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Is working at a stand up desk worth the effort?

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Sitting down for too long is bad for us. But is a stand-up desk the answer? We trialed one for a month to explore the reported health and productivity benefits.


A multitude of studies have shown the health impacts of prolonged sitting. From obesity, to heart disease – even depression – we hear constantly of the downsides of sitting on your backside. So it was with enthusiasm and curiosity that I agreed to trial the Varidesk ProPlus36 stand-up desk. Over the past four weeks I’ve documented the results in a diary.

Week one, Day one

My desk arrives in massive cardboard packaging. A bit daunted by the thing, I take my time in opening it, assuming it will be a big task to put up. However, our maintenance and estates officer, Dave helps me get going and assembles it in less than ten minutes. It also proves easy to put up, living up its promise to take you from sitting to standing in just 3 seconds.

The desk is easy to take down and put up, taking just 3 seconds

Day two

I feel like the resident office giant, towering above my colleagues. This makes me self-conscious – it looks as if I’m flying the Starship enterprise – but I don’t care. The desk’s smart look makes up for it and there is plenty of space to put mouse, tea, note book and pens on the ‘wings’ of the monitor station. Tweeted: ‘Excited about the possible health and wellbeing benefits’. I feel like a pioneer.

Day three

I’m out a trip for a magazine feature, so I’m already up and about, interviewing and walking. My colleague emails me a new report that has found prolonged sitting (for 6 hours or more) has been linked to 70,000 deaths in a year.

The Queen’s Belfast university study, looked at what we know about sitting and its links to increased risk of cardiovascular and diabetes diseases, to arrive at not just the early deaths, but the cost to the NHS (£700 million a year). “The workplace represents a significant proportion of unavoidable daily sitting time for many people,” said lead researcher Leonie Heron.

“Measures should be taken to reduce sedentary behaviour with the aim of improving population health and reducing the financial burden to the health service.” Go me, I think, with my new gadget.

Standing up does mean literally standing out

Day four

Back in the office, I spend most of the day standing up and I must say, I have been enjoying working and how it feels. It’s a change of scene for a start. I am better at giving my eyes a break – HSE recommends to take screen breaks for 5 to 10 minutes every hour – because I feel closer to the window. Or maybe I feel affiliation with the similarly upright blossom tree that I can see out of it. In between tasks, I enjoy observing a bird nibbling on the blossom. I sit down in the afternoon and enjoy the sensation of a load lifted.

Day five

My exaggerated presence in the room still causes amusement, and outright laughter on occasion when someone enters our little space in the editorial office. I still feel strange and different for standing when everyone is sitting, which explains possibly why they haven't yet caught on. No one likes to stick out. But sometimes it's worth it for the health benefits, and who knows, I could start a trend..

Week two - day one 

Practicalities. I discover the chair can tuck in under the desk without you having to wheel it to the other side of the room. When putting the desk down (which you do by squeezing the buttons under each wing), you have to make sure there are no cups or things in the way, or it will jam, and the chair has to be pulled out or it will get stuck.

The NHS says desk workers should take ‘an active break every 30 minutes'. Not very feasible normally, but easier to stretch when standing

Week two - day two

I realise it’s easier to stretch standing up – I can stretch my arms up high and to the side more naturally standing. And I can transfer my weight from foot to foot, whenever I like. HSE recommends taking a 5-10 minute break every hour to 'stand up, move about and change posture' (see page 24 of the DSE Regulations) but I always thought this was far-fetched in an office environment, and I always failed our company DSE tests for giving honest answers to questions on breaks. But standing up really makes taking exercise breaks easier to implement.

Week two - day three

I notice that I have some jealous glances of my stand-up desk and people wander over to it in the office, sizing it up. Dean, Safety Management's graphic designer has health issues with back pain. He looks longingly over at the desk and decides to start looking for one. It also passes his critical gaze, noting that the desk makes my space look smarter.

Varidesk Proplus36 comes in black and white and looks smart when down

Week two - day four

At a departmental meeting, I bring up the stand-up desk trial and offer people to come and look at it. No real interest. Maybe these things take time to catch on, or that people think it’s too weird.

Week two - day five

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” These words from Winston Churchill could easily have been composed while  standing as this is the way he used to work. His beautiful standing desk is displayed at Chartwell, his former home. Other famous adopters of standing to work include the novelist Victor Hugo and the painter Leonardo da Vinci. It's good to know I'm in good company, if not alone in my thinking in today's office. 

Week three of trial

Feeling not so well with a headache I’ve been sitting down for most of the week.

Week four of trial

After a long weekend of sunshine for the Easter bank holidays it’s back to work. I begin by sitting to go through emails, then realise the volume of work is causing some stress. This must have communicated itself to my posture, as I feel a back pain (I have a bad habit of sitting badly, tensing my shoulders when feeling stress). After 1.5 hours, I decide to stand up to ease the effects. It helps with the posture and the attendant back pain – my spine is allowed to lengthen, my chest is puffed out more naturally which helps me take proper breaths for relaxation. I feel more ready to deal with my workload.

And the conclusion….

Would I recommend this stand-up desk after my 3 weeks trial? Yes. I don’t have the intermittent lower back pain that I used to from office work. And it has also been a genuine joy to use, giving some renewed pride too in my work station because it looks smart when up or down. Having the variety that comes with moving must have had a positive impact on my productivity and conquering any work stagnation.

But none of this is a surprise. I’ve known from reporting on health and safety at work for the past four years that sitting isn’t good for us (thank you Columbia university for your 2017 study of 7985 adults which found sitting for long periods of time is a risk factor for early death, even if you exercise!). Now my stand-up desk has given me freedom to stand and freedom to sit, which is a great thing to incorporate movement into the working day. Plus, if the studies are right I’m also burning an extra 50 calories per hour – easter egg anyone?

The Varidesk Proplus36 comes in black and white (30 inch, 36 inch or 48 inch sizes). Click here to find out more 

Safety Management used the desk as part of a complimentary trial.

 

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