We all do it. Chances are you’re doing it right now, reading this on a park bench or at a bus stop. You do it at restaurants, in the car, at the office. You’ve actually been doing it your whole life without really noticing. The older you get, the more you probably do it. We even spend hard-earned money to do it more. The onslaught of indolent-enabling technology certainly doesn’t help. Tablets, smartphones, and computers almost encourage this type of behavior; the more mobile and powerful our favorite technology becomes, the easier it is to do: Sitting.
It sounds innocuous enough, but countless research suggests sitting too much can take years off your life. Years! Gone just like that. Go ahead, take a moment to stand up and move around. I’ll wait. You’ve probably heard reports saying as much before, but numerous studies focused on the subject essentially come to the same conclusion: the longer and more often you sit, the worse off you are. There’s an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community, sort of the way we all know smoking is bad. Being a couch potato, it seems, isn’t paying off like you thought it would.
The news is particularly troubling because a lot of jobs are spent in front of a computer at a desk, just sitting. We do it on commutes, while eating, in school, at movies, etc. It’s as if careening toward death-by-sitting is inescapable. Remember Wall-E? How far off are we really from that kind of dystopian future? We are almost conditioned to do it from an early age, and continue on into adulthood, sedentary, almost encouraged to participate in a vegetative lifestyle. The facts are disturbing: your risk of heart disease increases by up to 64 percent if you sit for more than six hours per day. That’s shaving plenty of quality years from your life. Dr. James Levine, via The New York Times, even called sitting a “lethal activity.”
That’s the bad news. Luckily, there are ways to counteract the effects of sitting. Taking breaks to move around during the day is an obvious remedy, and consistently exercising is another positive way to offset the effects. Here are some good ways to start. But even then, research has found that many of us sit for hours and hours each day—upwards of ten hours—and our bodies simply weren’t made to do that. Humans are hunter/gatherers, after all. You think King Leonidas sat around all day? Even for someone who is really fit, sitting can have negative lasting effects. So is there any way to stop it?
With the research piling up, one of the more effective ways (besides taking breaks and exercising) to counteract the dangers of sitting is to stand and move around. I’d been peripherally interested in standing desks for awhile, and thought about making my own DIY standing desk from cheap IKEA furniture. But I started using the UpDesk instead, drawn to its functionality and beautiful design. Most of all, I was curious to see what would change by standing for many hours instead of sitting, which is slowly killing everyone.
As one final reminder that, yes, sitting is bad for you, here’s another link courtesy of The New York Times (via The Wirecutter), discussing the perils of sitting. “It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, of you’re a regular at the gym,” said evolutionary biologist, Olivia Judson. “Irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.” Judson goes on to explain that our bodies actually work against us when sitting for long periods, saying that a crucial part of our metabolism slows down when inactive.
Why the UpDesk
What attracted me to the UpDesk, aside from looks, was that it’s adjustable. While many DIY options are much cheaper, the UpDesk has a built-in motor mechanism that allows me to adjust it to my height (5’10”), ensuring I’m as comfortable as possible throughout the day. I work on a MacBook Air (late 2013), which I connect to a Thunderbolt display, so having the ability to adjust my workspace to either screen is hugely convenient. Fixed-height just doesn’t offer that extra flexibility, which means you have to be precise if you build one yourself, otherwise there’s potential to do more harm than good.
The model we tried out is the 60 inches x 30 inches UpWrite, which has a convenient whiteboard tabletop for jotting down notes and ideas. (I mainly used it to doodle on, but the surface allows for a nice collaborative space, or as a spot to write down funny messages for co-workers.) It comes with a cable management system, has a 5-year limited warranty, 300 pound lifting capacity, 1.25-inch high-pressure laminate desktop, and is height adjustable from 25.5 inches to 50.5 inches. That means you can sit or stand depending on how fatigued you feel at that particular moment. The best part? UpDesk comes with touch-of-a-button functionality (three different settings), meaning you can easily raise or lower it on-the-fly. It’s also wide enough to accommodate a treadmill, giving you the option to really step up your work routine.
While adjusting height is convenient in a practical sense—it’s tough to stand all day without taking sitting breaks—I like it because, well, I get sore from exercising and playing soccer, and my old legs aren’t what they used to be. If I come in on a Monday with an injury, I can adjust the UpWrite to accommodate my tired body, giving the old joints time to recover. You wouldn’t be able to do that with a fixed-height workspace. The main thing is that you can convert from standing to sitting in a matter of seconds, and you can still continue to work. And because the UpWrite is capable of going up to 50.5-inches, it can be adjusted to even the tallest person.
Think about it: some days you’re more tired than others, so being able to dynamically change your workspace is a big deal. When you’re standing (or even sitting), you’re also constantly moving and adjusting your feet. Having something that can continuously move as you do makes the whole experience easier to bear and much more comfortable. In addition, it also surprisingly helps with posture, encouraging you to stand erect instead of slouched over. If you do need to take a break, however, you can easily adjust the desk to lean on, or simply press a button and return to the sitting position for the next 30 minutes or so.
I have yet to test other standing desks—I’ve used some countertops—but I’m already in love with what the UpWrite offers. It’s a solid workspace that’s incredibly durable, and it isn’t so bad to look at despite featuring a solid whiteboard as the surface. UpDesk also offers the PowerUp, which comes with a typical laminate desktop and a number of different colors (maple, mahogany, black and orange), or you can get the CrankUp, which you can manually adjust with the built-in crank. Having used an electronic standing desk, I think it’s safe to recommend over a manual option, if not for the sheer convenience of being able to adjust to a saved setting with the press of a button.
The UpWrite model we tested was really spacious (at 60” x 30”), allowing me to fit my display, MacBook Air and more without feeling claustrophobic. The frame is also very sturdy—even at taller heights—and didn’t move around when leaning against it, no matter if I was sitting or standing; it feels safe and secure. And because it can bear up to 300 pounds, the UpWrite will be able to withstand pretty much anything you put on top of it. (Obviously sitting or laying on top isn’t ideal.)
Putting the UpWrite together took plenty of effort, but it’s doable for anyone that’s slapped together furniture from IKEA. The desk itself is very heavy, as are the reinforced steel legs, but otherwise there aren’t that many separate parts to keep track of. There’s a bag of tools and screws, a box that operates the motor, and a few cables that you need to connect in order for the motors to actually work. Otherwise it was simply a matter of putting the pieces in the correct places, like a puzzle. All said, it took about an hour to get everything out of their respective boxes and to put all the pieces in place.
We got the desk barebones, but UpDesk actually offers quite a few accessories to complete your workstation, including an anti-fatigue mat, cable pouch, monitor support and CPU caddy. There are also chairs (you’ll still sit, even when using a standing desk), which range in pricing. UpWrite already offers a cable management channel, and you get a 5-year limited warranty out of the box, so if anything should happen (to the electrically powered lift system, for example) you should be able to get it fixed. We’ve been conversing with the UpDesk team for a while now, and they’ve been incredibly helpful and attentive thus far, and I’d expect that treatment to be no different for other customers.
In the few months the UpDesk has been at our office, I haven’t once questioned its build quality and durability. Granted, the model we received starts at $1,149, so it isn’t cheap, but you do get a quality product in return, which is nothing less than we expected. The motor hasn’t once sputtered out—it moves up and down smoothly and with little effort, humming along like the fine-tuned machine that it is; it’s very quiet, and oddly soothing. I had concerns the mechanism would be jerky, but it’s not at all, and in fact comes to a nice smooth stop. And with the three programmable heights, it smartly moves to the exact height you want it.
There’s also a display right there on the motor controller, allowing you to see your precise preference. With a five-year warranty in place, UpDesk clearly has confidence its products will withstand the rigors of everyday use. We haven’t noticed any signs of wear and tear, though admittedly I’m not the most aggressive desk sitter (if there is such a thing). I tend to be pretty light on my feet, and don’t keep much stuff around, so I haven’t noticed any visible nicks on the tabletop or anywhere else. I have spotted a few scuffs on the whiteboard, but nothing major (they’re barely discernible unless you’re really looking for them). But even with such solid construction and materials, it’s nice to know UpDesk is offering customers such a long warranty.
Making the Switch
The thing about switching over to a standing desk is that there’s a huge period of adjustment. In workflow, in routine, in productivity. You probably won’t experience immediate benefits when switching over, and chances are you’ll actually feel pretty achy while your body gets used to the change. You’ll feel both physically and mentally exhausted. It’s similar when changing your behavior with anything; there’s that terrible period where you just want to fall back on old habits. There are actually mats you can buy to help ease the transition (as mentioned above), and obviously wearing the right footwear is crucial for your back and neck.
But it also takes mental fortitude. It’s difficult not being able to recline in a chair, or slouch deep under your desk. You wouldn’t think bucking your reliance on the simple act of sitting would be a huge deal, but that’s because not many people even know what it’s like to stand for longer than it takes to go through the grocery line; it’s why drive-thrus exist, and why it’s acceptable to own La-Z-Boy recliners (not knocking La-Z-Boy). Instead of passively plowing through your day like a zombie, sitting there pressing keys on a keyboard, you’re at least partially stimulated and more aware when standing. You feel the weight of your body, of your clothes. You feel pain. You can—gasp—stretch your legs and walk around. Yeah, I know, it’s new and weird, but it’s good for you. We don’t think to move around when we sit, mainly because we’re comfortable and don’t even realize the time going by.
There’s this terrible (but informative) chart from Medical Billing and Coding (via Lifehacker), that further highlights how sitting wrecks your body. For example: as soon as you sit, electrical activity in the leg muscles shut off. Calorie burning, too, drops to a measly one per minute; you can expect to burn about 100 calories, give or take, by simply taking a 20-minute walk. For most, walking takes very little effort. If you sit for more than ten hours a day? You’re hardly burning any calories at all, yet you’re constantly taking in calories with food. In addition, enzymes that help break down fat drops 90-percent. It gets worse.
According to the chart, people with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as people with standing jobs. After sitting for just two hours, your good cholesterol drops by 20-percent. The chart also highlights a more alarming (and obvious) fact: sitting makes us fat. Obese people sit for 2.5 more hours per day than thin people. As mentioned above, however, even if you are active, sitting for long stretches essentially cancels out all your hard gym work. You might not notice your outward appearance change much, but studies show that people who sit six or more hours per day have a higher chance of dying early compared to those who sit less than three hours per day.
You might be thinking to yourself: I sit all day, and I’m fine. But the negative effects of sitting are subtle, and typically begin to manifest over the years. Sit for more than six hours a day for a year, and you’ll probably experience some weight gain and higher cholesterol. Research shows that continuing this behavior for 10-20 years (believe me, it goes by faster than you think) can potentially shave off seven years of quality adjusted life. In addition to risk of heart disease going up, risk of prostate or breast cancer also goes up.
Standing up for your health
If you’re unable to afford (or unable to build) a standing desk, the best thing you can do for yourself (while at work or school or at home) is to get up and move around every hour or so. In an office? Go outside for five minutes and walk around the building. Instead of taking the shuttle at school, get there a little early and walk to class. The main thing is to move. Take breaks. Dance. Walk up or down some stairs. I know better than anyone how quickly time can go by while sitting. Set a reminder on your phone each day to get up from your seat. If every hour is too often for you, try every two hours, or three. The main thing is to move.
But that’s not to say you should stand all day if you do decide to get a standing desk. Standing without much movement can be just as harmful as sitting all day. During my time using the UpDesk, I took plenty of sitting breaks because I would get fatigued; I’d say my typical day at work I spent about 70-percent standing and the other 30 sitting. Over time I was able to build stamina and resistance to standing for longer periods, but taking sitting breaks was still necessary so I didn’t do any harm to my body.
If you do decide that you want to take on the challenge, don’t rush into it. Set small goals, and once you can consistently hit those, reach higher. If you’re not accustomed to standing for long periods and suddenly force yourself to do it, you’re probably going to hate it pretty quick. That’s not really the smartest way to approach anything new, especially if you expect to stick with it for longer periods. Try standing for thirty minutes, and then sit for an hour, and repeat. Build from there. And when you do stand, like I said, be sure to move, shift your weight, maybe do a little jig from time to time.
Given all the research that’s out there, there are some bonafide benefits to getting your butt out of that chair. That doesn’t necessarily mean standing desks are the answer, but they do encourage movement, which in turn leads to a healthier you. If nothing else, experiment for awhile before spending on an adjustable desk, which can certainly be on the expensive side. But remember to move around, take breaks. If you do stand, it’s ok to sit back down for a little while. And if you sit, remember to take breaks.
The UpDesk’s design, durability and functionality helped ease me into the world of standings desks.
Switching over to a standing desk isn’t easy. Having played soccer all my life, I’ve experienced my share of pain and suffering. Predominantly standing instead of sitting is definitely one of the tougher things I’ve experienced, but I’m glad I took on the challenge. Despite the early strain and fatigue I experienced, the UpDesk’s design, durability and functionality helped ease me into the world of standings desks. It’s definitely expensive for most, but in open offices and smaller startups, it’s an awesome piece of equipment. I still sit. I sit when I get tired. I sit when I want to relax. But thanks to the UpDesk, I was encouraged to sit a little less, and move around a little more. When it comes to your health, a little change can go a long way.
Helpful links: The Wirecutter: on standing desks and some nice alternatives. The New York Times: on why your chair is the enemy. Lifehacker: on how sitting damages your body. CNN: on how sitting is killing you. Direct link to UpDesk’s site is here.
UpDesk sent us the UpWrite for review. We used it over the course of two months before drafting his review.
- Easy to build
- Strong and spacious
- Five-year warranty
- Might be expensive for some