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Recently in the news you may have heard some rather alarming data was released about the impact sitting down for long periods of time can have on your health.
When I was younger I’d sit down in front of the TV for entire days sometimes, watching TV or playing Nintendo. I noticed if I did it for around six hours or more I’d feel particularly bad.
Despite knowing this from experience, I have to say that I’m still a bit shocked at the data that’s come out about just how bad sitting down is for you.
You could say that the obesity epidemic in Western countries (Australia is the 6th fattest country, America is first, you can see the obesity ranking statistics here) is caused not just by the amount of processed, fatty, salty, sugary foods available in extra large portions, but also because we sit down all day.
That’s a dangerous combination. Why? Because you put all this junk into your body, then by sitting down for long periods you switch your body off from doing anything with it.
The two pictures above are from an infographic that contains confronting data about how sitting down for long periods is one of the most dangerous changes brought about by modern human life. Check out the full infographic from medicalbillingandcoding.org for more scary data and some suggestions on how to reduce your risk.
Needless to say, there’s never been a better reason to switch to a stand up desk, something I did five years ago (and guess what, I’m still skinny!). Now is the time to pay attention and change your ways, especially if you are sitting down at your desk while reading this…
One of the best decisions I ever made in terms of productivity and health is to switch to a stand up desk.
I can’t recall where I first saw the idea of using a desk that you stand up at, it was probably a blogger who made the switch and wrote about it, but I do remember who finally swayed me to make the change myself.
I was studying Eben Pagan’s “Wake Up Productive” productivity course. During one of the modules Eben talked about stand up desks and why they are more effective. Shortly after this I went down to Ikea and bought myself my first stand up table.
I have used it ever since.
People who have not used a stand up desk before often wonder how someone can stand at a desk for eight hours a day to do work.
Don’t you get tired?
Of course if I was standing up for eight hours straight, then yes I would get tired. These people are coming from the frame of reference of the full time employee, where it’s natural and expected that you stay at your desk for the majority of your time at work.
As an independent entrepreneur, I have the wonderful freedom of structuring my work day how I like. This is actually a very important point when it comes to a stand up desk, because spending more than two hours in a row at my desk will tire your out.
A quick aside – one of the other concepts I picked up from Eben, who I believe learned it from Tony Schwartz, is the concept of the Ultradian Rhythm.
The descriptive term ultradian is used in sleep research in reference to the 90–120 minute cycling of the sleep stages during human sleep.
Some of the other ultradian cyclings of the body are hormonal release, heart rate, thermoregulation, urination, bowel activity, nostril dilation and appetite. – Wikipedia
The body has two hour rhythms of energy flow, so it makes sense to work in harmony with these cycles.
Even before I heard of the Ultradian Rhythm I have always worked in roughly two hour blocks. Actually, it’s more accurate to say I “live” in two-hour blocks.
I generally get hungry two hours after last eating. I tend to get bored after two hours of doing the same thing. I can exercise for two hours before I completely tire out. I like to socialise for two hours before I want to do something else.
Obviously you can push yourself to go beyond two hours, but the diminishing returns really start to kick in after that. You quickly fatigue or drop in output quality or lose focus.
I like living life in short blocks, with rapid change of format. This is what I call balance. The Ultradian Rhythm just happens to back this up from a physiological standpoint.
As an entrepreneur who has the freedom to work in harmony with my two-hour cycles, I never have to work for eight hours at my stand up desk.
I work for one or two hours at a time, take breaks, walk off to cook food, sit on the couch, listen to music, have a nap – I mix it up every day.
Most people can’t do this at their work place, but since you’re likely an entrepreneur if you read this blog, you have more freedom in your life, or are at least working towards it.
It’s because of this that you are the perfect candidate for a stand up desk.
Even if you have a full time job, given the data on the risks with sitting down, now is a good time to think about convincing whomever you need to about having stand up desks available at work, or at the very least, changing how you work so you don’t sit down for long uninterrupted periods.
A stand up desk has been great for the following reasons –
1. Posture and energy flow through the body are much improved
Image sourced from the Tinkering Monkey
I used to have a sore back and shoulders on a regular basis, especially during the late 90s and early 2000s, when I was just starting online. I’m pretty confident it was because I’d spend 10+ hours in a chair, staring at a screen, hunched over. I pushed my body because my mind wanted to keep working. It loves the feeling of being productive, even to the detriment of the body.
Thanks to the stand up desk and the dynamic nature of how I structure my day now, I rarely have physical complaints (except sore muscles from weight training, but that’s a good kind of pain).
The only time I sit down for long periods is when I head to cafes to write or when watching a movie or tv show. I like the environment of a cafe when focused only on writing, but of course I won’t spend longer than two hours doing it, so it fits the usual rhythm.
2. You can easily walk away from the table
Back when I used to work in a chair at a desk, I often found myself “trapped”. I’d get so lazy that I could spend hours staring at the screen, often doing no productive work. The world wide web is a great procrastination tool after all.
With a stand up desk I walk away from the computer all the time. You don’t experience that feeling of apathy or laziness that sets in while sitting.
3. It might save your eyes too
As a side benefit, my eyes are also a lot happier.
With a stand up table you are constantly taking micro breaks, moving around and looking at different things. Your eyes are not built to stare at objects, like a monitor, close up for long periods of time. They like to look at things in the distance and change focus from near to far and back again. This is exercise for the eye muscle, which like all muscles, is designed to be dynamic, to change, not locked into one setting for long durations.
Because I walk away from a stand up desk more frequently, I’m not staring at the screen consistently.
Tip! – If you are a high intensity computer user and you want to look after your eyes, go outside and stare at the mountains, or buildings, or whatever is off in the distance for 15 minutes every two hours – preferably every hour. This could save your eyesight long term.
These are some of the health benefits from a stand up desk, which in turn will make you more productive when it comes to work output. If your body is kept in better condition, then naturally you can produce more without tiring out. It’s win-win for your health and your business.
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The image to the right is my home office stand up desk.
The microphone you can see in the picture is a Snowball by Blue, which I use for podcast interviews and voice-only audio recordings.
Oh, and let’s not forget the trusty yoga mat to stand on. This is really important, make sure you have something cushioning your feet.
Make sure you watch my youtube video about my stand up desk for more footage of my desk at home.
The video also includes further details about why I made the change to a stand up desk, what table top and legs you can purchase from Ikea to set up your own stand up desk for under $100, and some shots of my current stand up desk set up.
Watch to the end of the video and you will find two funny outtakes from making the video.
I hope that’s more than enough information to get you started.
I’d like to thank my french friend, Alexis from Nouvelomme.fr (New Man), who had a great post on stand up desks, otherwise known as “travailler-debout”. I may have stolen a few of his pictures for this blog post.
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I hope this blog post has inspired you to consider a stand-up desk for your office, or at least keeps you from sitting down for too long.
Talk to you soon,