Stand up to work and stay healthy

by Des Menz posted in Work, Life, and Yourself

If you sit too long each day you're killing yourself

Several days ago I was reading about how sitting in a chair all day can be verydamaging to health. For home business operators this might have implications. My curiosity got me going, so after a bit of searching I've pieced together some interesting information. Now, this is not a new issue as there was a bit of a buzz going around a couple of years ago, but it could be enlightening to some.

It made me stop and think ... and make immediate changes in how I relate to my computer.

You see, this is all about staying as healthy as possible.

The Take-Home Message Is This ...

There is accumulating evidence suggesting that prolonged sitting is not good for health and is actually damaging to bodies.

Here's an interesting infographic.

Sitting is not good

Source :

I wanted (and needed) to find out more because, like so many people with online businesses, I would sit in front of a computer for many hours a day. Those "body-wrecking" effects in the infographic are disturbing.

Although I would get up out of my chair frequently, at least once every hour for 5 minutes or so, and I was active around our property (my wife and I have a small farm devoted to agroforestry and land rehabilitation), I wasn't sure about all those hours in the chair causing some sort of decline in my physical health.

Can sitting too much really cause ill-health?

A Scientific American article brings into focus what "sedentary behavior" is. This is a very important issue, because as explained in the article "sedentary time is closely associated with health risk regardless of how much physical activity you perform on a daily basis".

The article cites the conclusions of various research (one of which is here) relating to sedentary behaviour (spelled the non-US way). The research conducted on 17,013 Canadians examined the effects of sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Now, being sedentary includes "any time you are sitting (e.g. working at a computer, watching TV, driving) or lying down". So, just sitting down is being sedentary.

If you sit a lot in front of your computer - trying to build that elusive business or strike that pot of online gold - you're at risk.

Cardio-vascular disease (CVD) and what's called all-cause mortality are linked to sitting time.

The fascinating part of the conclusions was that sitting time and mortality is independent of physical activity. You can exercise all you like, it still won't negate the relationship between sitting time and mortality.

Another study ("The Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study") in my home country came to similar conclusions. "Television viewing time was associated with increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality." Television time is a form of sedentary behaviour (note that we in Australia insert a "u" in behaviour).

However, whilst it's known that the quantity of sedentary time has an ill-effect, it's the quality of sedentary time that can have an important role in reducing some of these effects.

Read the rest of the Scientific American article; it's very interesting because it brings into context the critical mechanisms relating to sedentary lifestyles ... and sitting too much!

For me, it's the physiological changes that cause me the greatest concern.

Standing Up For Good Health

For those of us who spend significant time in front of a computer, we need to STAND UP! Get out of the chair, move around, go outside and do something physical. And do this frequently - 10 minutes every hour at the minimum. The Australian study mentioned above supports frequent breaks in sedentary time.

But that is possibly not enough.

What's an alternative? Work at a stand-up table, or standing desk.

When we feel like we need to take a rest, then sit down, but not for long - we now know why.

What does standing do when you're working at your computer?

It seems logical that standing removes elements of the risk and dangers of sedentary pose. Go back to those links above for evidence.

I'm now standing up! More accurately, I've gone back to standing up ... after many years of sitting for long hours toiling away. And here's what I expect the benefits to be.

Better posture and body alignment

Able to quickly do leg and arm stretches whilst still working

Able to quickly move away from the table for short stints

Improved circulation and long-term health

A Standing Desk and An Alternative

The following images (sourced fromThe Tinkering Monkey) illustrate the ergonomics of a standing desk and what a commercial unit looks like.

Standing desk ergonomics Custom standing desk

If you're going to make your own, or modify an existing table, then consider the ergonomics of your design.

If you search online for standing desks, you'll find prices vary enormously ... even up to $4000! That's serious business ... if you can afford it!

Anything that can be modified or made for less than $100 is the way I would go. It doesn't need to be fancy. But if your life is going to depend on it, then by all means spend $500 or $1000 on a standing desk.

My Standing Desk

Years ago when I first started my offline consulting business I used to do a lot of manual design and drafting and would stand at my drafting table. This would be for much of the day (but not every day of the week!) and it was what I preferred to do. It just felt more comfortable, but I didn’t know why. Back then, I also spent about half my time at the office desk, but was always moving around for various reasons.

Well, guess what? I still have that same drafting table; it hasn’t been used in years because I subsequently moved to a CAD environment. Ha ... there you go! A sit-down environment.

Anyway, this table has adjustable legs to raise or lower the drafting table to suit a person’s height, and it also has a large table area to place a lot of stuff on. Here it is, resurrected from the shed and now back in service. It's a good thing I didn't sell it years ago.

Note the adjustable legs that allow variable table height. For foot and leg comfort, I use a high density foam mat for standing on.

(This is not my usual office space. With recent summer temperatures of 43 deg C, and a heat wave coming up, I abandoned my office in a separate building for more comfortable space inside the strawbale house - no air con, just 26-29 C when it's 38 - 40+ outside!)

HintDo you think you could find something like this drafting table? Look around for cast-off drafting/drawing tables. Look on eBay and at offline auctions and used office equipment shops. You could pick one up for a song! Otherwise you could try making one yourself.

What else does this desk do for me? Importantly, standing to work makes me shift my body weight frequently and it makes me stretch frequently - all good things to do. But guess what else?

I now move away from my work zone much more frequently, and this is refreshing.

Why? I'll discuss that in another post. It's all about rhythms.

The Final Message

What has all this got to do with your online business? You may think it's of little consequence, but please consider the best possible relationship between you and your computer, and the optimum time you should spend sitting down and standing up. Your home business depends on it. Your long-term health does, also.

For people who are wheelchair-bound, there's no choice about standing up, but there are several stretching exercises that can possibly be done. Readers of this post who are in wheelchairs are invited to comment on their own experiences.

For those who can stand up, here's your message.

Avoid being sedentary and sitting down too much. It will possibly lead to a decline in your health and well-being.

Take time out to go for a walk. It may just undo the metabolic damage related to long periods of sitting.

Stand up to work. It could result in changes to your health.

Leave your comments below. It would be very interesting to get readers' views about this topic of STANDING UP to work.