Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why You Need to Put Your Desk on Cinder Blocks

I've been reading that it's better for your health and productivity to stand at your desk rather than to sit hunched over it like a gargoyle (who knew?), but I'd never really heard anyone personally vouch for it until my friend Eve at CareerDiva. Then, I got a tweet from Jeff Gothelf at The Ladders, extolling the virtues of standing at work. I called him and then filed this story for Gannett/USAToday:

When Jeff Gothelf heard that standing while working at your computer had health benefits, he says he went to the nearest Home Depot to buy 14 cinder blocks. He used the blocks to boost his desk at home, and Gothelf says his family has been raving about the changes in his work habits. Cost: about $20.

"I'm spending significantly less time at the computer, and my family is thrilled," he're standing, you are not relaxing or hanging out watching videos or doing other stuff. You're very goal oriented. There are no distractions. You're in and out."

  • Gothelf, director of user experience for The Ladders inNew York, became so sold on the idea of a standing work station that he requested his work desk be elevated. To his surprise, he was told his desk already was equipped with expandable legs and soon the 6-foot Gothelf was head and shoulders above his 90 other co-workers.

In less than a month, two colleagues also hoisted their desks and began standing while working.

"They just sort of sprouted up like mushrooms," he says.

Gothelf has found that the benefits he experienced with his home experiment have translated to work.

"I'm a lot more focused," he says. "I also do a lot more walking around, because it's easier when you're already standing to just walk over and talk to someone."

Still, being so noticeable at work — sort of a Lady Gaga among the cubicles — is not without its drawbacks, he says.

"I think because I'm standing and shifting around a bit, people seem to think I'm less engaged in what I'm doing. So, they think they can come by and just hang out. It's distracting," Gothelf says. "That's the biggest drawback I've found."

Recent studies have found that the body's metabolism slows when sitting all day, and workers who are more sedentary have been found to be less productive. With employers looking for ways to be more efficient — and cut health care costs that rise with unhealthy workers — spending more time standing at work could be an attractive option for companies and employees.

Still, workplace health experts say you can't just leap from your chair and expect everything to be fine. Gothelf's co-workers found that out the hard way.

"A couple of guys decided to start standing all day," Gothelf says. "They weren't used to it."

The result were aching feet and backs, which prompted at least one worker to build up his standing stamina, sitting for part of the day, Gothelf says.

Carla Sottovia, who is fitness director for Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas and has a doctorate in the subject, says the right footwear is critical when standing for long periods. Taking short breaks and avoiding immobility also are important, whether standing or sitting.

But for those who have developed sore backs hunched over a computer all day, standing may be a good option. Sottovia says the pressure from sitting with a rounded back in a chair increases lower-back pressure 275% while standing increases lower back pressure 100%.

Gothelf has found that following good ergonomic rules when standing while working is important, he says:

• Adjust the desk height to make sure your elbows are at a 90-degree angle to the floor when working on a computer.

• Ensure that your monitor's angle doesn't force you to tilt your head up or down.

So far, Gothelf says he hasn't lost any weight by standing at his desk and moving around more but believes the other benefits make it worthwhile.

"Everyone heads to Starbucks at 3 p.m. because they've hit the wall," he says. "I don't do that anymore. I find that I don't have that crash anymore because I'm moving and not settled in. I'm just focused."

Do you have other tricks to keep yourself healthy and more productive at work?



Donna Svei aka said...

Standing burns more calories than sitting so it should yield some weight loss too!

Anita said...

Wonder if that would work if I stand while eating a chocolate chip cookie? :)