Guest Post

Finally Using a Standing Desk (Guest Post)

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For nearly a decade I’ve been doing something that is shortening my life, if I’m to believe the spate of studies and articles in the past few years, including these Fit is a Feminist Issue posts here, here and here.

I have a sedentary job. I sit all day at a computer or in meetings. Or drive between work locations and meetings. All day.

I’ve been wanting to try a standing desk for a long time, but never managed to overcome my inertia and actually do anything about it until recently. I had a lot of excuses. The office furniture at my company was very new, and I didn’t want to make a fuss by asking for something else. I also didn’t want to stick out among my colleagues (although one of our managers had successfully (and uneventfully) made the switch to a standing desk).

I tried a few temporary, do-it-yourself solutions (putting my laptop on my filing cabinet, and stacking a couple of boxes or bins on my regular desk), but those had been really unsatisfactory because I couldn’t get the height just right, and couldn’t get enough space to use my mouse, which tired my mouse hand. I do a lot of document editing and desktop publishing, and need to be able to move my mouse hand freely and ergonomically to avoid making my chronic carpal tunnel syndrome worse.

Then I started working from home, and realized that I had a lot more flexibility to create a work space that was healthier and more varied.

A couple of weeks ago I watched a video from Mark’s Daily Apple (below) about his company’s standing-friendly office space, and seeing the variety of solutions that they used inspired me to start playing around.

 

Rather than messing around with more boxes or bins on my home desk, I simply set up my laptop on top of a high chest of drawers in my living room (see photo). I’ve been working there ever since. Turns out it’s the perfect height for me to work at, with plenty of sideways room for a mouse and papers if necessary. I tend to like a minimalist work surface, and I can put any extra paperwork that I’m not currently using on my nearby dining room table, or leave it in my home office/studio (in what was originally my home’s master bedroom).

I love the standing arrangement for a lot of reasons. I’ve always preferred changing my position frequently whenever I had the choice, and now I have an even larger range of options. I can shift from leg to leg every few minutes, take a temporary seat on a high stool from time to time, rest one of my feet on a low stool, or move to one of my other nearby chairs to do work on my phone (like read an e-book, post to social media, or use one of my iPhone apps).

If I’m thinking or watching a video on my computer (I watched a 2-hour webinar this week using the new arrangement), I’ll move around a lot – pacing, sweeping the floor, doing squats, calisthenics, dance warm-ups, stretches, or aikido basic movements. Then when I need to use the keyboard or mouse again, I just move back to the laptop.

The only downside to the long-term standing that I’ve noticed so far is that my feet and ankles get really fatigued. I’m dealing with a sports injury to my right ankle, and I have to watch that the swelling doesn’t get too bad. I think all the frequent changes in position are good for my leg injuries overall, though – I’ve noticed that I don’t get stiff the way I used to when I sat in a desk chair all day.

In addition to my work I’ve also started doing some of my extracurricular visual arts (drawing) at my “standing desk” too, and I absolutely love that! I can quickly move in and out to get different perspectives on the piece I’m working on, and my dominant arm definitely doesn’t get as fatigued as when I used to do work on my lap, or at a regular table.

All in all, I regret that I waited so long to try to work standing. Now I just need to wrap my mind around standing at meetings…

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Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in nonprofit and small business communications by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, making art and doing aikido. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com. Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.

accessibility · ergonomics

The chair conspiracy!

Chairs are evil, I  tell people. I often fantasize about a house with minimalist furniture. I’ll blog about the furniture free tiny house of my dreams sometime. But that’s for another day.

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We all know the dangers of sitting. But according to Colin McSwiggen, recent studies and reporting about sitting describe the problem in ways that mislead. He writes, “They make it look like the problem is just that we sit too much. The real problem is that sitting, in our society, usually means putting your body in a raised seat with back support — a chair. Sitting wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t sit on things that are bad for us.”

But you might wonder, what’s new about this? Weren’t there always chairs? How are we just learning now that they’re bad?

First, chairs aren’t universal. In lots of places people engage in what erognomics types call “active sitting.” Squatting, sitting cross legged, leaning….all of these postures are a bit like sitting but they aren’t bad for you the way chair sitting is. Indeed, if McSwiggen is right we should swap slogans. It’s not sitting that’s the new smoking. Rather, it’s chairs that are the new evil. New? Yes.

Second, according to McSwiggen’s fascinating history of the chair, Against Chairs, they’re also a relatively new thing. he dates the mass adoption of chairs to the Industrial Revolution.

“Suddenly chairs were being made cheaply in factories and more people could afford to sit like the rich. At the same time, labor was being sedentarized: as workers moved en masse from agriculture to factories and offices, laborers spent more and more time sitting in those newly mass-producible chairs. As usual, class aspirations determined what people bought: body-conscious innovations like patent chairs, which were adjustable, and rocking chairs, which encouraged movement, sadly received only marginal acceptance from the wealthy and saw limited use.

And so it was that from the turn of the twentieth century on, chairs had society in their clutches.”

Third, you might be tempted to think the answer lies in a better chair. But it’s not clear what a good chair would even be. You’ve all seen the many variations: the kneeling chair, the stability ball as chair, the wobbly stool as chair..to list just some examples. My favourite which I’d buy if I could get one in Canada is the Hokki stool. I’d like a red one.

Here’s McSwiggen again on the range of chairs out there:

“No one even knows what a “good” chair would have to do, hypothetically, let alone how to make one. Some ergonomists have argued that the spine should be allowed to round forward and down in a C-shaped position to prevent muscular strain, but this pressurizes the internal organs and can cause spinal discs to rupture over time. Others advocate for lumbar support, but the forced convexity that this creates is not much better in the short run and can be worse in the long: it weakens the musculature of the lumbar region, increasing the likelihood of the very injuries it’s meant to prevent. There are similar debates over seat height, angle and depth; head, foot and arm support; and padding.

Galen Cranz, a sociologist of architecture and perhaps the world’s preeminent chair scholar, has called ergonomics “confused and even silly.” For designers without a scientific background, it’s a clusterfuck.”

It’s clear we aren’t getting rid of chairs anytime soon. I work at a standing desk and love it. I eat some meals standing up. I try to watch shows on Netflix while engaged in more active sitting (and foam rolling) but even with all these efforts it’s tough.

Again McSwiggen: “I’d love to end this essay with a cry for a cultural shift away from chairs and toward more active sitting, on the floor or squatting or whatever, but really, we’re stuck with this shit for a while. The best we can hope for from chairs right now is a lesson on the dangers of fashion and a historical counterexample to the myth that the public acts in its own collective interest. If you want to sit healthily, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands; the best habit to develop is not to stay seated for more than ten minutes at a time.”