A rising trend

There’s been a lot of positive press lately about the benefits of working with computers at a standing desk, rather than sitting, like most of us do. This includes articles from major news outlets, such as CNN and Wall Street Journal.

This trend, in part, is based on medical research that shows that sitting for many hours has long-term negative effect on one’s health, which can’t be balanced by going to a gym or other physical activity after work. The negative effects include such “simple” ones as higher weight, to such drastic conclusions as shorter life span of people who work sitting for many hours a day.

Podcasters that I listen to and people that I follow also started to mention that they switched to standing desks, at least to try. As I’ve been working in a sitting position for many years now and felt some bad effects on the neck ans back, I decided to give it a try. I started around the beginning of June this year, about 3.5 months ago.

My initial experience

Luckily, I had a fitting furniture in my room which I could use as a sibstitude for a real desk, albeit a small one. I only had place on top for the display and my small speakers. The MacBook Pro itself and external drives were on the regular desk. I fitted the keyboard to be at a comfortable height with a collection of books below it.

Although I never worked on my feet for long periods of time, I didn’t have any fear about it. I believed that I will easily overcome the initial adjustment period, basing my belied on my Qigong Yiquan training that I’ve been doing for almost 5 years now, which include lengthy standing meditations as part of the routine. Qigong also teaches to feel the body and the posture and to reduce tension in upper-body muscles while standing, supporting the body weight on the leg muscles instead.

Still, the first several days I had to take sitting breaks often and I felt expected tiredness in my legs. After about a week I seemed to have adjusted and was starting to feel some of the benefits.

The most profound change that I could feel was the elimination of the occasional sleepiness in the afternoon. You can’t just doze off while standing. You’re not an elephant, after all. But it’s not just that, the overall feeling throughout the day was more energetic.

On the famous Zen Habits blog there was a guest post by Corbett Barr describing personal experience of working while standing. When I read it, I thought that this was an article I could write myself. Almost all of the points raised in it were relevant to me as well, both positive and the slightly negative.

Fast forward

My only negative experience working like that was this nagging pain in my calves that didn’t go away. It really started to get on my nerves. I also wasn’t sure that it was muscle fatigue. It felt differently and I was afraid it might be a sign of something more serious than tired muscles.

Then this article, summarizing the conclusions in Cornell University on the subject, caught my attention in the Twitter feed. And their conclusion is that standing all day is also not benefitial for one’s health. It has its health risks as well. Their final advice was to work sitting but get up every 20-30 minutes and take a walk for a couple of minutes to get blood circulating.

I decided to heed this advice and several days ago moved everything back on the desk, installed BreakTime from the Mac App Store and put it into 25m work/2m break schedule.

Now I’m adjusting back to sitting. I’m starting to feel the neck and back again. That Cornell University’s ergonomics site is actually rather large and has a tips section for correct working posture etc.

Now if only the wired Apple keyboard that I use wasn’t so wide. The Magic Trackpad is too far to the right.

Some final thoughts

I’m still not sure what works better for me. I liked the benefits of standing but perhaps I needed to make more “sitting breaks”, not unlike this sitting work schedule advice from Cornell. Maybe if I sat more during these 3 months, I wouldn’t have built this pain in my calves.

There are also these switching height desk, which could be used as well to alternate between sitting and standing. But they’re expensive and I don’t hurry to change my room’s furniture so soon. What I have considered though, is buying a kind of a bar stool. They are high and don’t take lots of space. Perhaps they could be used near the standing desk. I could sit on one when I was feeling too tired to stand, while continuing to work. Or it could be used for these timed breaks, i.e. sit every 20 minutes for 2 minutes and then stand up again.

Considering all my “trials and tribulations”, I believe a time will come when I’ll post an update to this post.

If you have your own experience with ergonimics, especially as related to sitting and standing, please share in the comments.