Harvard Suggestion: Stand Up At Work!

Standing desk

I once visited the dacha near Moscow where Boris Pasternak penned “Doctor Zhivago,” and what struck me most was that in his little office, he had a chest-high “standing desk,” where he could write standing up. At the time, my thought was “Hemorrhoids?” But these days, new research suggests he may have been on to something of widespread health value.

Dr. Julie Silver of Harvard Medical School writes in a recent LiveStrong blog post that she noticed her colleague, Pat Skerrett, the editor of the Harvard Heart Letter, standing a lot in his office. Turned out he started standing to lessen back pain, but recommends it for a broad range of benefits — including possibly a longer life — in a Harvard Business Review post.
Silver writes:

What I really love about Pat’s advice is this:
1. It’s based on a new study that just came out which included more than 100,000 men and women. This study found that people who sat for more than six hours a day were more likely to have died (over a 14 year period) than those who sat for less than three hours a day. The authors of this study wrote, “The time spent sitting was independently associated with total mortality, regardless of physical activity level.” The researchers went on to say, “Public health messages should include both being physically active and reducing time spent sitting.”
2. It actually makes you MORE efficient at work, rather than taking time away from your daily tasks. Pat highlights key points that include potential brain health benefits–increased alertness and productivity.
Can one simple thing change your life? Stand up and see…

Opinions vary on the good to be gained from standing up at work: The “Room For Debate” blog at The New York Times published a range of them under the title “Is All That Sitting Really Killing Us?” including the view that standing can pose physical problems as well.

For the hard-core who work at home or in an extremely tolerant office, there’s also the treadmill-desk. A friend of mine who’s a technology early adopter got one recently, and writes:

I am loving this treadmill desk I got although it really belongs in a New Yorker cartoon. But the fact is that I would rather work than exercise and now I can do both, the latter being hardly noticeable but very effective at the end of the day when I have been walking for four hours! (slowly) I recommend it to all despite its expense ($5k). No monthly fees. No shlepping through snow, rain or heat. No scene to demoralize one about lost youth and the shallowness of humankind. No conflicts about getting work done. No bad back from sitting all day. And, a surprising benefit, I believe I think better on my feet. I go fast on the phone (2m/hr) slower when typing (1m/hr) (actually both are fairly slow), and to answer e-mails, I sometimes use dictation software (also now excellent) so that I don’t have to type and can turn up the treadmill a bit faster. I know it sounds crazy, and it is, but fun crazy, and effective crazy, not true friends should want-to-stage-an-intervention crazy.

True, most of us will not want to shell out $5,000 for a treadmill desk. This from Pat Skerrett:
“I enjoy CommonHealth, and am delighted you let your readers know about standing at work. It isn’t for everyone, but I certainly like it. If you are interested in providing your readers with information on how to build or buy a stand-up desk, I’ve provided some links.” They’re here.

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