Replace your chair with a standing desk

By Patrick J. Skerrett

I used to sit down on the job. I don't mean I shirked my duties at Harvard Health Publications, but I did them with my derriere planted firmly in a chair. Over the years, I developed tricks to burn off excess energy and add activity bits throughout the day, like bouncing my right leg and printing to a printer far down the hallway.

Seven years ago, I fired my chair and bought a stand-up desk. Now I am on my feet for most of the time I'm at work. I use my legs more and take several thousand extra steps each day. I feel more alert (especially during afternoons following nights when I didn't sleep well), it seems like I am getting more done each day, and my back isn't so achy.

Stand-up desks come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. You can build one from two sawhorses and a plank of wood, or plunk down several thousand dollars for a custom-made model. Being a frugal guy (and since my employer wasn't paying the tab), my first version was a regular desk I bought from Ikea and adapted. When I changed offices and it didn't fit, I bought an ready-made stand-up desk that fit on an existing desk. (Click here for a list of stand-up desk options.)

You can use a stand-up desk at home for reading the newspaper, paying bills, writing letters, or other formerly sit-down tasks. It isn't a magic bullet against heart disease, and it certainly isn't a substitute for exercise, but it's a decent heart-healthy habit.

If you choose to stand at work, you'll be in good company. Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were said to have used stand-up desks. Other notable standers include Winston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov, Ernest Hemingway, and Donald Rumsfeld.