As part of the our movement guidance, we acknowledge that it is common to think of movement or exercise as an isolated activity or group of activities that occur in a defined period of time. This is commonly known as “a workout.” This paradigm restricts movement to a unit of activity, but movement need not be fenced off. Rather, movement can and should be incorporated throughout one’s daily life. Clustering intense activity into a workout is not necessarily bad, but it is certainly not our only option. Enter the standing desk.
First, however, let’s take a look at a recent study that was published about muscle activity when one is not exercising.
What did they do? In short, these scientists looked at whether exercise altered muscular activity or inactivity during the rest of the time that one is not working out. One strength of this study is that the scientists used special shorts outfitted with electrodes to actually measure muscle contractions throughout the day (and not just relying on peoples’ self-reports). They measured activity in 27 people (15 men, 12 women, 40.7 years ± 16.5 years) who had at least 1 day with and 1 day without exercise. Reported exercises varied from Nordic walking to strength training and ball games lasting 30 min-150 min.
What did they find? Perhaps not surprisingly, exercise significantly increased the time spent at moderate-to-vigorous muscle activity and significantly increased energy expenditure. However, muscular inactivity, defined individually below that measured during standing, comprised 72% ± 12% of days without and 68% ± 13% of days with exercise (not significantly different from each other). The authors conclude that, exercise for fitness, regardless of its duration, does not decrease the inactivity time during normal daily life. This means that even if you worked out today, you can still be a couch potato the rest of the day. This is not what we’re aiming for.
Well then, what should you do? So, if we think that our physical activity ends with a good workout, we’re apparently missing (or ignoring) the other 68-72% of the day that we are less active than when we are simply standing around. What can you do about this? Well, you could stand around more – and this is where we revisit the standing desk.
There are a number of standing desks on the market, but many of them are either: A) quite pricey or B) offer a very small workspace (podium-like) that doesn’t really compare to a full desk. Neither of these features really appealed to me, so I decided to build my own standing desk (or at least a platform for one – see above). This is a pretty good solution that I have been very happy with for some time now.
The basic idea is to measure how high you would want to raise your existing desk to make it a standing desk (pay attention to where your keyboard will rest – you will want to keep your wrists straight while typing), then build a frame out of 2×4’s to support your existing desk. You can get fancy and finish or paint it to match your existing desk, or you could just nail a few boards on the front and sides as I’ve done above. Whatever you decide to do, the advantages include having a customized height that works for you, having a nice wide workspace like a real desk, and having a cost that for me was no more than about $30 and part of an afternoon. Oh yeah, and substantial muscular activity all day long while you work! Now is that a good way to multi-task or what!