The WellBeing team puts standing desks to the test
For the four of us working on a natural health magazine it goes against the grain to be sedentary the whole day. But there is a way to keep at it without spending eight hours on our butts hunched over keyboards: standing desks.
I first contemplated standing up at work in late 2013. I’d never considered myself inactive before then, but full-time work, part-time study and a lengthy commute had fomented the perfect sedentary (non?)storm. I ummed and ahhed for months about spending hundreds on a standing desk but eventually decided enough was enough. So I built my own. Out of boxes. To stand, I’d stack them one atop the other in ergonomic alignment: computer screen on top of two boxes, keyboard on an old wine carton turned on its side, mouse on a smaller box with books on top. To sit, I’d pack them away under the desk. A tad unsightly, a bit of a faff, but free.
It was glorious. A standing desk meant I could use my body in a more natural way rather than hunching it over in front of a computer for hours on end; and I felt mentally freer as a result. I eased into standing, starting with three hours a day so my body could acclimatise, progressing to half a day and sometimes longer. As for footwear, I tried flats, then heels, finally gravitating to shoes with a 2cm heel for optimal comfort. I became the office curiosity, but the improved posture, increased energy during the day and decreased tiredness in the evenings was worth it.
I stacked and unstacked boxes until October 2015, when I began reviewing a height-adjustable Pro Plus Varidesk: a sturdy 91.4cm-wide two-tiered contraption that sits on top of your desk. At AU$575 it’s not cheap, but it has revolutionised my working life. I can effortlessly raise and lower the desk with a squeeze of a lever at either side, there’s plenty of room beside my screen for knickknacks and pens … and it looks good, too.
In the office, Danielle and I share the “sacred” WellBeing space. Despite the calming imagery that sentence may evoke, it’s probably more beautiful in your mind than it is in reality. But we’re slowly creating a wholesome, calming green space with a selection of succulents — and standing desks. After witnessing Danielle move from sitting to standing, becoming more energised and posture-perfect each day, I decided to join in. So I called my dad. Dad is quite the handyman: when I was younger, he’d bring my ideas to life and I’d watch on, helping out when allowed. I treasure those years in the shed and, because of Dad, I look at things and think, “I could make that myself” — and do.
The same afternoon I decided to stand at work, I sketched a rough design and Dad and I went to Bunnings, picking up recycled timber, sandpaper and screws for less than $30. We built, bonded, swapped ideas and laughed until beer o’clock when, sharing a cheers, we admired our handiwork. Together, we’d made a standing desk. It was strong, stable, well-designed, sustainable, cheap to make and compacts neatly away. It’s perfect; although sometimes the thought of moving it manually into place hinders my standing and it becomes a bookshelf. But, regardless, each time I look at my standing desk I’m reminded of my dad and the fun we had making it. Because of that, my sacred space is even more wonderful!
I moved to the country five years ago, so these days I mostly work from Home. I go between being a restless worker doing a bit of this and a bit of that, to one so completely engrossed in a particular job that, hunched over my computer, I barely move for hours. A few years back, when it was time for a new computer, I bought a laptop so I can work in different parts of the house and take it with me to Sydney. However, I do have a lovely home office with beautiful mountain views and, somewhere along the line, I thought about standing desks. I wondered if one would offer even more flexibility for the restless me and force better posture on the hunched-over concentrating me. But I’m a bit of a procrastinator, so I kept on thinking about it.
Then one day my sister emailed me saying she’d bought me something. It turned out to be an electronically controlled standing desk! Someone at her work was selling it and my sis knew I was thinking about one and she can never bear my indecision. I was so excited and grateful. At first, I could only stand for an hour or two, but after a few weeks I could be on my feet for longer. I never stand the whole day, though. It definitely improves posture and energy, plus it gives a different perspective on your work from when you’re sitting. The electronic raising and lowering works so smoothly that it doesn’t even disturb the clutter at the back of the desk — things I like looking at. I like that, whether I’m sitting or standing, I can just switch over to freshen my perspective and I don’t feel so sedentary on work days.
I spend a fair amount of time perusing research and I keep reading that standing desks are good for the individual (promoting weight loss) and even for the company (boosting productivity). So I came to trying it with a positive mindset, although my body wasn’t quite so sure what lay ahead. As with most things, my expectation of what a standing desk would offer was quite different from the reality.
The Varidesk I tried is “stand-capable”, so I could lower it to the seating position when I wanted and I expected I’d be doing that after the first half hour. However, the first time I put the desk into the standing position, I left it there for the rest of that work day, which was about four hours. After a couple of hours, I was feeling my calves a little and towards the end a couple of twinges in my lower back. I was a touch more tired than usual that night, but overall my body enjoyed standing far more than it did sitting. I had expected most of the effects to be physical but the biggest thing I noticed was actually the mental aspect.
Somehow, standing expands your mental perspective, or at least it did for me. It was as though the openness of a standing posture versus the closed nature of sitting resulted in a broader mindset. Initially, that meant I found it more difficult to focus on demanding tasks when standing, but after a couple of weeks I found that standing enhanced focus but still allowed me to be broader in my thoughts.
After a month, I found that all negative physical effects from standing had pretty much disappeared and, in fact, my body was feeling much better and some old aches had gone. These days, I find standing to work both mentally and physically refreshing. I do it for at least three hours daily and honestly can’t imagine going back to sitting.
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