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Health and Old Baking Sheets July 25 2014

Something happens to baking sheets over time, and it’s not pretty. 

Have you ever bought a brand new baking sheet? Something about seeing that soft, slippery metal makes you think: “This time will be different.” You vow to take care of it. This time, you won’t let it turn gross like the others before it. But as sure as the river runs, your baking sheet turns stained and sooty, right before your very eyes. 

When it finally starts to look like an old coal miner’s helmet, you realize it’s over and you’ve lost. 

The sense of optimism you felt when you first laid hands on your brand new baking sheet was trampled by the realities of modern life. Sadly, many people seem to have the same glowing sense of optimism when they think about their health. They see people around them, stained and sooty from years of sedentary office work, and they think that they’re somehow immune. In the worst-case scenario, an office worker’s health is alot like a baking sheet. 

In the beginning, when the baking sheet is first unwrapped and when the worker gets his first office job, they’re both surprisingly resilient. The worker’s body has perfect range of motion, respectable blood pressure and good muscle tone. Similarly, the baking sheet has a sparkling cooking surface that seems to stay bright and cheerful, no matter what. Their normal routines aren’t overly healthy, but they seem to be able to bounce right back without any long-term effects. A week of 12-hour days in the desk chair is not a problem for the office worker, nor is that burned piece of salmon a problem for the cooking sheet. With a little warm water, the crusty residue from the salmon and oil seem to wash away, while the young office worker’s body bounces right back with a good night’s sleep. 

After some time, things start to get rocky for both the office worker and the baking sheet. After multiple messy meals, the sheet’s protective coating seems to be wearing away slowly. Foods that used to slide right off now seem to need a little scrape. At first glance, the sheet still seems to have its original lustre, but if you look closely enough, you can start to see the shadows of meals past. The body of the office dweller also seems to have lost the protective coating. Over the last few months of sedentary living, his body has begun to adapt to his new inactive lifestyle. The tendons and muscles of his upper body have adapted to make his sitting and slouching easier and more comfortable. His body has learned to slow the metabolism because the large muscle groups in his legs, back and butt are dormant for the majority of the day. With a lower metabolism, his body burns far less energy. The cells in his idle muscles send a signal to the pancreas to keep the insulin a-flowing, which signals his body to store more energy as fat, and it places him at a higher risk for obesity and diabetes. His blood begins to flow slowly, without the help of his muscles to pump it around, so fatty acids can more easily clog his pipes, leading to heart disease. His body certainly doesn’t look much different than it did before, but his insides are operating distinctly differently. 

The day of reckoning eventually comes in both cases. The sedentary office worker notices some weight gain, fatigue or sluggishness, while the baking sheet starts to show some pretty hefty staining and patches of roughness. When the wheels fall off, the first instinct in both cases is to think: “I can fix this!” For the office worker, the remedy is to introduce an exercise plan, while the baking sheet gets a good old fashion scrubbing. In both cases, the added elbow grease is rarely effective in fixing the problem. An hour of exercise each day is wonderful, but it doesn’t fend off the toxic effects of over-sitting, nor does the extra scrubbing remove any of the deep, caked-on yuck that is now plainly visible on the once beautiful baking sheet.

Things get much worse, as some destructive patterns begin to emerge. As more gunk builds up on the baking sheet, more food sticks to it, gets burned on, and then leads to thicker, more resistant gunk. The same negative pattern ensures that the office worker continues to dig himself a deeper hole of ill-health. The worker is now more fatigued, weaker, fatter and more sluggish than he’s ever been before, his low productivity and foggy mind mean that he needs to work even longer and harder to perform his job duties. The worker’s new normal makes it much harder—consequently much less likely—that he will start making the changes he needs to regain his health. He becomes even more sedentary. 

The analogy falls apart when the old, rusty baking sheet gets replaced with a new one. Unfortunately, the worker is stuck with his body and the whole he’s dug for himself. Unlike the baking sheet, the body can be recovered. The way that he can get out of this poor health spiral is the exact same way that he should have avoided it in the first place, with consistent activity and movement. 

If the worker begins to fire up his large muscle groups consistently throughout the day, he will gradually be able to increase his metabolism. His pancreas will eventually chill out with all the insulin and his blood should start to zip around his body, as it should. As he begins to consistently stand and walk during the day, his muscles and tendons will gradually adapt to his more active and upright state. Over time, he’ll convince his body that he’s an active person again. 

To avoid becoming an old crusty baking sheet, figure out how to integrate as much activity as possible during your day, including stiff like: walking, standing, stair climbing, lunges, air squats, pushups, etc. Sitting idly at a desk for 45-60 minutes will simply not do. Standing desks are wonderful because they give you the opportunity to add a bunch of standing to your day, but they also give you the freedom to walk around, bounce, do some calf raises, and depending on which Ke$ha song you have playing, maybe even some office-appropriate dancing. 


How to Use Your Standing Desk July 15 2014

So you’ve bought and installed the standing desk, congratulations! Unfortunately, the most challenging part of the process is yet to come. The tough part is to actually use it. This article will provide information on how to get started with your standing desk, and how to avoid some common discomforts and pain.

First, the enemy we’re fighting isn’t necessarily SITTING. The act of offloading your body weight from your legs and transferring it through your buns into a cushy chair, is a fantastic feeling. Ideally, sitting should still remain an important part of your day –just with a little more portion control. The real enemy is inactivity –or a prolonged lack of movement. The standing desk is great because, as the name implies, it allows you to stand, which is much better than sitting; be warned, if you’re swapping 8 hours of straight sitting with 8 hours of straight standing, you’re still in troubled waters.

Ideal Standing Desk Use: 

The ideal situation is to remain as active as possible throughout the day. Spend your time alternating between standing, walking, other movements and sitting. The beauty of the standing desk (other than the lovely design), is that you have a completely different set of options, compared to being seated. When you’re using your computer from a desk chair, your desk and your computer are essentially a restraint, locking you in and preventing you from moving. In this situation, you might start unconsciously bobbing your legs around, shifting your weight in the chair, crossing and uncrossing your legs, but this is the most you can really do. I believe the standing position gives you a sense of freedom that you just don’t have sitting down.

In a standing position, it feels natural to take a few steps around, to bounce a little, do a few calf raises, and to even take longer walks. These little activities are where the magic happens, as they'll ensure that your muscles are contracting and your metabolism is running, while you spend 8 hours at work. The best movements that you can do will be the ones that fire up your largest muscles groups, so along with walking, things like air squats, lunges and pushups can also be peppered into your daily routine, depending on your tolerance for office embarrassment.

Personally, I have my standing desk set up in my home, so I’m not bound by office norms. With no colleagues around to disrupt, I can do whatever I want. When I’m writing reports or writing a blog, I’m constantly walking around the room, pondering. When I need a quick break from standing, I’ll do a few squats or pushups, some stretching, grab a glass of water, then get back to work. The beauty is that I’m never more than a few steps away from the keyboard. If I start to feel any sort of discomfort or fatigue, I simply grab my laptop, have a seat and keep working.

If you’re worried about productivity, you can do these short bursts of activity during the natural breaks in work (i.e. phone calls, text messages, when you’re checking email, etc.), so that they don’t interfere with your flow. 

The Tragedy:

An all-too-common, yet tragic situation is when someone buys a standing desk, sets it all up, then in their excitement, they over-do it. It takes bravery to stand while all of your colleagues are sitting. Some colleagues may be salty towards your standing desk, just because it goes against the grain, and you'll want to show them that they're wrong. In these situations, it’s important to resist the temptation to try standing for the entire first day! Inevitably, after a few hours of battling your body and mind, you’ll feel discomfort, pain and defeat. Later, when your smart-ass colleague ask “How’s the standing desk going?” secretly hoping that you’ll say it’s terrible, you’ll be forced to reinforce their view that standing desks are just another fad for fruitcake hippies. 

Take it easy:

Instead, ease into it. If your body is used to sitting all day, you’ll need to make the transition to standing very gradually. In fact, start with 10 minutes of standing every hour. If you find that you’re becoming sore or tired in 10 minutes, bring it down to 5 minutes. The goal is to build your tolerance to standing without exposing yourself to excessive pain and fatigue. After a few days, if 10 minutes becomes a breeze, then make it 20 minutes per hour, then eventually 30 minutes, always remembering to include the walking and other movements in your routine. If your body tells you to sit, have a seat. As your tolerance improves, you’ll eventually find the right mix of standing, walking and sitting that allows you to feel fresh, active, productive and happy. 

Be confident that you made an excellent choice in switching to a standing desk. Your future self will thank you. Remember to make the transition a gradual one and to resist the temptation to overdo it. If you have any trouble, please contact me to discuss.

Best of luck!

 


The Modern Desk June 09 2014

 

I think that the concept of a traditional desk is over. First, all of the objects that someone might have legitimately had on their desk 20 years ago (i.e. documents, calendars, papers, books, photos of family, letters) have been digitized and are now somehow available in the shining pixels of your computer screen. When is the last time that you picked up a book, found the information you were looking for, put down that book, then transferred that information to the computer?

Second, computers are getting smaller every day. If I were to throw my old Pentium 100 from my 10th story window, its size and weight could crush a transport truck. In contrast, if I threw my current laptop out of the window, it would probably just start floating around in the wind, like the plastic bag in American Beauty. 

So, if computers now hold all of the objects we used to keep on our desk, and they're getting smaller and smaller, WHY do we still need a big ol’ desk to hold it?

My parents have a full office in their house, complete with 2 L-shaped desks (or one enormous C-shaped desk), filing cabinets, printers, a drafting table, computers and bookshelves, but they prefer to use their laptops in the living room, just like everybody else. Their big and wonderful office is now just a place that holds the stamps. 

Computers are no longer being used exclusively for work, they’ve become a part of everyday life. It no longer makes sense to isolate your computer to an office, away from the main living areas of your home.

We designed our wall-mounted standing desk to fit the size and aesthetic of your kitchen, living room, bedroom, or home office. The upper desktop surface is designed to hold your laptop or tablet at the height of your eyes, while the lower desktop surface is meant to hold your keyboard, mouse and coffee, around the height of your elbows. This ergonomic positioning will allow you to avoid the nasty and unwanted health effects of a day spent sitting down.

In a standing position, you’ll find that you’re more able to walk around, bounce, dance and keep your body active, compared to a full day of sitting. When you’d like to rest your feet, just take your laptop to the nearest chair or couch for a break. If you decide that you need some extra room, the upper and lower desktop surfaces are both removable, leaving you with a shapely wooden conversation starter on your wall.

Until all of our computers are wearable, we still need desks. I believe that the desks that we need are small and will allow us to stand as we work. Have a look at our desk, to see what I’m talking about. 

 

 

 

 

photo credit: Amanda Schutz via photopin cc