Much of Levine’s research looks at why some people gain weight and others don’t. He and his colleagues asked a group of office workers who did not exercise much to follow a particular diet, consuming one thousand more calories than they normally consumed. They were also asked not to change their exercise habits during this time (1)
What Levine and his team found was that even though participants were consuming the same amount of calories and keeping the same exercise habits, some of them gained weight, while others did not.
By getting the study participants to wear underwear with sensors that measured every little movement they made, Levine and his team discovered that those who did not gain weight were walking around or on their feet for roughly two or more more hours every day than those who did gain weight.
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We’re Much Less Active Than We Used To Be
It’s crazy how much our lives have changed in such a short period of time. As cave peeps we spent a lot of time on our feet. Activities like hunting, gathering, walking, jumping, carrying stuff, and running from predators just to stay alive, were all part of the daily routine.
Even as recently as twenty years ago, we spent more time on our feet and less on our bums than we do now. Modern conveniences like elevators, cars, escalators, televisions, and online shopping have turned our traditionally mobile lives into lives of sedentarism (yes, I just made up that word). On average we’re spending nine and a half hours a day on our butts. We spend almost six of those hours at a desk (2).
We’re often told that doing thirty minutes of exercise on a regular basis is enough to keep us healthy but, because of the increasing amount of time we spend on our computers (and, yes, I am laughing as I write this on my laptop), this may not be enough.
Studies show that the negative effects of sitting for so long cannot be undone by short bouts of exercise (3). Sitting all day and working out for thirty to sixty minutes might not be enough anymore. The real key to better health may well be constant movement throughout the day.
The Benefits Of Movement
There are so many benefits to moving more. Moving more can reduce your risk of getting various diseases and health issues, improve your coordination, increase your muscular strength, improve your posture, and improve your blood circulation.
But it’s not just that moving is good for you. Not moving is bad for you. For more information about the risks of sitting, see this infographic that answers the question, “is sitting killing us?”
Recent studies have also shown that a lack of movement increases insulin resistance and leads to a drop in lipoprotein lipase levels. This enzyme’s job is to break down fats, so having less of it can’t be any good for those of us who are looking to lose weight.
Increasingly, researchers are stressing the importance of daily movement. Whether you take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk instead of drive, walk to the water cooler, or simply stand up more often, you need to address the risks of spending too much time on your bum.
What’s The Solution?
OK. It’s pretty clear that we need to move more often. Here are some ideas on how to do that:
- Walk to the grocery store.
- Walk to your co-worker’s cubicle.
- Hop on a bike if walking would take too long.
- Stand when you’re on the phone.
- Take a brief walk with loved ones, a co-worker, or your pet.
- Work on a 90/30 schedule – work hard for ninety minutes and take a thirty minute break to stretch or head outside.
- Perform bodyweight exercises, skip rope, do yoga, or pace around while you’re watching TV.
But What About When You’re Working?
Yes, we do actually have to get some work done at some point during the day. There’s also a good chance that the place where you work requires you to work from a desk. This is where standing desks come into play. These desks allow you to get your work done while you’re on your feet.
A while back, I started noticing some neck, hand, wrist, elbow, knee, and lower back pain. It wasn’t anything crazy or intense but it was getting annoying. I decided I’d much rather stand than sit all day and experience that tightness, weakness, and lethargy that comes from sitting. This really got me interested in standing desks, so I did a little research.
The concept of standing while you work at a desk isn’t new. Hemingway, Dickens, and Kierkegaard used standing desks (4), often writing by hand or mounting typewriters on stacks of books or on shelves.
I do not own a standing desk myself. I typically create make-shift ones out of boxes, books, or whatever else I find around the house. I try my best to work from counter tops that require me to stand, or from treadmills, while walking very slowly.
But if you search for “standing desks” on the web, you’ll find a ton of options:
- Adjustable desks with a motor that raises them up to your desired height
- Adjustable desks with a hand crank that you turn to raise them to your desired height
- Mounts that go on top of your existing desk, lifting your monitor and/or keyboard
- Mounts and desks that cost around 100 bucks
- Desks that cost around $2,500
- Nice looking desks
- Desks that are not very easy on the eyes
Motorized desks are the most expensive but it’s probably worth paying that bit more. The chances are that you’ll need to sit at your desk at times, so being able to adjust the height of your desk is pretty important.
Desks that use a crank system usually require you to take items off of your desk before you raise or lower them.
Non-adjustable desks don’t budge, so you’re stuck with the fixed height.
The best standing desk manufacturers out there include:
The Best Standing Desks
Here are the best standing desks I’ve come across:
SAFCO Muv™ Stand-up Workstation: This is great desk if you do not currently own one. It’s inexpensive when compared to most stand up desks but it’s not easily adjustable. It’s fairly small, so if you tend to have a lot of paperwork or things on your desk, the lack of space might be a problem.
It has a height range of 35” to 49”, so it should meet the needs of both the shortest and tallest people. It also includes separate shelves for your monitor and keyboard.
Kangaroo Pro Junior: If you already own a desk but are looking to transform it into a standing desk without much hassle, this is a pretty good buy. It comes fully assembled so you won’t have to worry about piecing it together.
It also has multiple shelves for your keyboard and monitor and can be adjusted by simply turning a knob. When you do turn the knob, the desk is raised up instead of dropped down. This means you will not have to worry about your monitor or keyboard getting beat up.
VARIDESK Pro: This platform goes right on top of your exiting desk and adjusts to your desired height, so that you can quickly go from standing to sitting without moving your stuff.
This desk is also very easy to set up and it offers a pretty decent sized work space. If you place it on your current desk you won’t need to worry about the work space at all. The downside is that it’s a little difficult to use with a wired keyboard or mouse.
StandDesk: This desk was created using a Kickstarter campaign. Its makers raised over $650,000 to launch the product and it’s since been beta tested and endorsed by Dave Asprey (The Bulletproof Executive), Bryce Maddock (CEO of TaskUs), and Brian Sullivan (ForwardLine).
You can check out all of the specs and benefits of the StandDesk here.
The Budget Standing Desk
$22 Ikea Desk – The Standesk 2200: When Colin Nederkoorn was researching standing desks, he found that the ideal monitor tilt for your computer is about twenty degrees, that your screen should be roughly 20-28” from your face, and that the table height should be at or slightly below your elbow. These measurements encourage optimal posture, helping you to avoid cramps and boosting your circulation. He then set out to make a cheap desk that would meet these requirements.
If you don’t have the budget for one of the desks mentioned above, you can make this budget desk using the following items.
- LACK Side table – $7.99
- EKBY VIKTOR Shelf – $5.99
- EKBY VALTER Bracket – $4.00 x 2
- Screws from home – free
Total cost: $21.98
Make sure you get an eleven inch shelf and eleven inch brackets to avoid having to screw the shelf into the bracket.
The assembly instructions for this bad boy can be found here. Big props to Colin Nederkoorn for this priceless little hack.
What If You Work From A Laptop?
Use a separate keyboard and mouse or an external monitor, so that you can place your laptop on a standing desk and avoid neck cramps and muscle pains. If you use an external monitor, place your laptop at hand level and and place your external monitor at eye level.
I love working from my feet. I feel more engaged in what I’m doing and, at the end of the day, my muscles feel loose and like they have actually been used.
How much standing you do each day is totally up to you. If you’re used to sitting down for most of the day, standing for eight hours a day from the start might be a little too much. Start small and try working from your feet for short bursts before you step it up a notch.
Just a heads up that if you decide to work from a standing desk at work, you may get some strange looks. Remember, change is difficult for a lot of people. When you don’t conform, people get confused and defensive. Refer them to this article and explain to them the dangers of sitting down all day.
But, most importantly, particularly if you’re not interested in using a standing desk, try to incorporate more movement into your daily life.
Do you use a standing desk? How is it working out for you? Is there a particular desk that you recommend?
- Levine JA, Eberhardt NL, Jensen MD. Role of nonexercise activity thermogenesis in resistance to fat gain in humans. Science 999;283:212–4.
- British Psychological Society (BPS). “Office workers spend too much time at their desks, experts say.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 January 2012.
- Duvivier BMFM, Schaper NC, Bremers MA, van Crombrugge G, Menheere PPCA, et al. (2013) Minimal Intensity Physical Activity (Standing and Walking) of Longer Duration Improves Insulin Action and Plasma Lipids More than Shorter Periods of Moderate to Vigorous Exercise (Cycling) in Sedentary Subjects When Energy Expenditure Is Comparable. PLoS ONE 8(2): e55542. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055542
- Who Wrote at Standing Desks? Kierkegaard, Dickens and Ernest Hemingway Too
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