Keeping my ass out of my chair

Standing desk stats

We’ve known for quite a while that sitting at a desk all day can kill you. The click-happy media could do nothing but latch onto such a story. Fear sells, and a huge portion of their readership sits at a desk all day.

Since the sitting-will-kill-you articles started making their rounds – it was 2009 or 2010 I believe – we’ve seen many enterprising individuals combat the epidemic. For every two articles about how sitting will kill you, there’s one featuring standing desks. These articles often feature quirky desks squabbled together from available materials.

The bug bit me sometime in 2010, but the solution wasn’t easy to come by. My then-girlfriend now-wife provided one when we moved in together: a drafting table. They don’t set up perfectly for office-desk purposes, but the height allowed me to stand. I even moved the chair to another room so that I had no choice but to sit.

After a few months, though, the vigor died. The chair was just too comfortable. Oh, I’ll stand sometimes, I reasoned. In retrospect that was a laughable notion. With the presence of a chair I was going to sit the great majority of the time.

The bug bit again recently, after I moved from the comfy confines of my home office to a real life office. Fitness has become a big part of my life, and something I read spurred me to move. What was the point of strengthening my core with squats and deadlifts if sitting all day would erase many of those gains?

This time had to be different. Simply standing a lot wouldn’t suffice. I’d just find the chair again. The solution: Stand or Die!. It’s a simple clock, which you can log into with your Google account, which lets you track the time you stand every day. It keeps a week-long history, so you can check your stats against your past – and against the site-wide average for the day.

At first the going was tough. With a desktop I could only put my keyboard on a few books and tilt the monitor upward. With this system in place I could stand for two hours, tops, per day.

But then I got a laptop.

Luckily enough, my office has a shelf at the exact height my drafting table at home stands. On that I can place my laptop and work for hours on end while standing. The above chart represents my last week (it’s just before lunchtime on the current day). Of the eight or so hours I spend at the office, I stand about five. This has persisted since I got the laptop.

Standing isn’t perfect, at least not yet. It’s easy to lose focus. Frustrations grow more quickly. But it seems the perils go away with simple adaptation. For instance, today I stood from 8:30 a.m. until about 10:30. The first stand of the day has typically been for just an hour, increasing to 90 minutes for later sessions. Starting off at the two-hour mark today has really got me rolling.

Will I lose the urge to stand in a few weeks? Perhaps. But it will be much tougher to stop this time, knowing that if I stand just a little longer, I can beat my previous best.

Good Habit: Cold Shower Therapy

This morning the shower spat icy cold water. No, the water heater isn’t broken. We have electricity. The shower was cold, because I turned the knob as far to the right as possible without turning it off completely.

Dad introduced me to cold shower therapy just yesterday, but immediately I knew it was a worthwhile idea. Cold showers carry many health benefits. Even if I realized only skin improvement, it’s a huge win. Plus, as Joel Runyon describes them, cold showers help impart discipline and focus.

The shower was brutal. The first 10 seconds were excruciating; I felt as though my body was going to lock up. Temptation ran high to stand outside of the stream as I washed, but that would have defeated the purpose. So I shivered, cringed, and cursed under my breath as I ran through my shower routine as quickly as possible without sacrificing cleanliness.

(It turns out we can shower pretty damn quickly, and completely at that, if we want to.)

After a few minutes my body acclimated itself and the shower didn’t suck quite as much. It still sucked, no doubt, and turning off the faucet gave me great relief. But the end of the shower didn’t involve nearly as much shivering as the beginning.

Taking a cold shower for one day accomplishes essentially nothing. Only repeated exposure will bring the health and discipline benefits. And so tomorrow I will again turn the knob as far to the right as possible and put myself under that freezing shower head.

The worst part: it will suck just as much as it did today. Chances are that if I do this for an entire year, it will suck just as much on Day 365 as it did on Day 1.

The pain is the reason to do it. It’s a harmless pain – a beneficial pain, even, if we’re to believe the studies on the health benefits. So here’s to giving it a try. If one thing is for sure, it’s that cold shower therapy fits in perfectly with how I’ve started approaching life.