Standing desks: Hip or hype?

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Over the last year it's been reported (by numerous sources) that excessive sitting has become the “new smoking.” In other words, it's quite bad for you. Nearly every study (much of the initial work coming from the Mayo Clinic and James Levine's intensive study of inactivity) linked excessive sitting to weight gain and obesity, and that's a fairly logical conclusion to draw — if you sit around all day and night, you're going to gain weight. Worse than that, one study concluded that adults who sat for eleven hours or more a day could look forward to a 40 percent increase in risk of dying in the next three years.


Standing is better

Considering that most of us work an average of nine point three hours a day — most of that sitting in front of a computer — it should be clear that we do, in fact, suffer from excessive sitting. Fortunately, a simple solution to this has come to light: standing. It sounds almost too rudimentary to be true, but if you give it enough thought, you can come to the same conclusions I did:

  • When standing, you constantly engage your core muscles
  • Standing allows you to breathe more freely
  • You are continuously moving when you stand (even if it's the form of tiny shifts in weight)
  • By standing, you are able to move with a wider range of motion

All told, you burn more calories standing and keeping your muscles active. This not only helps your body's ability to lose weight, but is also better for your back, your muscles, your bones and your mental health. But... (There's always a "but.") Most work environments are geared toward worker bees being seated at desks. So much so that ergonomic studies have dug deep into the wells of science in an attempt to create products that might help desk-sitting workers achieve some semblance of comfort and well-being. But as we now know, when you're seated all day, well, that's not really going to happen. So while you might not be able to get that standing desk at the office, you can at least make an effort to stand more at home.


Make your own standing desk

Typical standing desks demand significantly higher prices than sitting desks. When you've already invested in your standard desk setup, how can you make the conversion without breaking the bank? I recently asked myself this exact question. I'd been using the same home office desk for nearly 20 years, and I love my ancient corner desk that has served me so well — I wasn't about to get rid of it. So, I set about to have the best of both worlds. This is how I achieved my goal of having a standing desk. The measurement for your riser platforms must be done with care. Your arms need to be at a 90 degree angle for typing, so stand, bend your arms and have someone measure the distance from the bottom of your hand to the top of your keyboard. After careful measuring, I determined my desk needed to rise twelve inches. My desk is a corner desk, so there are six legs that touch the floor. Each of those legs needed to be raised equally and solidly. I didn't want to make my home office look like a dorm room (with a desk supported by milk crates), so it was off to my mad scientist lab, er garage! Using a 4'x8' piece of ¾" plywood, I created two right triangles (see Figure A) to be placed under the legs of the desk. Because these platforms would be holding a fair amount of weight, they had to be sturdy, and so I used 1 ¼" wood screws and Gorilla Glue to join the pieces together. The platforms had to have a top and bottom to solidify the sides, so the extra 1 ½" had to be taken into account for the measurements (measure twice, cut once).

Figure A

My System76 Leopard Extreme sits atop one of the unfinished riser platforms. Once the platforms were assembled, I had to remove my monitors from the desk, separate the two main sections of the desk, set the sections on the platforms, maneuver the pieces together, and reassemble the desk. With the desk reassembled, I could return the monitors to their massive DIY stand (I record audio books, so I need my monitors to be able to move a lot), route cables and fire up my computer (Figure B).


Figure B

The desk re-assembled. As for monitor, your main monitor needs to be at eye level (to avoid neck strain). Since I have two (one only used for music and other periphery applications), I elevated one to get it out of the way. No matter how many monitors you have, it is crucial that they be at eye level.

Using your new standing desk

The second I stood at my keyboard, I knew this was the right move. As I mentioned, I record audio books. What a standing desk immediately illustrated to me was how a seated desk prohibits proper breathing (when slouching comes into play). The real test, of course, was how I felt at the end of the day. I have only been using my standing desk for a week now and I can already see a dramatic improvement. At the end of a long day, I feel invigorated and my brain is still sharp. My posture has also seen an incredible improvement.

I won't lie and say it's all unicorns and chocolates. Those first few days can really put a hurt on your feet and lower back. Those issues can be easily avoided. First, if you're going to stand at your desk without shoes, you must purchase an anti-fatique mat. This is not an option. Without this mat you will suffer. Or, you can simply wear shoes. I work from home, so being as comfortable as possible is important to me. You don't necessarily have to drop the serious coin for a mat (such as what is often considered the gold standard – GelPro). I've found this NewLife professional grade mat at Target which also does a good job. Of course, this will be very user-specific (often dictated by user weight, foot structure, and preference). Along with the mat, you should have a stool available to sit on when your legs fatigue. This may be a necessity at the beginning. Make sure the stool is high enough that it keeps your body at the same height as if you were standing. As your body grows accustomed to the standing position, you'll need the stool less and less. If you are seated at your desk for hours on end, you need to give the standing desk at try.

Although many businesses will be reluctant to commit to these types of changes, you can give this a spin at home, and once you are convinced of the benefits, advocate for the change in your work place. Once you've started working at your standing desk, you'll never want to be relegated to a desk chair again.

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Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award winning writer of technical content and fiction. He has been covering Linux and open source since the late '90s and just about every conceivable topic since. His fiction breaks ground in the post apocalyptic genre as well as horror, thriller, and science fiction. For more information on Jack, check out his site, Get Jack'd at