”s not about standing all day every day, it’s about minimising the time sitting. I certainly hadn’t given in, but I had realised that unless I was to be moving about regularly then sitting for a while was a legitimate method to keep standing. My job can involve hours at a screen (that’s another story) concentrating on data or information that absorbs my attention. Most of us should all move about or stretch a little more, I hope standing will be a catalyst to make this happen. I expect there is an app out there to remind me when to take a break, I know colleagues with RSI have used timers in the past to promote breaks.
Week 5 and beyond.
I’m still standing 4 months later. Not every day, I’m human! Some days I found I was in the tall chair all day, but across these 4 months I’ve predominantly stood. It feels good and I’d recommend at least trying it to see if it works for you. You can get all sorts of neat gadgets to facilitate this from electric desks that adjust height or docking stations for laptops that rise from a standard desk. I would imagine that these will become more and more common in the workplace as people become more conscious of the pitfalls of sitting all day every day. I don’t think it’s worth getting dogmatic about it, I now tend to sit when working from home as a bit of a break but overall have found as each week passes it’s working out well. Given the choice and the budget, a sit/stand ‘Varides’ desk would be ideal providing flexibility without disrupting workspace too much. I kept an eye on my weight and it’s not a super weight loss scheme, more of a positive life style change. It’s not just column inches for the broadsheets either, there is a whole public health drive out there, see http://www.getbritainstanding.org for more information. It sounds as if I proved their recommendation to stick to 30 minute spells or roughly half a day, next step: the treadmill desk!