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From Elton John to the brain-bottom connection: unexpected side-effects of a standing desk

Thursday 12 July, 2012 by Bek

Bek sitting at her desk - being creativeWhen Dwight from US series of ‘The Office' gets a standing desk, he makes several salient points (for a fictional character in a TV series) – he says he feels healthier and has more energy. He also likens his sitting colleagues to a ‘suicide cult'. Now while this is clearly an extreme statement, there is a kernel of truth to the fact that prolonged workplace sitting is emerging as a real public health issue. It has been linked to musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes and even premature death. Sedentary behaviour is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer.

We are currently trialling sit-to-stand desks amongst other health interventions to reduce sitting time at Cancer Council. For the past two months I have been lucky enough to either sit or stand at my desk – the desk has an electronic elevator which allows you to raise or lower it at will and (this is the coolest bit) sounds like I'm driving a forklift.

Yes, I have felt more energetic, less likely to hit a wall at 3pm and to be honest less irritable because I've never really been good at sitting for long periods. Initially I thought I would alternate between sitting and standing half a day each but as time has gone on I find myself standing much more than sitting.

Bek's standing deskPerhaps more interestingly I have experienced/learnt some unexpected things:

1. There's some sort of brain-bottom connection that means I can't write anything creative unless I'm sitting. I can do lots of admin tasks while standing like replying to emails and drafting short media releases but if I have to go to the next level I find myself whirring the desk down. I am going to challenge this over the next few weeks.

2. I stand out (apologies but there will be more puns coming). Myself and a colleague who is also in the trial stand out like skyscrapers in the outer suburbs in our open plan office. This is both a plus and a minus – a plus in terms of my ability to be clearly heard from one end of the building to the other, this is likely to be a minus to everyone around me. And ladies, if you want to know if your roots are beginning to show, or gents if your bald patch is growing, you know where to come.

3. I am becoming so used to standing that when I work from home I can't stand sitting for long periods – unfortunately this results in frequent trips into the fridge.

4. Further to point 2, I regularly receive links to YouTube clips for songs by Elton John ('I'm still standing'), REM (‘Stand') and less frequently Tammy Wynettte (‘Stand by your man').

5. I feel less sluggish when I get home. It seems a bit counter-intuitive but I am less likely to flop on the couch and more eager to walk the dog or head to the gym.

While I'm lucky enough to be involved in the trial, there are lots of ways you can cut down on the amount of time you spend on your behind such as:

1. If you attend a lot of meetings, break them up by suggesting a walking meeting. These work better with a small group as in larger groups it's difficult to hear everyone.

2. If you have no joy with the walking meeting, suggest a standing meeting – you will find there's an additional benefit to these, they don't tend to drag on like some traditional meetings.

3. Schedule in regular breaks. You could even set an alarm on your computer or phone to remind you to get up and move about. Aim to get away from desk even if it's for a minute or two once every hour.

4. Cut back on the email by walking over to chat to colleagues or physically take documents to them.

If you've got any tips on how to break up sitting at work, l'd love to hear them.

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