Celebrating my standing desks

Image: Hearts, love, and snow flakes

Last summer I swapped my regular desk at home for a standing desk in anticipation working more at home during my sabbatical.

For non academics reading this, sabbatical leave isn’t time off work, it’s time to focus on writing and research rather than teaching and administration. Our usual workload is 40-40-20, teaching, research, and administration. But during a sabbatical it switches to 90-10, research and teaching. The 10% teaching =graduate student supervision. No matter what PhD supervision continues apace. You can read about my PhD students here. In past years I’ve traveled for my research leaves. Here’s looking at you University of Otago! Miss you Australian National University!

But this time I promised the kids we’d stay at home. A workload of 90% research and writing usually means lots of time sitting. But that’s not for me, and in particular not good for my back, hence the standing desk. I’ve done a fair bit of physio over the years and my sitting posture stinks. I’m a great walker, stander, rider, jogger and sitting isn’t healthy anyway. See the infographic below with apologies for the obesity link. 

Infographic removed and replaced with a waving photo of me. See Tracy’s concerns below about ableist messaging…

Early into this “fittest by fifty” project I also read Drop Dead Healthy. (Here’s my brief review.) The standing (or walking) to write is one of the recommendations AJ Jacobs keeps after a year of trying out lots of different fitness advice.

My standing desk is nothing fancy. I followed the instructions on one of the very many “how make your standing desk out readily available materials” websites. I loved it.  If I ever decide to do the “treadmill desk” thing I ‘ll also be going the DIY route. You don’t need a good treadmill, with fancy controls and bells and whistles. After all, you’re not gong to run on it. You’re going to turn it into a desk so buy one of the very many treadmills for sale in thrift stores or on online used goods venues.

I put in a request for a standing desk at work and that’s even better. It’s fancy and moves up and down so I can sit some the time and stand when I feel like it. The moving up and down proves useful at work because I wear heels of different heights and I don’t always like to write barefoot. At home I write in barefeet and I have a very comfy mat that I stand. It’s designed for chefs who work long hours standing on hard floors. I found it a fancy kitchen store and I love it.

So do I still love my standing desks? Yes.

My back certainly does.

I also love the energy and feeling of being alive and on task that comes with standing. It reminds me of a lesson I learned doing radio. Stand to talk. You sound better. I think I write better standing too. Posture matters and standing makes me feel engaged and in touch with the ground. Like I have something to say. It’s true also that when I give research talks I have to stand. Sitting is pretty much a guarantee that I won’t feel as good about it.

I tend not aimlessly web browse when standing. I’m much more focused. The joke is that I save that for my smart phone. I once joked on Facebook that if sitting is the new smoking, then flopping on your bed using your smart phone must the new heroin.

It’s also been a very active year (lots of running, biking, lifting and throwing and being thrown) and it’s been a year without back problems! That’s exciting for me. Typically all of my back problems have come from sitting after riding. Now I’ve started standing in meetings too and standing at talks. I haven’t quite worked up to walking and talking with grad students but I’m almost there.

I love my standing desks.

See also:

Short answer to the last question: NO!

Image: Me waving from my standing desk, learning to use the timer on my phone camera
Image: Me waving from my standing desk, learning to use the timer on my phone camera

10 thoughts on “Celebrating my standing desks

  1. Thanks for this post. I have been very curious about standing desks myself. I think I might like them because I get fidgety while sitting and never sit for very long periods of time.

  2. I like this post for the info about standing desks. And it’s great to get a report about how the standing desk thing is going for you. I’ve been integrating a lot more disability studies into my courses this year and, as happens whenever I expose myself to new critical literature, I have come to see slogans like “sitting is killing you” and “sitting is the new smoking” as insensitive and ableist. Lots of people have no choice in the matter and can’t just get out of their chair. I realize that this campaign is directed at nondisabled people who lead sedentary lifestyles that may, in fact, be compromising their physical abilities and functioning (and systems) in the long run. But I still find the assumptions behind the language insensitive and ableist. Disability is largely constructed by normative attitudes, language, and design. To me, this poster is a prime example of how that operates.

  3. Thanks for this. It’s helpful in my own thinking through of these issues. I’m not sure how to think about it. I do think that inactivity is a huge issue in our culture and I’d like to switch from talk of an obesity crisis to an inactivity crisis. In my own case, the standing desk is a disability accommodation. It’s funded by the university because I have back problems, ironically caused by too much sitting. I can run, walk, bike as much as I want but sitting is limited for me. I get annoyed these days when people say “sit down, relax, put your feet up.” I am often self conscious standing up at academic conferences and I’m glad, thanks to these sorts of campaigns, that I sometimes have company. I’m not sure how to make some fitness talk– “get up, get moving”– inclusive. “Get up, get moving, if you’re able” doesn’t seem quite right. Suggestions welcome.

    1. I’m not sure, but I think staying away from slogans is probably a start. Given the complexity of the issue, it’s not surprising that simple slogans will contain exclusionary language. But yes, it’s also difficult to qualify everything we say. But the relationship between disability and health is complicated. Lots of “disabled” people are very active and are only disabled relative to an environment designed for people with certain types of abilities. The disability literature about social theories of disability is incredibly interesting. Shelley Tremain has a great paper called “The Government of Disability” that lays out some of the terrain quite nicely, and there is another paper in LGQ by Ellen Samuels called “My Body, My Closet” that you might find interesting. It explores and compares coming out discourse in the case of queer coming out and coming out re. “invisible” disabilities.

  4. My husband has the fancy moving desk at home where he works and he mostly stands but likes that he can sit if his plantar fasciitis is acting up. I work in a cube and the desk top comes in 3 pieces and is adjustable. I had the company move the middle piece (the corner of the V-shaped desk) to standing height and I alternate working at the standing part and the sitting part. I started standing because it helped with the disks in my neck. I discovered though, that my lower back and my knees hurt if I stand too long, so I set a timer on my computer for 30 minutes and now I do 30 minutes standing and 30 sitting and that’s much easier on my body.

  5. Okay, infographic removed and replaced with a pic of me at my standing desk at work. Waving at you! Thanks Tracy.

  6. I’ve been standing at my desk for 5 years now, and I no longer have lower back pain, shoulder pain or carpal tunnel-like pain. I also like to stand at conferences, since it affords two advantages: 1. My back doesn’t hurt, and 2. I can actually see the speaker and their presentation! I think the reason for the “sitting is the new smoking” slogan is that we really do sit more than we used to. Forty years ago, you had to move around at work…you had to walk to the library, walk to your colleague’s office, walk to the mailbox, etc. Now we literally don’t have to move a muscle, other than the ones that operate the computer mouse or the TV remote or the car’s steering wheel. Human beings are designed to move all day; some will argue that we are built to run or walk all day. It would be interesting to see what the science has to say on the need to move for those that are physically challenged… Wouldn’t be surprised if it was just as, or more, important for them to “get up and move”.

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