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28 Feb 2024

Standing tall – It’s been over a week now since I returned from a trip to Texas to visit family, and I have been spending my time getting back into the swing of things and gearing up for the rapidly approaching semester. It didn’t take long for deadlines to start accumulating like the snow that fell last week (our last of the winter, I would imagine), and now I’m looking at a busy few weeks ahead.

“I’ve been using the desk for about a week now, and I must admit that it took me a day or two to get used to it.”

I wanted to write about something other than my busy schedule today, though. This all goes back to my medical examination at the end of last year. No, there were no unpleasant surprises; the results were pretty good news all around. I was pleased to see that my biological age is 44, for example. Considering the fact that I am going to be 51 in less than two months, I thought that was not bad. As part of the checkup, though, I had to fill out a questionnaire about my lifestyle, and the one thing that struck me was just how much time I spend sitting. I do walk to and from school every day, a round trip of five kilometers, but once I get there, if I am not teaching class or doing something else I am sitting on my rump in front of my computer. We all know by now that spending most of your day sitting is not good for your health, and although I wasn’t reprimanded by the doctors for spending so much of my day seated (probably because it’s not unusual here), I realized that something had to change. I mentioned this in passing to a student who had come to my office to talk about her dissertation and she said, “That’s why I got a standing desk!”

I’ve heard of these before, of course. There are desks that are just simply taller and at which you stand to work, but I was interested in an adjustable desk (if someone says “standing desk” in Korean, this is probably what they mean). At around that time I got an email from the department TAs asking us if we needed anything for our offices. We get a stipend each year that we can spend on “research materials,” which basically means anything that we might use in our research—which includes things for our offices like furniture, devices, etc. I realized that this was the perfect opportunity, so I had one of the TAs order me an adjustable desk from a popular Korean firm called “Desker.” This was the week before I left for Texas, and when I got the shipping information I saw that it was scheduled to arrive on the day of my outbound flight.

Thus, it wasn’t until last Monday that I was able get my new desk. Actually, Monday was my first day back in the office and a little hectic as I tried to catch up with everything. I also needed to clear off space on my desk to put the thing—it is not a desk in itself, but something you put on top of an existing desk—so it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that I finally got it set up. Here’s what it looks like in the standing position...

...and this is what it looks like in the sitting position...

(That’s also a brand-new monitor in those photographs; I had funds left over, so I decided to upgrade my monitor. I can also see in these pictures that my wrist rest (in front of the keyboard) has definitely seen better days. Maybe I should get a new one of those, too.)

I’ve been using the desk for about a week now, and I must admit that it took me a day or two to get used to it. By that I mean that the first couple of days I kept forgetting to stand up; I would be working there as usual and realize that I had just spent another couple of hours sitting on my butt. Even in the sitting position, though, there is an advantage to the desk that I did not anticipate. When my previous monitor was sitting directly on top of my desk, it was rather low, which meant that I was looking down at the screen instead of straight ahead. This is something that is supposed to be not good for you, especially considering that I messed my neck up years ago when writing my dissertation and it still sometimes hurts when I get tired. Now, even when I am sitting, I can hold my neck straight and look straight at my monitor.

The real advantage of the desk, of course, is that I can quickly and easily raise its height to a standing position. There are two levers on either side just below the surface, and pressurized cylinders of some sort (they feel like hydraulic cylinders, but I’m not entirely sure) make it super easy to lift the desk as I stand up. I can also adjust the height of the new monitor, allowing me to hold my neck straight while standing as well.

So, how is it? Well, I think it’s too early to talk about improved health outcomes, but I can say that once you get used to the idea of standing up regularly, it is pretty easy. This does require me to take stock of my schedule in the morning to figure out when I should stand and when I should sit. On days when I have no other appointments and am just by myself in my office all day, it is fairly straightforward, and I usually spend more than half of the day standing. If I am meeting with students, though, those meetings generally happen sitting down, so I have to work around that, in addition to working around lunch time (I eat lunch at my desk in my office, and I like to do that sitting down).

I’ve not found it all that difficult to stand up for extended periods of time. I already stand for 75 minutes while teaching undergraduate classes, and so far the longest period I’ve spent standing has been about two hours. You might think that I would be counting the minutes until I could sit again, but I haven’t found that to be the case. For that two-hour stretch, I actually lost track of the time and ended up standing for longer than I had planned. You don’t want to be standing all day, either, but given how sedentary my office lifestyle has been up to this point, I don’t think I need to worry too much about that. I’ll err on the side of standing longer, as I can always sit down again if I get tired. I imagine that once the semester starts I will probably not spend too much time standing at my desk on my class-heavy day (Tuesday), but otherwise I intend to continue standing at every opportunity.

As I get older, I realize that it is going to be things like this that keep me healthy—lasting lifestyle changes, not drastic measures. HJ and I have started making other lifestyle changes at home in terms of our diet, but I will save that for another day, perhaps. For the time being, I am happy with my adjustable desk, and I hope it will help me avoid (or at least mitigate) some of the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

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