As the calendar turns to a new year, about 45% of us are resolving to make positive life changes. Sadly, only 8% of us will achieve our lofty goals and weight loss and organization are the top two motivations that will likely be quickly dashed as reality sets in.
When it comes to change, I’m all about quick wins and incorporating changes that require as little willpower as possible. If you agree, then I think this little workhack + lifehack will win you over because it’s a doozy: it can help you lose weight (no, seriously), be more productive (hello, organizing and career advancement!), reduce your cholesterol (hello, longer life), improve your energy (helping you gain resolve for other goals), and much more.
We can’t solve all our problems with a resolution, but one simple change in the way we work can make us have more resolve. Thus, I offer to you my #1 health-related workhack for 2014:
Standing up at work for 3 hours+ per day with a sit-stand desk.
20 minutes after you sit down, your body wrecks itself
2013 was particularly tough on us computer workers. It seems that everywhere we looked, the news that “sitting is killing us” was staring us in the face. It was kind of alarming and annoying at the same time. Thoughts like: “I KNEW that my job was hazardous to my health! Disability checks, here I come!,” coupled with “But don’t these ivory tower researchers know that some of us have to have jobby-jobs and we don’t have much choice?!” might have marred our thoughts.
Traumatizing statements abounded, such as:
- Sitting increases risk of death up to 40% (even if you exercise regularly).
- Our bodies weren’t built for sitting down an average of 9.3 hours per day and it’s making us fat.
- Calorie burning drops by 1/3 to 1 calorie per minute.
- Enzymes that break down fat drop 90%.
- Insulin effectiveness drops and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises.
- People with sitting jobs have two times the rate of cardiovascular disease as people with standing jobs.
- For each hour of TV watching per day, your risk of dying increases by 11%.
I get a fair amount of exercise, eat very well and tend to be a fidgeter which are all considered healthy behaviors. But apparently, it’s not enough. Exercise isn’t a direct antidote to sitting. Standing and moving are.
Thus, I resolved to figure out how to incorporate more standing into my long startup work days. A new productivity and vitality motto emerged:
KISS – Keep it simple. Stand.
(For a few hours each work day at least).
I did my research and I’m ready to share my findings and resources with you in hopes that it helps improve your work-health balance in 2014, too.
What standing up at work can do for your life
- 10-50% increase in productivity. Some companies, like ReadWriteWeb, have measured their before and after output and can affirm a 10% increase in productivity. If you take an 8-hour workday and estimate that you’re truly working 6 hours of that day, you’ll get at minimum an extra 46 minutes of real work done every single day. That could be career-changing when you think about it. Another reason for the productivity punch? Potentially the psychology of body language. You’re standing in a power pose, thereby decreasing cortisol (which makes us stressed, anxious and fat) and increases testosterone (which reduces stress, builds confidence, burns fat and builds lean muscle).
- Improved focus. There’s an inherent sense of urgency when you’re standing. As a result, you’re less likely to allow distractions that will just prolong the task at hand. Sitting becomes a reward, not a park-it-perpetually proposition.
- Better concentration. Again, our built-in psychology prompts us to get the job done so we can rest. Plus, with increased blood flow and electrical connections, our brains are more attentive to the analytical and creative work we’re doing.
- Less hunchback. Sitting lends itself to a wide array of unhealthy postures. Standing reduces your options and creates a more ergonomically safe state for your back, neck and shoulders. Better posture also leads to more positivity and less depression.
- More energy and less fatigue. When standing, you’re burning more calories because your entire body and mind are engaged and so, you’ll likely avoid the typical 3 o’clock crash.
- Weight loss. By standing for an extra three hours per day, the average adult can burn off about 9 pounds of fat per year. No gym membership required.
- Other niceties include: less headaches (better posture and more blood flow are likely causes), improved creativity, more confidence and even assistance when quitting smoking (shifting weight from foot to foot and fidgeting while standing distract from the anxiety of detox).
(Excessive) sitting might be deadly, but sitting isn't off-limits
With all that research scarred into my brain, I concluded to stand more. One caveat remained: I’m not a great full-time stander. I was born with my dad’s tender feet and my mom’s imperfect arches. I knew that a DIY tabletop solution could save me dollars but wouldn't be the ideal solution (your risk of carotid atherosclerosis and varicose veins increases with standing all the time). After perusing my options, I found my solution to the new-age quandary: to sit or to stand? Both.
My choice: the manual adjustable height desk.
There are plenty of options out there and I’ll list some at the end of this post, but I settled on a manual adjustable height option from MultiTable. A rotating lever moves like butter and I can easily crank up the height to ideal standing ergonomics within seconds. You can invest in electric if you have the dollars, but I just don’t see the point, personally. Part of the goal is to move more, so turning the crank 24 times up and down several times a day is a non-issue for me.
I tested my newfound habit at home first and since I love it so much, have made the case to upgrade our office desks early in 2014.
I realize that not everyone can change their workplace setup, but don’t rule out a standing desk option for your home. Even if you only use it for a couple hours a day while you check email, peruse social networks, read, work on projects or help your kids with homework, you’ll gain some health and mental benefits.
For the truly fitness-motivated, walking while working is the ultimate work-health solution. However, the jury's still out as to whether it leads to more productivity. As Mat Honan of Wired of points out, walking whilst working doesn't necessarily lead to more productivity. Danny Sullivan reports that it's work-as-usual while walking. While I like the notion for walking while reading or strategizing, standing seems like the best all-around choice when productivity and focus are the primary goals.
For those that want to trial-run your standing resolution, I list some options below. You can get started for as little as $20, but you’ll have to commit to either standing full-time or assembling and disassembling your make-shift stand desk as the urge to sit calls.
Why a sit-stand desk is better than a gym membership
I'm all for working out, really. But if we're talking about investing in resolutions, I think a sit-stand desk is better than a gym membership. Creating the new habit of gym-going is going to require dozens of behavioral changes that will make reaching and maintaining that goal exponentially more difficult. If you work at a desk, and you have an adjustable height option, intermittent standing is a no-brainer because you're going spend 6-12 hours at your desk 5+ days per week. Yes, an adjustable desk is an investment, but it's something that you'll use almost every day and its proven to help your mind and body. I rather win at standing a few hours five to six days a week than potentially lose at an hour of running + pilates class + weight lifting three times a week.
Even if you stood for just one extra hour per day, you would improve your health, productivity and outlook with one simple, no-sweat change. Then, you'll likely have more resolve for other challenging resolutions like hitting the gym regularly.
For optimal benefits, invest in ergonomic-loving accessories
From what I’ve read, ergonomics and posture are just as important when standing as they are when sitting. As such, I highly recommend the following (all field-tested and approved):
- An anti-fatigue mat. This is a must have item for standing any length of time. You will be able to stand longer and feel so much better when you do. I love my GelPro New Life professional eco mat.
- A keyboard. Better yet, an ergonomic one like this Kinesis Maxim. It can be difficult to stand and use your laptop keyboard for hours on end. It can cause neck and back problems. Boo.
- An adjustable keyboard tray. This is an optional item but if you’re big on ergonomics, your carpal won’t tunnel anymore. Get it? The experts say keeping the elbows bent at a 90 degree angle is best. (This handy workspace planner is customizable and helps you find your best-case work setup).
- A mouse. I know. We’re backtracking in design aesthetics here. We had these lovely little self-contained laptops and tablets sans-accessories and now we’re cluttering our workspace with more stuff. But do you want your workspace to look good or do you want to be more productive and feel great? The mouse is also an ergonomic solution to the pretty but terribly dysfunctional design of the laptop track pad. My fave is the handshake mouse. It’s a carpal tunnel ballistic missile in an ostrich-egg-looking package.
- Good shoes. When I’m standing for long periods, I opt for a flat shoe with a supportive insole. The experts agree: heels and long-term standing do not a healthy body make. My work solution will be to store a standing shoe at the office and to wear my pretty shoes the rest of the day.
IMHO: the benefits of intermittent standing are real
I find that when I stand, I’m more motivated, more productive, happier, more confident and willing to take (healthy) risks because I tend to think more outside the box.
I was a reluctant stander, but I’ve made peace with the concept. I’ve found my balance. I allow myself to sit most of the day but I strive to stand 3-5 hours (sometimes during my evening work / catch-up time). I found a desk I love and a setup that keeps my body ergonomically in shape.
(For the record, I stood while researching and writing this post. And now that it’s done, I’m ready to reward myself with some sit time).
If you have questions about my experience, feel free to message me on Twitter. Cheers to a healthy, happy and productive 2014 to you and yours!
Calculate your daily sitting time, calorie burn and plan your workspace.
- Some darling and functional DIY standing desk versions at Brit & Co.
- Stand up for $17 with this innovative use of IKEA’s Lack side table. Also, there are plenty of great standing desk reviews at this site.
- An affordable desktop solution, the Anderlyn Desk retails at $179.
Manual Adjustable Height
- MultiTable was my choice for options, price and an amazingly well engineered base. The crank action is so smooth and easy to adjust. Plus, you can buy just the base and customize your own desk top, which is what I wanted. Bases start at $479, manual + top start at $549 for a small top. Note: I personalized my desk by buying just the base, then having a skilled carpenter in Arizona make the custom wood top to my specifications. I love it. If you're interested in getting a custom-made table top, message me on Twitter for his contact information.
- CrankUp desk start at $649. They have electric versions as well.
- The NextDesk is one desk with 267 possible positions for $1,500 (they also have a fixed height desk). You can try it for free for 30 days.
Electric Adjustable Height
- GeekDesks offers affordable options starting at $749.
- ErgoDepot features clean Scandinavian desk starting at $709.
- LifeSpan sells multiple workplace solutions such as a sturdy treadmill solutions for around $2,000 and also has the bike desk. Novel.
- TrekDesk offers a lean-and-mean option for $479 available at Amazon.
- TreadDesk packages provide various desktop options starting at $2,100.
- Build your own treadmill desk with this instructables video.