I Wanna Live Forever

If you’re one of those people who look the universe in the eyeball without flinching, choosing to accept uncomfortable truths when they are supported by the implacable judgment of Science, then you’ve probably acknowledged that sitting is bad for you. Like, really bad. If you’re not convinced, the conclusions are available in helpful infographic form; here’s an excerpt.

Sitting-Infographic

And, you know, I sit down an awful lot. Doing science, writing, eating, playing poker — my favorite activities are remarkably sitting-based.

So I’ve finally broken down and done something about it. On the good advice of Carl Zimmer, I’ve augmented my desk at work with a Varidesk on top. The desk itself was formerly used by Richard Feynman, so I wasn’t exactly going to give that up and replace it with a standing desk. But this little gizmo lets me spend most of my time at work on my feet instead of sitting on my butt, while preserving the previous furniture.

IMG_1173

It’s a pretty nifty device, actually. Room enough for my laptop, monitor, keyboard, mouse pad, and the requisite few cups for coffee. Most importantly for a lazybones like me, it doesn’t force you to stand up absolutely all the time; gently pull some handles and the whole thing gently settles down to desktop level, ready for your normal chair-bound routine.

IMG_1174

We’ll see how the whole thing goes. It’s one thing to buy something that allows you to stand while working, it’s another to actually do it. But at least I feel like I’m trying to be healthier. I should go have a sundae to celebrate.

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34 Responses to I Wanna Live Forever

  1. Matthew Rapaport says:

    You could just get up and go for a walk around the block every hour or two… I find standing and not moving (walking) very difficult on my feet, ankles, and back. Moving (walking) is not a problem for me, but standing in one place definitely is.

  2. Redshift says:

    I got one about six months ago (software developer, btw.) Everything I’d read said to ease into it and not to stand too much all at once, but I ended up standing pretty much all the time right from the start, and only had slightly sore calves for the first couple of days. I kept my chair and have a small table, but I hardly sit down at all when I’m at work.

  3. Matt Marsden says:

    Is sitting on one of those purpose made big beach ball type things any good? They seem to make you use more posture muscles naturally.
    Matt Mars
    (A Brief History of Timelessness )

  4. Merle Riley says:

    Watching your latest Great Courses on the Higgs has kept me on my feet for days.

  5. The discrete cut-off of 0.7 hours of vigorous activity a day falls short of a fair comparison. If someone (>40 yrs old; male) manages 1.5 – 2 hours of vigorous activity and sits for eight hours (mostly because of exhaustion) I would be hard pressed to find that the sitting would have the same deleterious effect as someone who spent only 0.7 hours of vigorous activity.

    Another way to look at it. Consume >3500 calories every day for one year and exercise enough so that your weight remains the same and sit for eight hours a day. I would doubt that person will have the same ‘bad’ effects from sitting as someone who consumes <1500 calories per day, stays the same weight all year, but sits eight hours a day.

  6. Shecky R says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that standing is better than sitting (and moving is better than standing in one place), and I go a step further that you might want to try Sean: I’ve rigged a flat low box with a layer off tennis balls and part of the day stand on those while at the work desk (with feet sans shoes), to get an automatic foot massage — you can cover the tennis balls with a folded beach towel to cushion the pressure if needed. I think it helps, and much cheaper than some store-bought foot massager.

  7. vmarko says:

    And if everyone were aware that “cal” is not the same as “kcal”, the world would be a slightly happier place…

  8. Mulder says:

    Sean,

    May I ask what website you play poker on? Is it free? I’m interested in learning how to play, which is why I’m asking.

  9. Sean Carroll says:

    I actually mostly play poker in real life, not online. Playing poker with no stakes isn’t much fun, and the US has decided that online poker for money is illegal.

  10. You’re using Richard Feynman’s desk ?! Wow!

  11. paul kramarchyk says:

    Your desk is way to clean.
    And what is my best search phrase for that chair?

  12. Moshe says:

    The next logical step is a treadmill desk, which I am actually contemplating.

  13. Darcy McGilvery says:

    Hi Sean. Good luck with the Varidesk. I’m 6 months into mine and find it to be a game-changer. And yes, it’s hard to stay diligent and actually stand. But at least it helps us to appreciate a good sit, knowing that we could be begrudgingly standing instead.

    Also, thanks for continuing to blog. Yours is the best physics blog I’ve come across in 6 years of searching.

  14. Louis Berman says:

    A treadmill desk is even better. I use the LifeSpan Fitness TR1200-DT7, a pricey but wonderful example of the breed. Ideally, I’d spend my entire day on the thing but seeing as I’m a programmer (i.e. someone who does a lot of keyboard and mouse work) It’d be a rare day that’d see me on the treadmill for even an hour at a time. Even so, the difference between sitting all the time and walking about a bit is tremendous…

  15. xebtl says:

    The creators of that infographic need to read their Tufte …

    http://www.salon.com/1997/03/10/tufte970310/

    (As for the new desk, good for you, Sean. I’m sure there is never any chartjunk in Sean’s graphs :-).)

  16. Dave Prentiss says:

    I’m 82 and sit a lot as well with the additional drawback of joints seeming to freeze up if I sit too long. My solution to this is to set a timer on my computer that goes off every 30 minutes to remind me to get up and move around. Keeps the concrete from setting and probably adds some calories as well.

  17. Platohagel says:

    The top picture is not quite extended to the standing position? Can you show where it is all the way to your standing height? The whole unit does not appear to be totally forward and seems to me like you would be bending forward. It may be my depth perception is the problem.

  18. Bee says:

    Looks great. Wish I could do this, my back would much appreciate it. Unfortunately I’d probably faint after an hour or so/not very helpful to my work productivity 😉

  19. Sean says:

    Stuff like this makes me even happier that I work outdoors. Working with plants at a nursery all day is not only good for the metaphorical soul, but healthy for the body as well. I spend all day lifting, moving, walking, and anything else BUT sitting and I stay constantly energized and happy (anecdotal, sure, but it does work for me). And when I get home and finally get the chance to sit down its a refreshing period of rest instead of a depressing finale to a day of inactivity. I dislike how popular culture sees outdoor jobs as low-paying and undignified, because people miss out on a serious chunk of highly satisfying and healthy work when they overlook something because it happens to be blue collar. The world would be a little better if we could all spend some time gardening!

  20. Brt says:

    I like to incorporate a sit/stand work stool. I can kind of sit while standing & use 60% of my legs, or just kick the chair back and stand all the way up. Or if I really need to get under a project or something in the manufacturing area, I can drop it all the way to the floor and sit semi-native american style while not getting my butt covered in dirt, grease, hydraulic fluid, etc.

  21. I’m afraid IMHO standing desks are VERY much not the answer. We all need regular exercise and those of us who are still working busy people with desk jobs tend to save time and neglect that bit. So standing desks attempt to give you that back /for nothing/ i.e. you burn calories whilst standing. But to me you are much less effective at your JOB whilst using a standing desk and don’t even get me started about treadmill desks! Regular exercise YES, standing desks NO. At the very least one can get a Fitness tracker which beeps to remind you to go out for a short walk if you have been stationary for too long. BUT PLEASE keep up this experiment and report back in 2 months as to whether you are /still standing/ or not.

  22. James Cross says:

    xebtl

    Agree about Tufte and the need to spiff up the graphic.

    I went to a one day presentation of Tufte a few years ago that I managed to get my employer to pay for. It came with three hardcover books that he has written. During the presentation he brought an original printing of a work of Galileo and showed it around. I only wish I had the talent to present data like he does.

    Regarding the 160 calories in the graphic, I don’t really think it makes much difference. We often see similar things about how small things can add up with diet or exercise. The problem is that the body is not a simple machine. We might not actually burn 160 more calories because the metabolism will slow in other activities and parts of the day (during sleep for example). Or, the extra calories burned will trigger some small unnoticeable additional amount of calorie consumption. The body strives to maintain equilibrium in weight. It takes really significant changes to have an effect.

    On the other hand, standing and moving has to be better than sitting. An idea I saw a few years ago that I implemented to a small degree involved holding meetings while walking. Instead of sitting around a table, go outside and meet while you walk.

  23. Douglas McFarland says:

    Must someday play poker with Sean Carroll. Will stand.

  24. Jim Cliborn says:

    Professor Carroll, Not sure if this will add to longevity or not, but it might give one some fun. It still needs 9k “supports” though. Regards, Jim

    https://ideas.lego.com/projects/94885