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World's Easiest Way to Be Much Healthier: Stand Up

Standing up more is scientifically proven to have huge health benefits, but in our digital world it's not as simple as it sounds. Here's how to make the switch to an upright workday.

By now you know you probably know that sitting down all day is terrible for you. Who needs scientists to tell you that sitting for even one hour causes the production of fat-burning enzymes to decline a whopping 90%, or that more than four hours of desk time each day raises your risk of a heart attack by more than 100%?

You can feel exactly how crappy sitting all day makes you feel at the end of each workday. (Though you may be shocked to learn that being a regular gym-goer doesn't protect you from the harmful effects of all that sitting.)

The solution, according to recent articles in the New York Times and Wired, is simple: Get a standing desk. You'll join good company, they point out, as Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Franklin and Winston Churchill among many others worked standing up, and vastly improve your health.

So why don't more of us actually make this move, especially entrepreneurs who are fully in control of how they work?

Simply put, it's a bit daunting. What equipment will you need? Where do you get it and at what cost? Won't it make your feet hurt? Sensible questions all, but thankfully there's a wealth of resources to help out standing desk newbies from those who have made the switch. Here are some of their tips:

DIY Options Abound

As the Times points out, those flush with cash now have plenty of options to arrange their standing workspace, including Steelcase standing desks starting at $1,600 that are the "Mercedes-Benzes and Cadillacs of upright workstations." But if that's a gasp-worthy price tag for you, fear not. A trip to the Ikea and a couple of Coke cans can also sort you out too.

Writing on Macworld about his own conversion to upright work, Lex Friedman explains: "My approach was decidedly low-tech. My family owns a bunch of Ikea’s BILLY-model bookcases, each of which comes coupled with a “height extension unit”—an extra shelf topper." Need an even cheaper solution? Try a bunch of soda cans and a board.

Invest in a Mat

Your instinct is right: your feet probably will get pretty tired. But the consensus from those who have tried upright working is the aches ease after just a couple of days.

"The first three days were brutal, so painful I doubted the whole endeavor…. Then, on the fourth day, it wasn't so bad. On day five, I got lost in work for two hours before I thought about the fact that I was on my feet once. Now it's my new normal," writer Gina Trapani reports about her experience.

Friedman concurs but offers a suggestion to help ease you into more standing. "My legs got pretty tired for the first few days. But I was surprised to discover that while my legs adjusted to the increased standing relatively quickly, the aching in my feet got worse each day," he writes.

"I soon realized that my traditional, be-socked approach wouldn’t cut it," he continues. "I started wearing sneakers, which helped—but not enough. I bought gel inserts to boost arch support, which also improved things… but my feet were still sore. I bought an inexpensive 'anti-fatigue mat.' The combination of sneakers, inserts, and the mat finally soothed my tired feet."

"If you stand on a hardwood floor, you might also invest in some sort of mat that can be more comfortable on your feet," agrees writer and upright worker Bakari Chavanu.

Tweak the Ergonomics

Just as it's key to get your work set up just right at a traditional sitting desk, it's equally important to make sure you've found the most comfortable, least stressful way to work standing up.

"It is indeed better to type with your hands near waist level," suggests Chavanu. "I also found that having the computer elevated at eye level as much as possible is very important. You get a lot of neck strain when you have to look down at the keyboard and screen," he says.

Trapani also advocates an eye-level screen: "I bought a $20 monitor riser to get my screen to the right height so I'm looking straight ahead at it, not down." Wired offers more tips and an illustration on proper standing-while-working posture.

Also, feel free to wiggle, Friedman says. "The other key for extended comfort while standing is adjusting my position. I rotate through standing more heavily on one foot, leaning against the desk, or even resting an arm on the table my keyboard sits upon." Chavanu stresses taking a few breaks on a bar stool.

If you're a real health obsessive, you can even go one better and opt for not a standing desk but a treadmill one and try working while walking.

Are you going to make the switch? 

 

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Last updated: Dec 6, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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