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Why We Spend Our Lives Sitting


The other night I had my first boxing class in almost three weeks. Throwing hard punches at a heavy bag might be, minute-for-minute, the most exhausting thing a human being can do. This morning I’m incredibly sore and I can feel it getting worse in real time. My forearms burn when I bend my wrists, and my lats feel like two great, triangular bruises.

Gym rats know this feeling as “DOMS” — delayed onset muscle soreness. Like many people I kind of enjoy the feeling of it, debilitating as it is, because it’s the feeling of getting back in shape. But the severity of it, after such a short layoff from the gym, is a stark reminder of how vigilant you have to be about putting your body to use when you work at a desk at home.

I’ve built a precarious set of habits to defend against the ever-present danger of sedentation. My five workouts a week (two boxing and three bodyweight training) form the bones of it. On top of that I’m always looking for any excuse to go for a walk. When these habits get interrupted though, as they often are during my annual Christmas illness, my activity level comes close to zero.

In Summer, as I mentioned last week, none of this is a problem. I’m outside several times a day, biking or running. Between November and April, though, both of these things become significantly more miserable and dangerous where I live.

Canadians are supposed to embrace the cold, but I don’t, and according to a recent CBC documentary, I am not unusual in that regard. We mostly resent and avoid frigid temperatures. Russians, reportedly, have a completely different cultural relationship to the cold, partly because it helped save them from both Napoleon and Hitler. They see the cold more as a national ally than a perennial enemy, as we tend to up here. So until I learn to like polar bear dives and winter hiking, I need to create habits that keep me from rusting in place in my desk chair.

Sitting is essentially what we do when we want the opposite of exercise, and the modern world has us doing it for long stretches. Much of our work and most of our entertainment is wholly mental now — we just need to park our bodies in front of the place where we need to use our eyes. Technology has minimized the role of the body in both work and entertainment to an absurd degree; using a mouse and keyboard requires only the wiggling of our fingers. Human beings have become an animal that is nearly always sitting. 

Now that many of our lives require ludicrously low amounts of physicality from us, we’ve learned we have to compensate for that, by doing otherwise useless activities like running in circles around our neighborhoods and lifting heavy pieces of iron and putting them down again. But we’re also hearing increasingly scary things about the effects of sitting itself. While “sitting is the new smoking” is probably an overstatement, it’s no longer deniable that prolonged sitting isn’t good for us. For a long time I dismissed these dangers as correlations that didn’t apply to me — people who sit in front of a TV for six hours a day probably have poor diets and don’t go to the gym.

Unfortunately for me and my fellow desk jockeys, there are several negative consequences to prolonged sitting that seem to be inseparable from the sitting itself. Idle muscles respond poorly to insulin, and so the pancreas starts overproducing it to compensate. Circulation slows, putting us at risk of blood clots, varicose veins and other problems. Even the brain supposedly gets lazy when the body is idle too long.

Although my sitting posture doesn’t come close to resembling a figure in a “How to sit properly” infographic, I have never had back or neck problems. But my sitting is still a source of guilt — it just feels somehow unbecoming and kind of irresponsible, one of the few real concessions I knew I was making in my switch to a writing career. Before that, I had always been grateful that my job required me to put my body to use; as a surveyor I was always walking, lifting, digging, carrying and hammering, so wasting away at a desk always seemed like someone else’s problem.

Whenever I make noises about this conundrum, sympathetic readers (mostly full-time bloggers or other desk-types themselves) often suggest standing desks or treadmill desks, claiming these inventions have changed their lives. The idea has always seemed absurd to me, but its supporters have been adamant enough for long enough that I suspect there’s something to it.

A few months ago, I was contacted by a reader who works for a company that sells ergonomic furniture, including these standing desks. He asked if I’d ever considered doing a proper experiment with one of them. As we were both aware, such an experiment would be good publicity for them and the futuristic movement they serve, so they said they’d send me one if I ever wanted to try it.

Well, it’s on. A fancy-pants electronically adjustable desk is now set up in my kitchen, overlooking my picture window, and I’m going to see what the fuss is about. The idea of standing while you work seemed so bizarre to me initially that I thought it was a hoax perpetrated by The OnionCorporate employees rebel against uncomfortable working conditions by boycotting chairs. But the fuss is persistent and positive, and — familiarity aside — there’s definitely something at least as perverse about a primate species who’s made it normal to sit in one place for most of the waking day.

Working standing up will be my nineteenth Raptitude experiment.

What I want to find out

The claims about circulation and overall health will be interesting to test, but my main interest has nothing to do with physiology. I’m most interested to see how it affects my working pace and my mentality. I get the sense that if I’m standing up I’m going to be naturally less inclined to distract myself with complacent computer activities like surfing social media. If standing makes being at my desk a significantly less effortless activity than it usually is, I imagine I’ll want to use that time to get my work done instead of clicking around or daydreaming.

Part of the reason standing desks seemed so unintuitive to me at first was because I associate standing with a kind of temporariness — you stand when you’re doing something like talking on a pay phone, or waiting for the ATM, not while you’re settling into a major task. But that sense of temporariness may be the genius of it, if it can help a person get down to work more assertively.

Put another way, sitting is a highly passive state, perfectly suited for self-entertainment or other effortless activities, and perhaps not so well suited for focused work. I suspect that standing makes a person less inclined to play and more inclined to work. I can easily spend four hours in a chair doing one hour of work and three hours of not-work. But there’s no way I’m going to spend four hours standing just to spend most of it dicking around.

The Terms

The purpose of the experiment is to see what standing work is all about, and to figure out where it fits into my working life. Maybe I’ll end up preferring to write that way, or maybe I’ll want to sit to write but stand for lighter fare such as email-processing.

I’m going to start by spending half of each workday standing, which for me is three to three and a half hours. Every weekday but Wednesday I spend half the day writing, and that will be the half I spend standing. Wednesdays I spend all day writing, so the afternoon will be the standing part.

The experiment will be two workweeks long, and I’ll leave updates here. After that I’ll be away from home for a week, doing my work from coffee shops and libraries, where I’ll be forced to sit again, giving me a chance to reflect on whether the option to stand is something I miss or not.

I don’t really know what will happen, but preferences and insights will emerge, as they always do in my experiments. I’m confident that I won’t be doing a lot of YouTubing and Redditing from a standing position though. I’m also pretty confident that what I learn will reinforce a general trend in my life that’s recently become obvious: life gets better when I use my body more.


[Update] For those who have asked about the desk I used, this is it:


It’s called the Jarvis Desk, from Ergodepot (more info). A reader works for them and sent me one so I could do my experiment (thank you kind folks at ED). It’s pretty slick — you can adjust it using electronic motors, to different heights kind of like radio presets. Mine has a black frame.


Feet photo by the great Joe del Tufo

Chris January 26, 2015 at 2:11 am

Standing Desks are going to get even better (presumably) with this:
http://ergodriven.com/topo/ (i have no affiliation with the firm or product).
It’s just that i had the luxury of working in an office that is equipped with electrically adjustable sitting/standing desks. So i know that after some time of standing, i just have to sit down. And i am not so likely to stand up again shortly after that… It seems that this Standing Desk Mat could really help with that. I know i want one :) Just for consideration (i assume that this is NOT the company that contacted you, otherwise just ignore my comment)

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:21 am

I have read that a mat of some kind is a good idea, even essential. I don’t have one yet but I’ll see how it feels standing on the bare floor first.

LennStar January 26, 2015 at 11:21 am

Very interesting.
I have problems in one knee, and I definitely know that standing still sarts to hurt after less then 10 minutes. (Main reason why I didnt try standing desk even if I want to)
Walking takes about half an hour.
And I know that moving around on the spot (and getting a few weight changes on the knee) is somewhere in between.

I experimented with a “step” for resting my feet when sitting (since the knee starts hurting here, too after a while. I just have to stand up and walk for 3-5 minutes every hour.)

That mat looks promising, but the price (and the little patch of water between me and the US) make it a no-go for a test.

Tobi January 26, 2015 at 2:55 am

I’ve been wondering when you were going to do another experiment! How exciting, I’ve thought of standing desks in the back of my mind before but never thought I’d want to try it. I hate exercise, I hate doing anything but sitting. I don’t know how anybody could want to move if they don’t have to. Is this how you used to feel? If so, probably wasn’t as bad as that lol. Thank you, look forward to reading your progress.

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:22 am

The less you exercise, the less you want to, and it works the opposite way too. If I don’t move for a while I start to feel crappy. The more I exercise the more natural it feels for me to do things and the less natural it feels for me to be sedentary.

Namita Joshi January 26, 2015 at 3:57 am

The timing of this post was just perfect, because this is something I have been wondering for some time now too. A lot of my work involves research, reading and writing, making notes. The idea of standing and working has always felt counter-intuitive to me because I relate it to concentration. I remember telling a friend of mine that I’d like to get up after we were done talking, when he got up in the middle of our intense conversation about world affairs and suggested we continue the conversation while walking so he can have his smoke as well . Intensity and concentration often go together for me and I am not sure if I can do that while walking. Maybe walking in one place itself (where I don’t have to think about curbs, turns, dodging people, etc) might be different? Its an experiment worth trying I think though :-)

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:25 am

This is what I’m most interested in: how the body’s position and activity level affects the mind. Treadmill desks are the next step I guess, but they seem even crazier to me. Who knows, in twenty years we might wonder how we ever got along using desks without treadmills :)

Scott January 26, 2015 at 10:35 am

I’ve been in the treadmill desk stage for more than two years, and you’re right, it seems laughably obvious every office worker should have one.

Do your joints and veins a favor; make a treadmill desk.

LennStar January 26, 2015 at 11:24 am

There are lot of people who can only really concentrate when walking.
I do it too when thinking out a scene for a story. If it is intense I cant stand to stand (or sit) still. There is just this huge urge to jump up and pace arond while getting the dialoge right.

Jessica January 26, 2015 at 5:29 am

be a little careful to build up your stamina to standing for long periods. You can have just as bad posture habits standing if you suddenly switch from sitting to standing for long periods (like putting your weight on one leg/hip as you get tired while standing, or locking knees so your back isn’t in neutral position). Physiotherapist advised me to stand for one hour at the start, and build up in 30 minute increments. Whether standing or sitting, take a 5 minute break every hour you work at computer to do a bit of stretching and also look at things at longer distances to give your eyes a rest.

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:26 am

I appreciate the warning. This afternoon is my first run at it, and I’ll be taking a break halfway through for sitting meditation. So it won’t be much more than an hour at a stretch. I’ll also take quick five-minute breaks to do chinups (and make coffee.)

Drew January 26, 2015 at 3:33 pm

I do most of my 60+ hour workweek (I have the misfortune of being a lawyer) at a standing desk, and strongly disagree that shifting your weight to one leg or the other is “bad” standing posture. It’s perfectly natural to lean on things, and to shift your weight around–provided you don’t stay in one strange position for a long period. I’ve been advised by doctors that “the best position is the next position,” meaning that the most natural thing in the world is to MOVE from one position to the next, to the next, to the next… Though I do agree that it’s best to build stamina. I find that standing while working has significantly improved my life, though I still sit for activities that require intense focus (e.g. writing, but not editing or e-mailing).

Frank January 26, 2015 at 6:01 am

I’m from Upstate NY and can really identify with your hatred of winter. I’ve always dreaded winter and never participated in the typical winter activities.

This year I’ve made a real effort to find aspects of winter that I can enjoy and appreciate. No, I haven’t become a skiier, but I have ENJOYED shoveling snow and going for a short winter walk around the neighborhood. Also, I’ve realized the beauty of snow blanketing my surroundings with a pristine uniformity. Finally, I’ve accepted you’re allowed to slow down in winter! Read a good book, cook amazing food, cuddle with the wife and cat by the fire. Embrace it!

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:29 am

I have embraced winter more and more over the past few years (mostly by skating and going for walks) but my specific problem is the combination of winter and my work routines. Five days a week I work from when I wake up until 4 or 5. In the summer I’ll break this up by going running, and I’ll go for a bike ride after. In the winter I don’t want to get all bundled up to go for a walk, and by the time work is over it’s dark. So it leads to being a homebody. But you’re right — embracing winter is better than avoiding it.

Kenoryn January 26, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Is there a reason you’ve set your working hours around the 9-5 standard? You have the flexibility to do your work whenever you want. This is something I hate about my day job – the restriction of the hours which suck up all the daylight hours during winter, and also all the hours during which small businesses tend to be open. I find I am least productive in the afternoon, and I would love the chance to work from maybe 9-1 and then 7-10 some days. That would give me the afternoon to recharge in between, lots of time available for making good food for lunch and dinner, a chance to get active and break up the sitting into smaller stretches, and still a couple of hours to wind down before bed in the evening.

Sprezzaturian January 26, 2015 at 6:40 am

Just remember that standing STILL is almost as bad as sitting. Walk around a bit, do calf raises or kick your heels against your buttocks or sit down in a deep squat every now and then.

Apart from that, I’ll think you’ll find standing up surprisingly good for your focus. I did.

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:30 am

Yeah, I don’t expect to be as still as I am when sitting, although I’m not really sure what I’ll be inclined to do. I’ll certainly move more than I do while sitting though.

Henna K. January 27, 2015 at 5:55 am

Your post came at a good time, was getting really stiff with sitting. My solution is cheap though – a wooden box and a thick book on my desk :)

As for standing still: I use an inflatable gym balancing pillow (a rather flat one) under my feet every now and then. With it it’s impossible to stand still. Otherwise I end up standing only on one foot with my pelvis tilted as badly as when I’m sitting.

I like a lot how it’s easier to start streching or walk (to the kitchen?!) when I start feeling tired. While sitting I don’t notice these “warnings”.

Chris January 26, 2015 at 6:41 am

Even after all I’ve heard about the dangers of prolonged sitting recently, a standing desk still seems very off-putting to me personally. So instead I try to break up periods of sitting by just standing up and walking around frequently. I feel lucky that my current job provides ample opportunity to do so. Nevertheless, I’ll be very interested to read about the results of your experiment!

Typo report: WE’LL, it’s on. A fancy-pants electronically adjustable […] (second sentence just for context)

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:32 am

It seems strange and unintuitive to me too, but that’s part of the fun.

Weird typo… I don’t know how I missed that. Thanks.

Jeremy January 26, 2015 at 6:45 am

“So until I learn to like polar bear dives and winter hiking, I need to create habits that keep me from rusting in place in my desk chair.”

Or maybe escape Canada, working from a climate that suits you? Argentina, Thailand, and Mexico are all very pleasant in the winter, amongst many other places

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:33 am

That is part of a longer-term plan. I love where I live but I do want to spend the winters somewhere warm eventually.

BrownVagabonder January 26, 2015 at 6:47 am

In order to prevent the lassitude and circulation issues that come with sitting for too long, I have an alarm set up that goes every hour on the hour, which reminds me to get up, do some pushups or squats. It keeps the blood moving, and keeps me alert and aware of my body.
Good luck with your experiment!

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:34 am

Do you find you ignore your alarm if you’re in the middle of something? I use alarms for a lot of things, but when I’m in the middle of writing something I have a hard time stopping right where I am.

LennStar January 26, 2015 at 11:29 am

For novel writing some actually give the advise to not stop at an obvious point (like end of paragraph) but at a more or less random point. Not worse tehn the end of a sentence, better in the middle of it, right in the action.

That prevents wrinting block if you start again the next day or after a break, they say.
I never really got around trying it, its hard to not finish a “unit” of text and I always feel ike I will lose something nice.

Of course you can try it, if you want ^^ Blog posts are easier for this then 3-page novel scenes, too.

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 4:57 pm

I actually do that with blog posts — leaving off when I still have things to say, rather than when I’m stuck. But often I am in the middle of getting my mind around a concept, and if I don’t get it down it’s gone.

Free to Pursue February 9, 2015 at 9:03 am

I dislike alarms because of how they can disrupt flow. They are not natural to me. When I sit to write, I make sure I have a lot of time in front of me to ensure I can keep going as long as the mood strikes me.

That’s a big part of why I disliked the cubicle jungle too…constant interruptions that likely halved my productivity.

George G. January 26, 2015 at 7:14 am

I’m glad you’re able to frame the aims of this new experiment in a way that emphasizes productivity and quality of life over just pure physical health. Where you mention the potential physiological dangers of “sitting as the new smoking” sounds so reminiscent to me of the sorts of doom-and-gloom fluff I find plastered all over the Internet anymore, which seems to conveniently forget that regardless of how much we may fight against it, our bodies DO eventually deteriorate until we ultimately die.

It’s good that you’re able to focus more on something worthwhile than some thinly-veiled emotional delusion that we can stave off death indefinitely if we just avoid the “wrong” foods and activities. People who write those kinds of posts always get a tongue-in-cheek response from me: “What kind of foods should I eat/exercise should I do to guarantee that I’ll live forever?”

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:36 am

That’s kind of a strange interpretation… I’m not hoping to defeat death here exactly, just improve quality of life.

Ric January 26, 2015 at 7:28 am

I’m a long standing (sorry for the pun) stander. I believe it is something that has been round for more years than many think – I heard that the British prime minister Winston Churchill worked standing.

What works for me is to split the day by task, rather than time (AM/PM). It is easier to learn and harder to break the habit. I have two computers, for personal and for work. My work computer is standing, and my personal computer is sitting. This introduces the need to move between the two, which is better than being static in the standing position for hours. It also introduces a degree of randomness to the routine, which again works well for me.

Good luck with the experiment. Keep up the good work!

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 8:38 am

I’ll play around a bit and see what works. My day is split by task, or at least type of task. I may end up standing just to work through a particular task though, and see if it affects my focus.

Chris Forbis January 26, 2015 at 9:07 am

Parts of this post reminded me of an excellent quotation by Mark Rippetoe from his book Starting Strength (which is a fantastic introduction to the barbell lifts). I found a copy of the quotation posted in a forum: http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=5998391

Keep up the good work here.

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Thank Chris. I am starting to realize what he’s said here — strength isn’t just an optional aesthetic consideration or niche hobby. Since I’ve started strength training, I’ve noticed how it changes the quality of everything physical I do. Standing feels better, cleaning up feels better, reaching for something on a shelf feels better. I feel like I’m finally giving my body some proportion of the respect it deserves. The normal way we treat our bodies isn’t good enough.

Kathy January 26, 2015 at 9:50 am

Just an idea….Try replacing your desk chair with an exercise ball – it requires some engagement and will be less costly than retrofitting your entire office with a stand-up work station. Good luck!

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 4:58 pm

I have seen people do that, and I would try it if an exercise ball ever found its way into my home :)

Chad Fox January 26, 2015 at 10:01 am

I’ve used an electronic standing desk for 2 years now and it’s been a very welcome change to sitting long hours with overtime. I feel way more energy and comfort now that I can split my day standing 60% of the time and sitting when standing starts to become uncomfortable.

There are a few benefits that are not usually mentioned.
1. Moving with music, no matter how subtle, is way more enjoyable while standing
2. A quick walk around your office room becomes common place when thinking because you don’t need to dislodge yourself from a chair.
3. Stretching is easier when standing and working.
4. Kid friendly. I have a home office as well and my desk in standing mode saves me from having to defend my workstation.
5. Victory dancing like a Fifa soccer player is completely acceptable.

David Cain January 26, 2015 at 5:00 pm

I have already noticed a few of these. I found take a little walk around the place if I was thinking about something, and I found myself stretching spontaneously.

Your victory dance comment reminded me of something: when I first launched Raptitude, getting a whole post written, formatted and published was a huge ordeal for me. For the first few posts, when I finally pushed the publish button, I raised my arms in a V like an Olympic athlete. That was so long ago!

Bec January 26, 2015 at 10:26 am

I converted my work desk to a stand up desk on 6th Jan 2015 and now stand to work for up to 8 hours a day (I still sit in meetings) I feel so much better, more focused. The point about less dicking around is the truest.

David Cain January 27, 2015 at 8:36 am

I am already noticing that — when I’m standing up I just don’t feel like wasting my time.

Graeme January 26, 2015 at 10:45 am

I use a standing desk almost exclusively. I was excited about it because I pace around when I’m thinking, so I thought a walking/standing desk would be a natural fit. I do like it a lot, but none of the magical promises of standing desk advocates materialized. I found that I can still assume an undignified slouch while I’m standing. I found it just as hard to focus. I had a lot of foot pain for weeks. I love it and wouldn’t give it up, but in my experience, it’s not a panacea.

These days, when I write at home, I do it with my laptop at the kitchen table. Partly because I focus slightly better when I’m seated and can’t just wander away, and partly because my desktop has all my fun distracting stuff on it. Standing desks are great, but they won’t eliminate bad habits on their own.

David Cain January 27, 2015 at 8:39 am

This is why I like to do experiments. I almost never experience all the incredible claims about the thing in question, but quite often it’s more than worthwhile. I’m just looking for something between “worthwhile” and “magical”.

Kenoryn January 26, 2015 at 1:11 pm

It has always bothered me that people spend money to go to the gym and worthlessly lift and replace heavy objects, or pedal on bikes going nowhere. What a waste of all that effort and energy. There is no shortage of manual labour that needs doing in the world. Maybe we need a website to connect people who want to do hard labour with people who need hard labour done. Then instead of going to the gym, you could go help an elderly person move, or split and stack someone’s firewood, or dig a community garden, or shovel a driveway, or carry sound equipment for a band, or operate a bike taxi, etc. Alternatively, gyms could be set up to harness the energy that people produce, and this could help offset the energy otherwise pointlessly used to heat and light the gym.

On a similar note, there are ways to incorporate “muscle over motor” into your everyday life by replacing machines with older manual ways of doing the same thing. Your morning coffee is a good example: use a hand grinder instead of an electric one. It’s not much, but those little things add up. Grinding your own grain is a real workout!

David Cain January 27, 2015 at 8:46 am

I think there is some potential here. We have surplus energy in some places and not enough in other places.

Logistically though, manual labor can’t really replace the gym for most people. There isn’t always someone to help move for an hour, three days a week, at the time you’re available. And to gain strength beyond a certain point you can’t just lift random things, you have to perform the same movements repeatedly at a weight that is challenging but possible for you.

But if there’s wood to be chopped, and you need some activity, (and maybe some fresh air) then there are more than enough reasons to pick up an axe and do it that way.

Kenoryn January 30, 2015 at 11:37 am

Hmm. It would be challenging, certainly, but I think it could be done. You would be signing up for different activities all the time, and many of them could be done at whatever time is convenient for you, e.g. digging a garden. Some things like building where you would be part of a team would have to be scheduled, but I’d envision a search process that would let you find activities available near you in the 1 or 2 hours you want to work. Things with no timeframe would always come up. Many activities are scalable – e.g., I have a giant pile of lumber I need moved and stacked in my backyard. If you’re not very strong, carry one board at a time. If you’re very strong, carry four. I bet you would be a lot less likely to cop out if you had signed up to help someone than if you’re just anonymously going to the gym, and you would feel a real sense of accomplishment and pride in what you’re doing compared to just lifting weights, so I bet you’d be a lot more likely to keep it up.

Ooo, or I could set up a grain processing facility with a free gym attached with bikes, ellipticals etc. that directly power grain mills. ;) My grain mill has a bike adaptor kit you can get.

Security could be a problem, re: inviting strangers to your house to help you move or something, but I guess it’s not much different from using Kijiji or similar.

Donna Barker January 26, 2015 at 2:13 pm

I set up a treadmill desk about a year ago, moving my “office” to our boot room for 90 minutes each morning. I did it as a lark after hearing how fabulous these things were. And, to be honest, after having failed to achieve 10,000 steps per my FitBit basic goal a day.

Turns out – my creativity increased and my health improved. The hardest part of using a treadmill desk is not bragging about how quickly I can type while walking 3.5 miles per hour uphill at a 4 degree grade. Friends just don’t seem to care. I think they’re just jealous!

David Cain January 27, 2015 at 8:47 am

> how quickly I can type while walking 3.5 miles per hour uphill at a 4 degree grade.

Wow, you are a black belt already. This is encouraging, thanks Donna.

Jason Glaspey January 26, 2015 at 2:34 pm

I’ve come to love my standing desk. I have a Geek Desk (no affiliation) that I can easily raise and lower. I also have a tall stool/chair (Steelcase Cobi : http://www.steelcase.com/en/products/category/seating/stools/cobi/pages/overview.aspx) It’s awesome. It allows me to be near standing and makes the transition seem very small.

I also bought a treadmill (Lifespan 1200) and found that I enjoy walking much more than just standing. It’s not cheap, but over the course of a career, it’s a tiny investment in my health.

I walk at 2mph when I work, and I can type and think just fine. If it’s really a tricky problem I’m trying to solve, I grab my stool and sit for a bit.

I tend to split up my day. Walking part of it, standing some, and sitting some. Whatever sounds good at the moment or based on what I’m working on.

I’ll definitely second the suggestion for a mat. It made a MASSIVE difference right away, and made standing significantly more comfortable.

I also wear my Crocs when standing or walking. They’re light, comfortable, and easy to slip on and off when I don’t need them. They are right by my desk at all times. (I got the Imprint Cumulous Pro as recommended by Wirecutter). Can’t recommend a mat enough, or soon enough.

Lastly, I really recommend people ease into standing. Even if you’re in good shape, the DOMS you get from standing a bunch right away isn’t the same *good* feel, and if you take your time, you’ll enjoy it more, sooner.

Best of luck!

David Cain January 27, 2015 at 8:48 am

I will have to try the treadmill thing someday. At the moment it sounds crazy to me, but so did standing :)

Free to Pursue February 9, 2015 at 9:16 am

Author A. J. Jacobs wrote his entire “Drop Dead Healthy” using a treadmill desk. It’s definitely possible.

Heidi January 26, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Hello, just wanted to add my observations as an attentive Teachers Assistant, it’s my job to walk around and watch the children’s behaviours and find ways to help them in school. I have long thought that one of the biggest impediments to their ability to focus and stay alert in class is their sitting and their posture. We all know that when you sit up straight and support your head it tells our bodies and our brains that it’s time to pay attention but if you’ve ever walked in to any grade school class, not one child is doing this. They are slouching, their backs are usually in a C curve, or they have their feet propped up on the desk and are sitting on their lower spine. All of these posturese are not only bad for their activating their thought process but are horrible for their overall posture and physical development. I am not sure about the standing desks and this is the first time I’ve read about them in a serious way but I have seen the ergonomic desks that have you sitting propped up and supported on your knees, straightening your back, and it is almost impossible to slouch in them. I would like to see these chairs in schools because the next generations behind us are having a much harder time getting out of that sitting habit.

I am going to go look up these standing desks now and will be keeping an eye on your experiment.

Maybe we need a Standing Revolution!! Hahaha!

David Cain January 27, 2015 at 8:50 am

Intention is a big part of it, I think. When I was in school I had zero incentive to sit up straight, because I didn’t really want to learn. Now I really do want to do good work, and so posture has become important to me.

Tara January 26, 2015 at 3:36 pm

I love Montreal winters! Sure, there are some dark days, but I think the winter snowscape is beautiful and I find the cold air invigorating. I go out running during the middle of the day and it’s great – fresh air, daylight and it builds a feeling of total badassity, as Mr. Money Mustache would say. :-) Just dress up properly and keep moving.

David Cain January 27, 2015 at 8:51 am

I agree with you, although I will say that Montreal winters are so much better than Winnipeg winters. It’s about 7 degrees warmer on the low end, and that’s where cold becomes truly deadening. But there are hardcore runners out there doing it in minus 30. They are tougher souls than I.

PRW January 26, 2015 at 3:46 pm

You may want to consider making the experiment last more than two weeks. When I originally transitioned from sitting to standing, I was not acclimated in that timespan.

David Cain January 27, 2015 at 8:53 am

I do intend to make use of it for much longer than two weeks. I just chose two weeks because I’m going away for a week following that two weeks, and I didn’t want the experiment do drift into “sort of still doing it, sort of not” mode like many others have. I will learn what I can in two weeks and post my thoughts, but continue to stand after that.

Rosie January 27, 2015 at 12:20 am

I read “Get Up – why your chair is killing you and started standing but got really uncomfortable so I decided to create a treadmill desk. It was a very Heath Robinson affair – filing cabinet drawer pulled out, pieces of wood, blocks to make things the right height etc and in the end, like now, I have stopped using it and the treadmill is now where my waste paper basket lives! The things that stop me using it are: The aforementioned inadequate set up means I can’t use the mouse and walk, (typing is OK) I think that’s cos the height isn’t right and right now it’s WAY TOO HOT to be walking, I live in subtropical Australia and its very subtropical and humid at the moment.
I’m getting a cardboard stand up desk which I bought off a kick starter campaign which should arrive in a few weeks and i hope that the solid structure and right height will make the mouse thing better and hopefully it will cool down a bit. I lOVE the idea of walking and working. I want to do it for NEAT non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Cos when I got back from holidays last year and started sitting again, I started putting on weight.

David Cain January 27, 2015 at 8:56 am

Getting the ergonomics right is crucial. If you can’t do important things comfortably (like using a mouse) then I can’t see how it would ever work. One thing I need to address is monitor height. It’s supposed to be eye level, but I’m on a laptop and need the keyboard at elbow height. So I’m going to get a wireless keyboard and put the laptop on a stack of books or something.

Marie January 27, 2015 at 9:28 am

I’ve had a combination standing/sitting desk for about a year. I find myself standing about half the time. While standing, I also notice that my body wants to move more frequently. I would like to eventually add a low-speed treadmill, but they’re too expensive so I just take breaks every 30 minutes or so and walk around a bit, stomp my feet, stretch, etc. I try do the same while I’m sitting, but unless I set a timer I tend to forget. I will never go back to a sitting desk again. I doubt I will stand more than half the time, though, due to a family history of leg vein problems.

Mrs. Frugalwoods January 27, 2015 at 12:21 pm

I have a standing desk at work, which I love. I actually move around quite a bit while at my desk–I do leg lifts (front and back), I stand in tree pose, and I do side lunges among other movements. I love this ability to burn calories and move my body in ways that feel good as I work.

At home, I sit on a ball or stand and work at our kitchen counter. An interesting result of my standing at work all day every day is that I can barely tolerate sitting in a normal chair for any duration of time. We flew cross country last week and sitting for that many hours was nearly excruciating.

I think it’s fascinating that my body has completed adjusted and adapted itself to this new normal. Fortunately my husband also stands all day at work, so we’re aligned in our desire not to pursue sitting too often :). Good luck to you and I look forward to hearing how you find the experience!

Alison January 27, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I’ve been using a hacked standing desk at work for a while now after noticing that if I sit too long I get a worrisome numbness/pain on one side of my butt. I stand most of the time now, and sit when I get tired. Having the option to stand at work is something I wish everyone had.

I like to massage my feet with a golf ball while standing (good for flexibility), and sometimes put a few books under the balls of my feet which allows your to stretch while standing (I can now touch my toes, and couldn’t before this).

I haven’t perceived any productivity decline, and I spend lots of time producing content and writing emails while standing.

If I can vent for a moment…soon my department will be moving to a new building, and I won’t have the same setup I have now. I asked HR if they would help me purchase a $400 platform to sit on my new desk which you can raise and lower with your keyboard and monitor on it. I was told that unless I have some kind of injury requiring me to stand that they cannot provide any standing equipment. Now that I’ve experienced the bad effects of sitting and the benefits of standing, this reads to me like, “No we don’t want to invest in the future health of our employees.” Obviously I’ll purchase the platform myself, because I will not be sitting full time again. I just wish that we were supported for wanting to take preventative measures in our own health, but we’re only supported if we’re already sick. Blah.

Andy January 28, 2015 at 10:22 am

What jumped out a me was the lazy brain comment–reminded me of the lesson from a sea squirt:

“The sea squirt has a fascinating life. Starting off as an egg, it quickly develops into a tadpole-like creature, complete with a spinal cord connected to a simple eye and a tail for swimming. It also has a primitive brain that helps it locomote through the water. But, the sea squirt’s mobility doesn’t last long. Once it finds a suitable place to attach itself, whether it is to the hull of a boat, underwater rocks, or the ocean floor, it never moves again…What’s most fascinating about the sea squirt is that, almost as soon as it stops moving, its brain is absorbed by its body.”


Ton Bil January 28, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Thanks for the inspiration. I’ve immediately improvised a standing desk and am typing from it this comment. Would not want to become a sea squirt (see Andy’s comment) :-)

tallgirl1204 January 28, 2015 at 12:09 pm

I have a ‘kangaroo’ desk (caveat like everyone else: no affiliation) and have been using it for about two years. I got a smushy mat to stand on, and also one of those little balance-disk things just for variety. I also have a ball that I put my foot on (behind me) to stretch my quads on occasion, and of course I sit on the ball when I take a break/sit down.

I found that adjusting to standing all day has taken some toll on my legs and feet. Moving around helps that, and if my workplace would allow for a treadmill desk I would totally be on board.

I don’t think it has helped my concentration or lessened surfing (because here I am, reading Raptitude). What it has done is improved my mental state to some degree.

The biggest benefit from what I can tell is some minimal additional calorie burning (hooray) as well as lessening of my IBS symptoms, which tend to manifest when I am under stress (i.e., at work). My entire digestive system just seems happier.

Lastly, I have had some blood tests done that indicate that I may be prone to blood clots (it’s a fairly common gene factor that about 15% of the British populations has, and I am a descendant of such). Although I have never actually had one, the results of that test were enough for me to advocate with my boss for work to pay for the purchase of this desk.

good luck with your experiment! We will be interested to hear how it evolves.

MelD January 29, 2015 at 7:35 am

I came across NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) about 2 years ago. I think there’s much to be said for it and have found that if I put my laptop on a tall chest of drawers instead of on the table, it is a comfortable height for me to work at without anything fancy necessary. As you also noted, I spend less time online then just surfing or linking and get my work done more promptly, so that’s another boon for my health as well as leaving more time to do more active things I’d not have time for if I idled in front of the screen.

Ragnar January 29, 2015 at 7:14 pm

According to an episode of QI that I watched recently, new research is showing that sitting with terrible posture (with your back at an angle) is actually the least damaging pose for sitting.

One thing that I wonder about the point about idle muscles though is whether or not you could counteract that effect simply by flexing various muscle groups while still seated. My dad used to tell me about his friend from his University years that was one of the best high jumpers in the country, who mostly did ‘static exercise’. Which for him meant, lying in bed and flexing his muscles.

Anyway, good luck with your experiment!

Jim January 30, 2015 at 10:22 am

Good luck with the experiment.
The following may sound strange. My current system is to only sit while working. All non-work activities, such as Web surfing and email are performed while standing. This goes against what most people do, but it helps me to work more, and also reduces sitting overall.

Minnie January 31, 2015 at 6:42 am

I love your blog! Fitness advice is definitely in the category, but most people are fitness dilettantantes; advice that comes in the form of “try this, it helped me” is pretty useless because it doesn’t come with “out-of-bounds” markers that say when you need to move on to other advice, or whether it still applies to you. Most people like things that make them “feel good,” but that’s really short-term, and a really bad indicator for what to choose. (For example, DOMS is something that people can enjoy because “it’s the feeling of getting back into shape,” but it basically stops happening after your first week or two of consistent exercise.)

I suspect that the key advantage of standing is building enough muscle to fix up issues with anterior pelvic tilt, which develops easily when people relax into their chairs (no matter how ergonomically-minded the chair was designed). Things like standing desks and moving every twenty minutes are just shortcuts that make up for having a weak core, building up muscle in a really inefficient way.

I really recommend doing a year’s worth of strength training (like the Starting Strength book mentioned by another commenter), it will change how your body moves. The stretching routines on phraktured.net are excellent, as well.
And if you can’t do all that, at least look into doing L-sits for 60 seconds a day, they’re infinitely better than crunches or exercise balls for “stability.”

Michael February 1, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Only partially applicable I think, but you may find that you do indeed have increased productivity standing up. An old boss of mine used to insist that all our meetings took place with no chairs. Instead of a half-hour meeting stretching to 60 min, we were usually done in 15 or 20 (sometimes even less). Amazing really. Good luck

Mike D February 2, 2015 at 6:48 pm

My first comment here. I work in typical corporate environment and moved to a standing desk at work about 6 years ago and moved to a treadmill desk about a year ago.

I strongly recommend a treadmill desk over a standing desk, but they’re more expensive, require more room, and outside of a home office, the geek/weird factor is quite a bit higher.

For standing, I recommend both a good anti-fatigue mat and also a piece of carpet or carpeted bath mat to go on top of the anti-fatigue mat. I know that sounds weird, but it makes a huge difference. Quality of anti-fatigue mat matters a lot. I started by just standing on very thin carpet on top of concrete. That was better than sitting but pretty bad compared with what was to come. When I learned of anti-fatigue mats by accident, I bought some cheap ones on amazon, and they were bad, despite very high user ratings. I eventually got a good one – brand was Wellnessmats (I have no affiliation with them) – and it’s awesome. By accident, I ended up standing on one with a piece of carpet on it, and that was so much better still, so I got a carpeted bath mat for mine.

If this sounds luxurious, it is. When you first take off your shoes and step onto a Wellnessmat with a bath mat on it, it will likely conflict with every sort of Stoic or Mustachian sensibility you have. I thought, “do I really need this much luxury in my life? How soft am I?” But I kept this luxury and am glad I did, because the effect over time was that of simply forgetting that you’re standing up. You’ll stand for hours and hours without thinking about it, and the end-of-workday fatigue reduction will be very noticeable. So you’ll end up sitting less and standing more, and that’s probably worth any stoic conflict. With this setup, you can absolutely get so comfortable that you’ll be able to browse Reddit or Facebook without thinking about it, not that I recommend that…

After reading about treadmill desks and the general recommendation to get about 10,000 steps of walking in per day – and generally agreeing with the notion that, in much the same way that the human body was not designed to sit for long periods of time, it was probably not designed to stand in one spot for long periods either – I decided to upgrade to a treadmill desk. Another thing that pushed me over the edge was reading a book by John Ratey called Spark, which makes a strong case for the benefits of exercise for the brain.

Still, I didn’t make the decision lightly, since even a frugal setup is a lot more expensive than a standing desk, but I’m so glad I did it. When I moved from sitting to standing at work, I’d say standing was about a 2x or 3x improvement over sitting. Obviously that’s subjective and can’t be measured precisely. I state it for comparison, since, for me, walking on a treadmill has been about a 10x improvement over standing. It’s a BIG deal.

For context, I’m no fitness buff. I’m middle-aged, out of shape, and pudgy, so it’s not like I started walking to get a little more cut, or get some extra training in, or anything like that. My thinking when I got it was that if I could delay going to a hospital for a major surgery or procedure by a few years later in life, or reduce the risk of things like early onset dementia, it’d be worth the investment now. I’ll never know if those benefits materialize, but enough immediate benefits have materialized that I can say that I’m never going back to a standing desk. Those benefits are (1) much more alert throughout the day (caffeine intake is moderate most days), (2) generally in a better mood most days. I don’t consider myself a sad person – mood was fine while standing, but it’s noticeably better when I walk, and the more I walk the better it gets, and this alone would be worth it for me, and (3) less fatigue at the end of the day, which means I’m more likely to say yes to something my wife or kids want to do in the evening with me, as opposed to, “no, I want to relax…” In fact, a fourth benefit, though highly related to 2 and 3 above, is that I’m way less likely to have a glass of wine in the evening to “unwind.” I know some say that a glass of wine in the evening is good for health, but it feels like a benefit to me not to want one.

As for standard computer work, I find I can read and type without issue at a 2 mph pace. When I talk on the phone, my colleagues tell me they can detect a difference in my breathing pattern but that it’s not bad. The only issue is with work where precise mouse / cursor movements are needed, such as with Photoshop work, but for me, that type of work is rare, and when I need to do it, I just stop the treadmill and stand for a bit.

David, you mentioned a couple time that a treadmill seems kinda crazy, and I can’t deny it based on the number of head turns I get at work. Yet, I think there is some evidence that for most of human existence, humans walked 10 or 15 miles per day hunting or foraging for food. It could be that our brains evolved to want that type and amount of movement, and that standing or sitting in one place for hours is relatively weird. I haven’t studied it, and easy counter-arguments come to mind, like, for most of human existence, humans didn’t brush their teeth – does that mean we shouldn’t brush our teeth? For me, it comes down to the simple fact that I feel better when I walk, and I feel better after I walk. This post of yours is well-connected to your last post for me: I like who I am more when I walk more. It’s not so much that I’m proud of myself. I just all feels right.

I have experienced one downside. Over time, I’ve had the same experience as Mrs. Frugalwoods. It appears that years of sitting made me accustomed to it, but now my butt doesn’t like having the blood squished out of it by prolonged sitting, and I find long car rides and plane trips noticeably more uncomfortable. I end up flexing in place and lifting off the seat for brief moments for relief.

David, thank you for Raptitude. You’ve enhanced my thinking in significant ways since I first ran across your writing with your guest post at MMM. Your writing and thinking are simply spectacular, and I’m really grateful for your blog.

Billy Flynn February 2, 2015 at 7:57 pm

Good post, your experiments rock!! I remember when I first started in the corp. world, the prize for the “president’s club” advisors were new, luxury chairs – adjustable 200 different ways, fine leather and silent, smooth wheels. Fast forward 15-20 years, the chairs are out the door, and standing desks that are less expensive than the old executive swag chairs are now becoming the norm. Both my associates use stand up/adjustable desks and they swear by them, both with back issues. I’m next.

Elliott February 3, 2015 at 2:50 pm

I’ve been using standing desks for about a year now off and on both on a daily basis and monthly basis. Here’s a tip: I’ve recently learned from research and my own experience that *moving/shifting around while standing* is not just a better feeling after a few hours, but also much better for your body. It’s also not natural to stand in one position for a long period of time.


Holly February 3, 2015 at 4:36 pm

Until recently, I was a therapist sitting unmoving for 55 minutes of every hour for 7-8 hours a day. It was horrible. The 5 minutes in between didn’t give me time to do much else besides have a bathroom break and a quick check of messages. But recently I stopped clinical work and my body is so much happier. I do the same amount of structured exercise I always did but now I’m up and moving about a lot during the day. It’s wonderful. I do have a small table top desk to hold my lap top now if I’m going to write for a long time.

Guillaume February 7, 2015 at 6:59 am
Free to Pursue February 9, 2015 at 9:43 am

My strategy so far has been to have 2 pursuits: reading & writing and coaching, which means I spend half my work time sitting and half moving around–a reasonable balance so far. I may give a standing desk a try at some point (likely a box set up on my kitchen counter).

I look forward to hearing how the experiment is going. The one concern I have for standing desks is whether they become a substitute for more demanding physical activity (not in your case, but in general). Greater intensity of movement is crucial for optimal health. We’re not meant to just sit, stand & lie down. We’re meant to walk, run, swim, lift, dig, throw, jump, squat, etc.

Mark February 18, 2015 at 9:47 pm

You are so correct… From age 30 to 50, I had a full time job where I sat at a computer everyday. Some lower back problems that began in my 20’s gradually got worse. My depression (and my weight) got heavier, my energy level ran out. I’d try to go walk or bike when I could, but it wasn’t enough. Then a month before I turned 50, I suddenly got laid off. I really freaked out, but eventually took a job for less pay at a wood shop of sorts. There is some welcome lifting and plenty of walking too. I was worried about being on my feet all day, everyday and what it might do to my back. A couple of years later, I’m still there. My back problems have completely vanished, my depression is better, and I feel healthier than I did then when I was 35. I don’t ever want to go back.

Jeff Bronson *Kraven* February 19, 2015 at 3:57 am

Ideally, our work lives would constitute LESS sitting in general to make it viable. I gave my desk job in the U.S. and am in India now attempting to make enough money online in less hours, allowing for a more active lifestyle eventually back in the states.

Merlene Campbell February 20, 2015 at 4:37 am

Great Post! I love it when my clients challenge me. If I’m not growing in my work, if I am comfortable where I am, then what’s the point? I might as well be back at my stupid corporate job, doing mundane tasks and just getting through the day. Then I started thinking hard about what it is that I do to stay motivated not just for a day or week at a time but over the course of months and seasons and especially years.

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