stand up and save your back

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This might seem a bit off point, but it may help you more than anything else I write this year: Throw away your desk chair. Spending lots of time working in a seated position, it seems, is bad for more than just your back.

But by the time I read the story quoted above, I was ready to throw away my chair anyway. In my old, ratty office downtown, I had a makeshift standing-height desk. Actually it was a kitchen counter I had screwed together out of 2x4s and a hollow-core door when we were renovating our kitchen, but it served me pretty well. When I moved into my new office space in our barn, I decided to go all civilized and use a proper sit-down desk and adjustable office chair. Big mistake. Wthin a few months--despite lots of yoga--my back was killing me. I knew that sitting puts a lot of stress on your spine, and when the research on its other ill effects went public, I knew I had to act. 

Luckily, the fix was simple. I unbolted one of the maple legs of my desk, gave it to a cabinetmaker friend, and asked for four copies in stretch version. Now my desk stands 42 inches high, just a couple of inches below my standing elbow height. I ordered a high drafting stool to go with it, but only for occasional use. The desk was ready before the stool arrived, so I spent the first week working only standing. It went surprisingly well. I was quite comfortable (I put a box under the desk, on which to prop one foot or the other to vary my stance), and now that the stool is here, I'm not tempted to sit more than I think I should. And my back feels great.

But here's the really interesting thing: The first week I spent working only in a standing position was the most productive I can remember. I have a couple of theories about this, but the one I like best relates to the psychology of sitting. When one sits, I postulate, the subconscious mind assumes--along with the body--an attitude of rest. In order to work, one must struggle to overcome the sense that one should, instead, be relaxing. Standing, in contrast, puts one in the position of action. Since I'm up on my feet again, I find it easier to concentrate on my work, I don't experience late-afternoon drowsiness, and I'm less susceptible to distraction. From now on, I'm a stand-up guy. --b.d.s.



Comments (4 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 9:41 AM Thursday, April 22, 2010

    A few months ago I elevated my desk in order to work on my board from a drafting stool. However, I have been mostly standing and haven't gone hunting for a stool. Maybe I'll just continue to stand up about 1/3 to 1/2 of the day.

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  • Posted by: bsnider | Time: 2:12 PM Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    I think this issue is of special interest to architects of a certain age because in our generation the working posture of the profession has gone from standing to sitting. When the architect I worked for in the 1980s switched our office from pencil drafting to CAD, my job satisfaction dropped like a rock. Within a year I quit and went to work on my own. My main reason was that the CAD systems of the day were slow and cumbersome, but the physical discomfort of sitting essentially still for hours on end made matters significantly worse. Anonymous: Thanks for the basketball tip.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 8:39 PM Monday, April 19, 2010

    I do a lot of yoga and just started writing full time. Sitting all day is effecting my yoga and now that you pointed this out, I think it's effecting my creativity. I'm going to try standing... You may also want to try legs up the wall for a few minutes or laying on the floor with a basketball between your shoulder blades...a great heart opener (good for creativity) and de-sloucher (essential after hours on the computer)

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 5:40 PM Monday, April 19, 2010

    I have the same type set up...elevated desk with a drafting stool...I love it...stand for a while...sit for a while.

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