A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published an article asking “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?” The answer, apparently, is “yes.” The article looks at the work of the Mayo Clinic’s James Levine, who does research in the amusingly-named field of “inactivity studies.” The upshot?
Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. “Excessive sitting,” Dr. Levine says, “is a lethal activity.”
As an academic who also cares about how long he lives, I find this troubling. It might not surprise you to learn that my daily work as a college faculty member involves more than a fair amount of planting my ass in a chair. Most of the reading, writing, grading, course prep, email correspondence, etc. happens while I’m sitting. Add to that a 3-hour round-trip commute to work, and things don’t look so good for me.
But what if I could do some of my work standing up? The idea of a standing desk isn’t new—apparently, Thomas Jefferson used one—but the idea has been getting more attention recently. I noticed that Boing Boing‘s (and Make‘s) Mark Frauenfelder was talking about a standing desk prototype, and also linking to what other people are doing, so I got to wondering if it would work for me. However, I didn’t want to sink a bunch of time and money into building (or buying) a standing desk without knowing whether I liked it or not.
So, following Frauenfelder’s idea of simply putting an elevated platform on an existing surface, I stood up and measured the distance from my hands (in typing position) to the top of our dining table (where I often work). I figured I needed something 15 inches tall, so I wandered the house with a measuring tape, and discovered that our Ikea POÄNG footstool fit the bill. Thus I ended up with this no-fuss standing desk prototype:
Of course, this isn’t a permanent solution, but it’s helping me figure out whether a desk like this will work for me, and what my preferences are. I like the incline, for example, but it needs a lip at the end to hold my laptop more securely. I’d also like it to be somewhat narrower, and of course I need to put something on the legs to keep them from scratching the table—because, if I did scratch the table, the question of extending my life might be moot.