01 April 2015 - Dave Jackson

Is sitting the new smoking? Try a standing desk.

The term “sitting is the new smoking” has been bandied about the place recently. Researchers have found that prolonged sitting increases the risk of developing several serious illnesses like heart disease, various types of cancer, diabetes, digestion problems, bad circulation and of course back and neck problems.

A reason the smoking analogy is relevant is that studies have repeatedly shown the effects of long-term sitting are not reversible through exercise or other good habits. Sitting, like smoking, is very clearly bad for our health and the only way to minimise the risk is to limit the time we spend on our arses each day. Technology is tying us to our desks more than ever, we no longer get a break by running to the fax machine or photocopier and face to face meetings are becoming less frequent. It wouldn’t be uncommon for someone to spend 3 or 4 hours sitting without moving a muscle. We are all told to take a break every 20 minutes and get up for a stretch but in reality this just isn’t workable.

My Story

Like most in this industry I spend a lot of time sitting in front of my computer, too much time and its impossible to avoid. As a project manager and web designer, long hours would be spent leaning into my screen to focus on the fine detail of our creations. I always keep good posture and it was never a problem until a few years ago when I started to notice I was getting a stiff neck, I got temporary relief by stretching it to a point where I could hear a cracking noise. After leaving the office I often spend time looking down at my phone or tablet, my 10 pound head leaning forward is putting up to 60 pounds of pressure on my back. Few things I was doing were helping me.

Over the last year my back problems have gone from bad to worse. I spent about €800 on a posh Herman Miller chair, everyone should have a good chair and ergonomic setup at work but it doesn’t change the fact that we are still sitting for too long. An MRI showed that over time I had developed bulging disks and a trapped nerve in my neck that was causing arm pain and numb fingers. Sitting in any position was uncomfortable, I pretty much had constant pain or discomfort. So I started my journey of trying a mixed bag of expensive treatments — Massage, Chiropractors, pills, Osteopaths, acupuncture — things were so bad I would try anything I could, it cost a fortune, while I got some temporary relief the fact thatI went back to work to sit for 8 hours just made any treatment redundant. There is no point in treating something while you are still causing the problem.

Standing Desk

I realised if I didn’t stop sitting for 8 hours a day my problem would never go away. This brought me to standing desks, working at a PC but on my feet, sounds exhausting! I didn’t want to spend the full day standing, I wanted to be able to switch between standing and sitting easily. I came across the VARIDESK, its a retrofit adjustable platform that sits on top of your existing desk, you put your monitor, keyboard, mouse and anything you want on top of it and move it up and down easily as you need to. When you feel the need to stand just raise the Varidesk up using the handles on either side, the springs take the weight of the equipment. I have a 15″ Macbook Pro, a 27″ Apple Thunderbolt display and usual bits and pieces – a child could lift the lot when its on a Varidesk. I got the Varidesk Pro Plus (36″), it is a 2 level design where your screens are on a higher level than your keyboard. I’m just about 6 foot tall, if I was any taller this may need to be put on a higher table but its perfect for me.

DaveStanding

This is is the single best thing I have done for my back and neck. Within a week of reducing my sitting time I felt much better. Starting out I would spend maybe a few hours a day standing at the desk, my feet, legs and lower back got tired. Now, 3 weeks in I probably stand for up to 5 hours a day, in fact I’m more comfortable standing than I am sitting. My legs still get a bit tired but its nothing compared to the problems I was having before.

The future

This is the future folks, “sitting is the new smoking” sounds dramatic but after what I have been through I believe that in 5 or 10 years a lot more people are going to have serious spine issues when the smartphone effect kicks in. Don’t waste money like I did on expensive treatments, this will give you temporary relief but you need to address the cause of the problem first. If I had done this sooner I would have easily saved multiples of the price of the Varidesk.

It does look strange, me standing with everyone else around me sitting but I think this is going to become a lot more common. Its also great when a few people come to see something on your screen, everyone can stand around it and view it at eye level instead of bending over a screen.

Where to get one

In Ireland, the Varidesk Pro Plus (36″) cost €405 + VAT , delivery was fast, free and Mark was very helpful in my dealings with him.