Thoughts on Stand Up Desks

I recently set up a standing workstation at my office so that I could spend at the very least a few hours each day standing while I worked. I have only had this setup for a short time, but I wanted to share my thoughts on standing while working.

A Bit of Background

A year ago I started getting a tingling numbness in my right thigh during the day. I could still walk and function but it drove me crazy, and was just the oddest feeling thing. I went to the doctor and he said that most likely I was pinching a nerve and told me that most people see this when they wear skinny jeans (I don’t). For the life of me I could not figure out what the cause was.

Then I went away for a couple of weeks and was on vacation – the problem completely disappeared. This lead me to believe it was either my bed or my office chair or car that was causing the problem – everything else was the same while I was away. Through some trial and error I figured out that it was actually my desk chair at work. I changed to an old POS chair and the problem went away a day later. Amazing.

I have a new chair on order which I am very excited about, but until I get that I had to change something about the way I worked. The old chair I am currently using doesn’t make my leg numb, but it certainly makes my neck sore (it pitches me too far forward while sitting).

The Setup

I work in what is more or less a cubicle at work, luckily though it is a modular system. I took a 24” x 60” section of the desk and elevated it to a height where my arms nicely rest on it when typing. The next challenge was to get my MacBook Pro screen up high enough so that I wasn’t craning my next too bad – for that I used my old trusty Griffin Elevator stand.

This area is a completely different desk than where I normally sit – which is the biggest drawback. To go from sitting to standing I have to move my computer, keyboard, mouse, iPhone, iPad, and water to another desk. Luckily I have another charger that I can use for this location, but it is not the ideal setup.

Why

So the big question from everyone in my office has been: why? Why would I want to stand and work? Well the truth is I don’t really want to stand and work, it makes my feet tired. But I also want to do things to reduce my risk of a heart attack later in life. I posted a link about this a while back, but here is the pertinent info from Gretchen Reynolds at the New York Times:

Men who spent more than 23 hours a week watching TV and sitting in their cars (as passengers or as drivers) had a 64 percent greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less. What was unexpected was that many of the men who sat long hours and developed heart problems also exercised. Quite a few of them said they did so regularly and led active lifestyles. The men worked out, then sat in cars and in front of televisions for hours, and their risk of heart disease soared, despite the exercise. Their workouts did not counteract the ill effects of sitting.

When I read that I got worried. I spend bare minimum 8 hours a week in my car alone. So I easily go way over that 23 hour a week mark. I decided that standing while working is a small price to pay for a hopefully healthier heart.

Lessons So Far

  • The desk height has to be right. I initially setup the desk far too low. For me the most comfortable height is one where my arms are bent to almost a 90° angle when I am typing.

  • Monitor height is also crucial, I have always had my monitor so that the top edge is just about one inch above my sitting eye height – this seems to be the agreed upon ergonomic monitor height and it really feels right. As I said above to accomplish this I am using a Griffin Elevator stand for my MacBook Pro.

  • Everyone in your office will want to know what the hell is wrong with you. I tell them the actual reason – that usually strikes some fear into them.

  • It is a lot more tiring that sitting is. My feet and legs get tired out and I want to sit back down. If you have ever been to conference or anything where you spend all day on your feet you know what I am talking about here. I don’t get tired to the point where I want to fall asleep, but it does feel like I have been more active during the day – and that is a good thing.

  • I bounce all around when I am typing. I don’t know if it is just that I can find a comfortable standing position, but I move all around when I work standing up. When sitting I tend to stay pretty still, but I guess my ADD comes out to play when I stand up.

  • When I first set this up I had the lofty goal of working like this from 1-4ish each day, basically for the rest of the time after I eat lunch. Fat chance. The first day I made it about and hour and a half before I gave up and sat down. It took about 3-4 days before I could stand for that entire time period.

Going Forward

This is certainly something that I want to continue to do from here on out. Ideally I would love to get one of those desks that allow you to raise and lower it electronically so that I could easily switch from standing to sitting – but that is far from being economically feasible right now.

Originally posted for members on: October 20, 2010
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