As a person who writes for a living, I can tell you that people are really not meant to sit around all day writing. My back, neck, and shoulders have been increasingly complaining, and I’ve detected an insidious creeping girth. I finally decided to change my work habits. I recently came across this item: a beautiful wooden standing desk on Kickstarter, made by a company called JASWIG (“jigsaw” rearranged), which adjusts to any height and is suitable for anyone, anywhere. I backed JASWIG’s campaign, of course, and now I’m hoping they make their goal so I can make mine! Meanwhile, I’ve rigged up a temporary desk in my bedroom. The results have been quite extraordinary.
It seems I’m in good company. Kierkegaard wrote standing up, as did Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, and Virginia Woolf. Standing desks were all the rage back in 1883, when Popular Science recommended that “at the first symptoms of indigestion, book-keepers, entry-clerks, authors, and editors should at once get a telescope-desk.”
A 1954 Paris Review interview describes Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban writing set-up – a square foot of bookcase with a tiny typewriter perched on it. “A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway … stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu – the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.”
I don’t have a problem with indigestion, and I certainly don’t have a skin of lesser kudu, but science is squarely against sitting. In a recent study of over 100,000 US men and women, those who sat more than six hours a day were far more likely to die over the course of the 14-year study than those who sat for less than three hours a day. This was true no matter how much they exercised!
As James Vlashos puts it in the New York Times, sitting at your desk all day and then going to the gym for an hour makes no more sense than trying to “counter a pack-a-day smoking habit by jogging.” In fact, Dr. James Levine from the Mayo Clinic, says that “sitting is the new smoking.”
This “sitting disease” is strongly linked to cardiovascular disease and premature death, which I would like to avoid. In London, bus drivers have much higher rates of heart disease the bus conductors (who stand). An Australian study found that every hour of daily sitting increases the risk of dying by 11 percent. We spend, on average, nearly 6 hours a day at our desks, so cutting that in half would increase our life expectancy by two years. Researchers also suspect that excessive sitting is responsible for some 49,000 cases of breast cancer, 43,000 cases of colon cancer, 37,200 cases of lung cancer, 30,600 cases of prostate cancer, 12,000 cases of endometrial cancer and 1,800 cases ovarian cancer each year. That’s a lot of cancer. We don’t quite know why, but apparently, standing produces some mysterious x-factor that combats these diseases.
Small wonder, then, that standing desks are becoming popular once more. The journal Preventive Medicine reports that on average, standing desks increase heart-rate and “good” HDL cholesterol, and don’t really affect typing efficiency or other regular office activities. People who use active desks are happier, with less fatigue, stress, confusion, or depression. Standing desks encourage good posture, engage leg and abdominal muscles, increase blood flow, burn calories, and give greater energy, focus, and happiness to those who use them!
But why start at my age? Jaswig originally made the desks just for kids – because they felt good habits should be developed young. Many studies show that letting children stand is good for them. It’s kind of obvious once you think about it – what sadist came up with the idea of requiring wriggly little kids to sit down all day? And then we are surprised that they can’t sit still? And why would we want them to hunch over a desk for 7 hours anyway?
JASWIG’s wooden desks were designed with children specifically in mind. They are beautifully simple, and easily adjusted by a six year old. Adults wanted them too, and now they make adult sizes – even ones for treadmills.
The JASWIG team call themselves social entrepreneurs, and donate standing desks for research on the benefits of standing up in classrooms, especially for students with learning difficulties. They also reinvest 10 percent of their profits to projects to improve education in underfunded areas. Their focus on personal health for future generations permeates everything they do. The desks are manufactured from environmentally responsible materials and made locally in the US (or in Belgium for EU orders). The wood is sustainably sourced (FSC-certified) and complies with European standards, and they happily offer a take-back program, for re-use or recycling.
The switch to standing has made a huge difference for me. My back feels better, partly because I am constantly stretching and moving. My Fitbit shows I’m taking thousands more steps each day, and I’ve noticed an improvement in my core body tone, and I just feel more alert. I’ve even lost a few pounds.
Standing burns about 50 more calories per hour than sitting, meaning that over the course of a year, using the desk four hours a day, I will have burned the equivalent of running 10 marathons! I’ll never go to the gym again! Oh wait, I never did. Of course, I seem to work about four times that much, so I intend to be as honed as a Kenyan Olympian in no time.
You can support the JASWIG team in their efforts (and mine) by backing their Kickstarter campaign. Their goal is to sell 250 desks in 30 days, adding up to 1000 hours of standing per day instead of sitting. Join me and stand up for your future. Good luck, guys.