Posted by: Kevin G. Parker, D.C.
Written by: DANIEL ENGBER-NY TIMES 3-2014
Standing desks are nothing new.
Nor is their use as therapeutics.
Recent studies may warn that time spent sitting correlates with heart disease and early death, but such worries go back centuries.
“A sedentary life may be injurious,” the Presbyterian minister Job Orton advised in 1797.
“It must therefore be your resolute care to keep your body as upright as possible when you read and write; never stoop your head nor bend your breast. To prevent this, you should get a standing desk.”
The Swiss physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot had earlier outlined some ailments brought on by too much sitting: Deskbound intellectuals, he wrote, suffered from poor circulation and engorgement of their innards.
Bad posture and lack of exercise made them susceptible to dropsy and hemorrhoids.
While Tissot prescribed a regimen of tennis, badminton and croquet to combat these effects, others advocated standing work.
In 1836, the American minister and professor of rhetoric Ebenezer Porter argued that the standing desk was a good remedy for “those who have the animal vigor to sustain the exhaustion it occasions.”
Office life in the 19th century involved much less sitting than it does today.
A self-help book from 1858 suggested that professionals practice penmanship on their feet — since “nearly half” of all business writing was done at standing desks.
Inventors of the era filed patents for bureaus that could be adjusted with cranks.
Yet by the mid-20th century, the practice had grown rare enough to seem an eccentricity.
Upon visiting Ernest Hemingway in the mid-’50s, George Plimpton noted that he kept his typewriter on top of a bookcase and stood while he wrote, even though he had a “perfectly suitable desk in the other alcove.”
Today’s adjustable desks — with counterbalanced, spring-loaded or electric-powered designs — are much easier to elevate than older, hand-cranked models.
But it’s not clear that they will improve our health.
While the dangers of sitting are well documented, says Alan Hedge, professor of human factors and ergonomics at Cornell University, too much time on your feet may cause a different set of health problems, including varicose veins and musculoskeletal injuries. (Many people who use standing desks end up leaning awkwardly as they work, he argues.)
In any case, mobile devices could mitigate the need for better office ergonomics.
“It’s really the Internet that allowed you to get information without moving a muscle,” Hedge says. “But if you’re using your smartphone or tablet, chances are you’re not sitting at your desk.”
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