Writing is traditionally a sedentary pursuit, with hours spent hunched over a computer or notebook. But a growing body of research on the harmful health effects of sitting—and even comparisons of sitting to smoking—have prompted some writers to add standing desks or treadmill desks to their workspace.
Connecticut freelance writer Susan Lennon bought a LifeSpan treadmill desk a year and a half ago. “Sitting for eight, ten, or twelve hours a day was really affecting my health because I was sore and stiff and I had to find a better way to work,” she explained.
Now, Lennon has two workspaces in her home. When she’s writing, she’ll sit at a traditional desk, but when she’s doing research or emailing, she’ll walk slowly on the treadmill desk (the desk only accelerates up to 4 miles per hour, so it’s not for jogging or running).
Lennon said working on a treadmill desk does take some adjusting. “For specific types of writing tasks it’s very helpful,” she added. “There is a little bit of a ramp up period of acclimating to being on the move while you’re also typing.” So far, she’s logged over 550 miles on the desk, and gets additional exercise from lifting weights, walking her dog, and using a stationary bike.
For those freelancers who want to keep work and workouts separate, other writers prefer a standing desk. Vermont freelance writer Sarah Zobel had her husband build a standup desk out of leftover wood last fall next to a traditional sitting desk, and she estimates she drags her monitor over to the standing desk about 20 percent of her total work time. “It gives me a different perspective out my window,” she said. “I find it freeing. We’re always looking for ways to get the flow of words going, so that’s one of the biggest pluses.”
Standing desks aren’t a totally new phenomenon—in fact, it’s rumored Thomas Jefferson used one—but the new research on sitting has made them trendy. Andy Tracewell, director of marketing at Caretta Workspace, which launched a line of standing desks with cable management last year, told me they’ve become one of the company’s hottest product categories. “We got into it because we’ve done our more traditional style of sit-down desks and we got lots of inquiries over and over again about standing desks,” he said. Caretta Workspace is also developing a treadmill desk.
Karena Wu, a physical therapist with ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City, explained standing and treadmill desks can help those with injuries avoid forward bending-based posturing. However, she cautions that it’s possible to stand for too long and create joint compression. “You need to sit to give the body a break,” she said. “It’s the opposite of those who sit all day. Everything is in moderation. So, for every hour of standing or sitting, then you would do the opposite for ten minutes.”
Tim Pysell, director of physician assistants at OrthoCarolina, also uses a standing desk. He recommends getting ergonomic input from an expert before making the switch. And in addition to buying a specialized desk, keeping an ergonomic mat nearby can help cushion your feet when standing on a hard surface all day.
“I have found that it helps me to transition throughout the day from sitting to standing,” he said. “Having different positions throughout the day seems to be a good way to alleviate or prevent back pain.”
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