Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Get Up, Stand Up

R.E.M--"Stand" (mp3)

The social commentator A.J. Jacobs synchronistically wrote a backpage piece in Parade magazine last Sunday in which he took on the issue of standing up. It is a topic that has been on my mind for the last half year or so. Not as in politically or for a cause or for what is right or any of that. Just the act of staying on his feet.

Jacobs, who is kind of like Joel Stein, though not quite as funny and far more inclined to take an idea to the extreme--among other feats, he has already read the entire encyclopedia and "lived Biblically" for a year--spent an entire week standing, more or less.

The reasons why are not sheer silliness. As he notes in his Parade piece, "If you're chairbound for more than 23 hours a week, you can be 64 percent more likely to develop heart disease. Sitting may raise blood pressure and blood sugar levels. And it places you at risk for various cancers."

These are not random statistics. This kind of cautionary information emerged last year from one or more medical studies. And the facts spoke to me because the particular job that I took 7 years ago has lent itself to far more sitting at a desk than my previous incarnation as a full-time teacher. I was not the teacher type who likes to sit down while he teaches; I liked to use the board and to gain some classroom control by constantly moving around the room.

So, today I took the plunge. I had asked last year if I could swap out my current traditional desk for a standing desk, but that had gotten caught up in a bit of red tape--approval from my "division head" needed. And I had thought that with the upcoming office renovations I would have no trouble transitioning to a standing desk then. Until the money for those renovations dried up.

But then my "division head" got interested in the idea himself during a late-afternoon conversation we had several weeks ago, and he built a makeshift standing desk for his computer and has school carpenters building him a more permanent structure.

So even though I was the one pushing the idea, he actually beat me to the punch. But today, I figured it out. I measured where a standard desk touches my body, then stood up and took the same measurement. And then I started looking around my office and there sat the solution--a coffee table with books and pottery and school schwag on it that stood at the same exact height as the apparatus that I would need. After an afternoon of throwing out, creating new piles, having students help me with electrical cords, and a bit of scrubbing, I now have a makeshift standing desk. I am nothing if not the Macgyver of office solutions.

So I will be the poster boy, the pioneer, after all. His office is tucked away, while the windows in my office open my space broadly to everyone passing through the main thoroughfare of the school. I will be the one who gets the questions, the raised eyebrows, the chuckles, the endorsements, the doubters and the cheerleaders. Tomorrow will be tough, and I don't mean because of the onlookers, as will the days to follow. Jacobs equates the experience to feeling "like [he has] to safe-deposit boxes attached to [his] legs."

My wife has a law partner who has done it. "It takes a long time to adjust to it," my wife said. "She has had to change the kind of shoes that she wears and everything."

Clearly, as I learned today just from the few hours of getting the whole thing set up, the pseudo-boat shoes I've been wearing, with no cushioning and little support, are not going to do the trick. Maybe the current industrial carpet in my office won't do either. I may need to look into one of those Gel-Mats that you can get for your kitchen that cushion from leg and lower back pain.

I've known this feeling before anyway. Anyone who cooks, and who cooks for a large or special event knows what it is like to stand for an ungodly number of hours over a series of days, when a "good night's sleep" does nothing to rejuvenate that deadness in one's legs. I experienced that just this weekend, so maybe I'm ready to make that a chronic condition.

Maybe, when necessary, I'll just remind myself that, as Jacobs says, all of that sitting is "smoking-unfiltered-menthols-while-eating-cheese-fries bad" for you and maybe that will keep me on my feet. As for the questions, I picture myself making a sign about the health benefits of standing (or, rather, the health detriments of sitting) that I can just point to after awhile when I get tired of answering queries. And there are some things I can't imagine doing standing up, like reading. I'm sure you can imagine others.

But who knows? Hemingway always wrote standing up. Stonewall Jackson ate standing up. Daniel Day-Lewis takes Madeleine Stowe standing up in The Last Of The Mohicans. So there must be something to it. One thing I've already learned is that if I am standing when people come into my office, they remain standing, too, so perhaps I'll be spreading health benefits to all. Not students, of course. They're still at the age of invincibility. They'll be plopped in my many unused chairs.


Billy said...

I applaud the nobility and bravery of the change, and I will be curious to see whether it infects a few others.

I do, however, find it quietly amusing that you talk of the few health issues you are addressing with this change -- heart disease, blood pressure, cancer -- while practically ignoring all the potential physical ailments/problems this change could generate (knees, ankles, feet, back).

Yes yes, the latter are temporal and more superficial while the former are more lethal. But, one could argue, the former are debatable and about probability while the latter are inevitable and undeniable.

So, it's basically a trade-off, right?

Still, I'm very pro-change, so I say bully for you! Maybe I'll even catch the bug.

Susan said...

The other counselor in my office has had a standing desk for years. She loves it. She has a wireless keyboard however, and that allows her sit as well. That way she has the best of both worlds

rodle said...

Can't wait to hear how it turns out for you. I once tried the same thing for a couple years by putting my computer on a stand up desk and keeping my regular desk clear for things like grading papers or writing lecture notes. Using the stand up desk reduced strain on my back and aided my posture, and as long as I had good shoes I found it to be comfortable. Also, it had two unplanned but welcome side-effects: 1. I reduced the amount of time wasted on the computer. 2. I compartmentalized work, so when I was seated grading papers I didn't keep checking on the latest email or news update.

Bob said...

If interested in further reading, this article and the summary of research that follows it is a good starting point:

troutking said...

Prediction: JMC will walk in and say "I can't stand your new desk." Followed by finger point and tongue stick out.

Joel Parent said...

How did this work? Did you stick to it?