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Locals promote healthy living with standup desks
March 28, 2014 - Andy Flynn
This week: 413 lbs.
Last week: 421 lbs.
Start (Dec. 17): 470 lbs.
Total lost: 57 lbs.
There are many health gurus out there who want to take the “sit” out of obesity. The problem is, when they replace it with “stand,” you get obestandy, and that doesn’t make much sense.
What does make sense, according to recent health studies, is that people have a better chance of living longer the less they sit. Actually, the studies and subsequent media reports spin the results in the negative, saying you have a better chance of dying early if you sit more. In a May 25, 2013 report, the Los Angeles Times quoted James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, as saying, “The chair is out to kill us.”
I’m not sure I’d go that far with the scare tactics in this latest battle against obesity, but the studies are clear. Standing is better for you. After all, before the cubicle, computer and board room were invented, humans were designed to walk, not sit, in order to survive.
Some office managers in the Olympic Region have adopted the upright position and promote healthy living habits by creating standup work stations for their employees. For example, all five employees have standup desks at the Adirondack Foundation office on the Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid.
They can thank Donor Services Officer Melissa Eisinger for the inspiration. Eisinger, who calls sitting at her desk “uncomfortable and irritating,” first spread the standup desk philosophy among her co-workers when she worked at the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and Adirondack Land Trust in Keene Valley.
“I was the only person standing for many years,” Eisinger said. “Then Mike Carr started having back problems, and I said, ‘Just try it.’ And he loved it. Another guy, Todd, had back problems, and he started standing. And then everybody else saw how good it was, and they wanted it, too. It was kind of contagious.”
That enthusiasm followed Eisinger when she began working at the Adirondack Foundation.
“When she got here, she said, ‘I want a standup desk,’” said Program Officer Andrea Grout. “We said, ‘What? How can you stand up all day?’”
Eisinger’s desk is essentially a wooden board held up by four telescoping metal legs purchased at IKEA. She leans against a stool when she needs a break from standing.
Then the idea spread. Executive Director Cali Brooks wanted a standup desk, so a homemade monitor and keyboard stand was built for her out of wood. And when Director of Finance and Administration Beth Benson visited Adworkshop in Lake Placid, she saw a commercial model she liked.
“We searched online because we all liked the idea, so it caught on,” Grout said.
The other standup desks in the office are made by Ergo Desktop.
“This model is called The Kangaroo, and it’s because it goes up and down,” Grout said, pointing to her desk. “It’s on a hydraulic, so you can adjust the top part where your monitor sits and move the whole thing down if you want to sit, if you have work where you need to be sitting or get foot fatigue.”
Ergo’s models range from $300 to $600, and The Kangaroos at the Adirondack Foundation cost $500 each. The wood-and-metal stand holds a monitor and keyboard and is placed on the employee’s desk.
Grout has been using her standup desk for about a year. She said it makes her pay closer attention to her posture. Plus, her back feels better, and she has less “fanny fatigue.”
“It’s more apparent when you’re hunching over and leaning toward the screen to see, when you’re standing, because you feel yourself tipping,” Grout said. “When you’re sitting, you don’t notice that. So I find myself correcting my posture and standing up straight when I’m standing at the desk.”
When Chris Morris left a reporter’s position at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise to become the Adirondack Foundation’s communications manager in June 2013, he wasn’t forced into using a standup desk.
“I was given a choice,” Morris said. “I was actually interested and intrigued by it because I was a reporter before I came here and when you’re not out in the field, you spend most of your time sitting in front of the computer. ... I wanted to try it.”
Morris is healthy and is in relatively good shape, but he’s always had back problems.
“My back pain went away in the course of a few weeks,” Morris said. “It was always lower back pain, and I think it was just from being hunched over and sitting down. Standing up for eight hours working just kind of stretched everything out.”
Morris’ co-workers also report improved health with the standup desks. Benson, for example, said her hips hurt when she sat all day, but they don’t hurt anymore. They also say they have more energy.
“You’re standing up, so you feel kind of proactive in a way,” Morris said.
More than a conversation starter, the standup desks are also beneficial from customer service viewpoint. When you walk in the Adirondack Foundation’s front door, Morris’ desk is straight ahead, and Grout’s desk is to the left.
“We’re up already, and we can greet them a little more effectively,” Morris said.
The staff admits, it took some time to get used to standing all day.
“My feet would get really sore,” Grout said. “We have a hardwood floor, so I have a thick yoga pad I stand on.”
For Morris, it took more time to get used to the keyboard. For Benson, she finds that sitting is now the exception, not the rule, even at home.
“Now I find that when I’m not at work I stand up more than I used to,” Benson said. “It makes you more aware of how you feel when you are standing.”
So is the break room just one big, tall table with no chairs?
“We don’t have a break room, actually,” Grout said.
Standing isn’t mandatory at the Adirondack Foundation, according to the boss, but it has helped productivity.
“Employees who are feeling good about themselves and energized about being at the office makes work more productive,” Brooks said. “Every employee here wanted to have the option of standing up or sitting down. In particular, the Kangaroos are a great option for employees to be able to go up and down and motivate them to feel good about being at work and getting a lot done.”
Standup desks are not a fad for the Adirondack Foundation employees. They have simply become part of the office culture.
“We don’t frown on people who like to sit, though,” Grout said.
When it comes to trying a standup desk, you could buy one for hundreds of dollars or make one from scratch with available items at home or in the office.
“It’s something you can try relatively easy,” Morris said. “When we visited Felipe at the Vermont Community Foundation, he had just taken all of the biggest books in his office and stacked them until they were at the right height. And then he just put his laptop in top. So if you haven’t tried it and you’re kind of curious and you don’t want to spend the money on an official setup, you can do it pretty easily.”
And so the inspiration continues. On Friday, March 21, I looked around the Lake Placid News office and tried to find available items to create my own standup desk. I set a short wooden bookshelf on my desk, placing the monitor on the top shelf and the laptop computer on the bottom shelf. Then I put a section of an antique bookshelf — complete with a glass door — in front to hold the keyboard and mouse. When I need to sit, I can move the front section to the side and unplug the monitor to see the laptop screen, which sits at eye level. And it didn’t cost the newspaper one penny.
Now all I need is a pad to stand on, and I can start improving my chances of living longer with my standup desk.
Next week: An exciting, fat-burning update with my newest friends.
Contact Andy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Adirondack Foundation Executive Director Cali Brooks stands at her desk. (Photos — Andy Flynn)