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.


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.


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.


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. BobC says:

    Standing at least some of the time is a great start, but once standing there are some simple activities that can be done to maximize the benefits and minimize the negatives, especially if standing time is limited.

    1. Lift one foot an inch or so, and see how long you can work on one leg. But don’t struggle: Put the foot down, or at least touch the toe, before toppling or staggering! The more often you try (over days and weeks), the easier it gets and the longer you will go. If this is too difficult, put one foot on a small 3-4″ step located about 6″ to the front. Be sure to give each leg equal time, using a timer if needed.

    2. Full-body breathing. Let your abs relax and take some full-belly breaths. This will also take some stress off your back, and encourage you to stand neutrally (spine “stacked”). Adjust the desk distance, and keyboard and monitor heights, until maximum standing comfort is reached while relaxed. This will enable you to stand more often and for longer periods.

    3. There is the general issue of what to do with the weight of the arms. Some think the weight should be supported by the desk, via the forearms (never the wrists). Others think your shoulders should do the job, as is the case when standing away from the desk.

    The key deciding factor is being able to have your shoulders be back when relaxed (for many folks they slump or are rounded forward). Shoulders forward is bad posture, and correcting it is an important goal, but until that is accomplished it is OK to let the desk support the arms, to ensure the rest of your body is vertical (not hunched or slouched) and standing relaxed, with spine “stacked”.

    4. Standing without motion can cause some folks great pain. Myself, my sciatica flares up whenever I stand immobile for too long. This is due to the inevitable degradation of the lower discs with aging. One purpose of standing on a padded mat is to add sufficient instability to cause enough small motions that in turn keep the hips and lower back mobile and activated, though this can also become fatiguing.

    I stand on regular unpadded industrial carpet and wear regular shoes. When the discomfort starts I take a brief walk (get a printout, refill my water bottle, bathroom, etc.). Sort of a built-in reminder.

    Lastly, don’t lean toward the keyboard or monitors. This is often caused by the monitors being too small, or the fonts being too fine, or reading glasses being too weak or too strong. I had to swap out my 24″ monitors for 32″ 1080p HDTVs (dirt cheap), and take half a diopter off the strength of my arm’s-length reading glasses.



  2. Laurie Elise MacKenzie says:

    “So, you want to live forever?” asked the frog.
    “Yes, please,” said the princess. “I want to live forever!”
    “Alright then, kiss me,” said the frog, “and you’ll live forever. You’ll be a frog, but you’ll live forever.”

  3. TJR says:

    Very interesting, might be just what I need for my dodgy back (I was standing up reading the post, but having to look down at the monitor).

    How solid/rigid is the shelf bit for the keyboard? I worry about there being too much “give” when you type.

    Richard Feynman’s desk! Be still my inner fanboy.

  4. John Barrett says:

    Studies show that 100% of people that drink water all die! I have heard you can be cryogenically frozen for about the same cost as most life insurance programs. Maybe you would have better luck with that. Let’s face it, drinking water is supposed to be good for you. What’s two years of extra life if your going to be standing up that whole time anyways, instead of being able to sit down and relax. If you sleep for 8 hours and only sit for 3 hours, that would mean that you will be standing up for a very long time… It may be more efficient to just buy an exercise machine.

  5. Justin Loe says:

    I have started using the step measure on my iPhone. I haven’t made a rigorous assessment of it. But, I do know when I am clearly not getting enough exercise. For example, this week I averaged: 3,486 steps. For a little bit of research I took a look here: http://walking.about.com/cs/measure/a/locke122004.htm. That site advises that we should average more than 10,000 steps per day, to have a “active” level of exercise. 6,000 steps/day seems to reduce death rates, with > 10,000 per day even better.

    So, obviously, I am not meeting the goal at the moment, but at least I am aware of it…Technology provides another means to document what habits we are not successfully changing…

    Next, we need the iPhone to have a personal trainer feature. Hopefully, we can choose the personality of the personal trainer…

  6. Jim says:

    Nifty indeed. From the photo the down position looks a bit un-ergonomical though, like the keyboard is too high or you will be leaning forward to reach it. Maybe you should move it closer to the edge of the desk.

  7. Justin Loe says:

    Incidentally, since there’s no open thread, I’ll post my comment here:

    Any thoughts on the recent Nemtsov assassination? Boris Nemtsov was a noted Russian politician, and tireless advocate of democracy in the tradition of Andrei Sakharov. He also had a previous career as a research physicist, see wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Nemtsov.

    Although political issues are generally off-topic here, I thought this might merit discussion, just my opinion.

    The assassination of Boris Nemsov is one of the most significant political events in Russia in the past 20 years. Secondly, I think the scientific community should take notice because he was a tireless advocate of democratic freedoms. He was a research scientist, PhD in Physics, who gave up that career and died for his beliefs.

    In any case, that’s my political statement.

  8. BilB says:

    Well you’re not gunna (live forever though I wish you could), but thanks for the longevity plan.

  9. Eric says:

    Good luck with the desk. I’ve read about the Varidesk and it looks like the desk to use. Definitely take it slow and make sure to switch between standing and sitting often.

    I’ve been using a desk adapter I made some time ago. It was made from a old monitor stand. It allows me to switch between standing and sitting. I just move my laptop from the top down to the desk and slide the stand out of the way.