To Stand or to Smoke, That is the Loaded Question


Widely coined as the “new smoking” sitting has been getting a very bad reputation as the silent killer of late…for questionable reasons.

Correlated with diabetes, blood pressure, life expectancy and a long list of other gory consequences I’m not going to rehash what has already been done very well by the standing desk industry, aren’t marketers clever? A quick Google search for “sitting smoking” and all sorts of creative, colourful and graphical interpretations can be enjoyed…not to mention “buy now…on special” etc. Is it selling stand up desks? You bet. Is it solving the problem? Nope.

Today we are going to put some of this hype into context so that you don’t go and waste thousands on an automatically ebbing and flowing desk that senses your biometrics whilst coaxing you out of your neanderthal-ish position in front of that screen.

The Sydney Morning Herald can’t make its mind up between killer  and not  with science to support all sides of this new trendy argument. The Washington Post quotes a 2010 American Journal of Epidemiology study proving more than six hours a day gives an 18 percent higher mortality rate than those sitting for three or less. And here The British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2011 said that watching tv for six hours a day will reduce your life by 4.8 years, or more sensationally described as “every single hour of TV viewed after the age of 25 reduces life expectancy by 21.8 minutes”.

The trusty laptop rarely gets used on a lap any more

The trusty laptop rarely gets used on a lap any more at the expense of your neck/shoulders

Whoah! No more TV for me, I’ll stick to the iPad from now on.

I purchased a Varidesk about 2 months ago and for under $700 delivered I am more than impressed with this system. Two hand clips and a hydraulic assisted lift allow me to put it up and down in a matter of seconds and minimal effort. The $2000-$3000 electrically operated desks I looked at last year pale into the obscene distance in comparison.

Though I do like the novelty of a desk that is programmed to move every 30 minutes. I can see the look of frustration on the faces of cubicle bound workers as their pens, paper and books roll to the side as the keyboard and mouse start tracking skyward.

Are we that self-irresponsible that ergonomics, occupational health and body awareness needs to be delegated completely?

Here are the more glaring factors that I feel need to be addressed in the workplace before or IF humanity is going to progress towards consciousness in general:

1. Furniture comes second:

Maybe it should be second on this list, but it’s my No. 1 recommendation to office managers who are respectfully, missing the point. Educate the individual and super duper ergonomic furniture becomes much less relevant. However, while we are on the topic of furniture…let’s pull it to pieces.

The worst supportive chair is more than a half inch thick with padding and/or constructed from mesh.

Hopefully to be recycled into a couch with recline and gas lift...good for nothing else.

Hopefully to be recycled into a couch with recline and gas lift…good for nothing else.

Only a handful of ergonomic adjustments are necessary:

  1. height(of course)
  2. Back rest meets base
  3. Tilt forward is helpful(but level is essential).

That’s it. Lumbar support is irrelevant: it’s an out-dated, failed concept and akin to reinforcing levels 3-5 on a 25 story building in lieu of a foundation. Arms are largely irrelevant and more often get in the way of the chair coming all the way into the desk. (my chair has fold down arms, and that’s where they live permanently) Tilt back; great for neck and shoulder compression…on your way to the nursing home with your walker. If it’s time to lounge at the desk, then follow Step 3 below.

Desk must be adjustable to leg length. i.e. once the chair has been fitted to you the desk must be fitted to that height. Don’t settle for a foot rest, this is just a cheap compromise for not having a desk that meets your needs. If you must temporarily use a foot rest, it should be level(not inclined) and sit under your feet so that you’re not reaching out for it like you’re in the car. Why? Legs reaching out encourages your pelvis to roll backward so that you end up sitting into the sacrum (SIJ mayhem) and lower back.

2. The individual is self-empowered:

This is the single most important ingredient in any office environment. Educate the person (teach them to fish) – prevent a lifetime of musculoskeletal issues (feed them for life).

Knowing what your body is saying in real-time is key, not at the end of the day or week when the alarm bells are ringing at full tilt. It is possible to work at a desk and screen all day without neck, shoulder, back, hip tension building up.

But we think all of these are solved by better furniture or more exercise. Wrong. Even while you sit there reading this, your lack of self awareness leaves you disempowered to choose any different.

If you can feel pain…then the train has already left the station and is towards the end of the journey. With education on how your body actually works (and not just threatening facts about standing and sitting on cue) you will be on the train and knowing exactly where you’re getting off.

Neutral spine with head supported is unmatched in decompressing spine naturally

Neutral spine with head supported is unmatched in decompressing spine naturally

3. Stopping is applauded:

When office culture embraces stopping (for decompressive meditation) workplace health will improve so much that many people will lose their jobs in the occupational health/therapy fields. Instead of servicing symptoms with quick massages, in-house yoga, gym memberships, ergonomics, pain-management courses et al, the causes will have been addressed (by self-empowered individuals no less) and there will be no need for the “management” of consequences. If twice per day you would take 10-15 minutes to stop, let go, decompress the spine, settle the mind and restore your breathing and circulation to equilibrium would it plausibly make a difference? I do 15 minutes in my lunch break every day, have done so for 20 years. I’m in pretty good shape, upright, pain free and flexible. This is my process here.

4. Functional Understanding of Natural Coordination func® (event)

I love the groundswell of meditation going on. This is a very promising and much-needed development in the west. No need for incense and kaftans you can take a couple of minutes on the train, at a red traffic light and not have to tackle the lotus position. Yes, this is stopping… to a degree. But there is an anti-climax in mindfulness. Let me explain.

Simply scanning yourself, becoming aware of “what is” will net you some interesting information. Perhaps you can let go of tension wherever it has accumulated, release unhelpful thoughts and so on, but what you do when you get up from that chair is a re-enactment of the habits that you’ve just released. In other words, the things you don’t know you’re doing…

If you’re relying on your own subjective assessment of tension then what if your definition of “bad/good” tension is inaccurate? Let me give you an example.

You assume that your way of sitting up straight is the ideal scenario. What if your hip flexors are engaged? What if you become aware of this tension during your mindfulness, (primary cause of hip problems, knee wear and tear) but letting that go causes you to slump. Is that a good thing? How much tension is minimally necessary? And is “letting go” the answer? Your mindfulness is only half the equation because your anatomical education is limited such that there is no counter-balance to “letting go is good”.

Standing like this is only doing more harm to your back

Standing like this is only doing more harm to your back

5. Standing desks:

And so we return to our initial query as to whether sitting(aka smoking?) is worse than standing at the desk. Yes, it’s a useful innovation in the office, however it’s not solving the lack of awareness issue that is being compared to smoking. You can sit upright on and off all day healthily if you know how to balance on your bones(that the furniture allows you to feel, see point No. 1). Jumping to your feet shrieking “EUREKA” no more back problems is probably not going to last all year. But here are some tips that might help you string out the dream a bit longer:

  1.  Assuming you’ve placed it at a height with your forearms angled down slightly;
  2.  Stand evenly on both feet. Feel the pressure distributed 2/3 heel, 1/3 between inner ball and outer ball at the front of feet;
  3.  Take off your high heels or return the desk, you’ve wasted your money;
  4.  Keep your knees soft, not bent forward so that your thighs engage. Just make sure they are not locked backward and are available to keep moving. This regulates where your pelvis goes and therefore you no longer need to figure out “where is my pelvis supposed to be?”
  5.  If your feet get tired (You’ll notice yourself standing into a hip) then it’s time to sit down. Build up your stamina gradually. Standing in the one spot (as is sitting) for hours is not the slightest bit natural for a human. Where in the evolution of the human were we doing this?
  6.  If you want to give your feet a rest, shift the weight of your body across to the other leg without dropping into your hip. It will feel like work in order to balance…but that’s a good thing;
  7.  Lower the desk to bar stool height… and bring in a bar stool. It will create a variation between sitting and standing where you can perch;
  8.  Listen to your body…your feet, your back, your shoulders, your neck, your arms, your hands, your fingers, your breathing…as you work. Listen and acknowledge or ignore and continue to perpetuate the same problems you had in the chair.
  9.  20-30 minutes up, 20-30 down. This is the scientifically agreed upon time, but you may increase durations as your stamina improves.

If you have other queries or complications, please don’t hesitate to ask. I work at my screen between 3-10 hours per day…I’m fairly qualified.

And please check out our func®Shop this month for Desk Workers. When was the last time you were looking forward to Monday? Guarantee this event will give you that inspiration.

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