I have a thing against those memes that identify 25 as the age where raging Friday nights turn into a 7pm slumber fest with yourself, a bottle of wine and Netflix. Why? To be perfectly honest, I’m 23 and this has become my Friday (ahem, daily) ritual since my twentieth birthday.
And since I’m being really honest here, I’m just going to say that not only do I act like an old grandma, I actually feel like one, too, thanks to my delightful back problems.
It wasn’t always an issue. You see, I started working a full-time desk job in 2017 after graduating from University. The issue here is that I went from being an active teenager who was on her feet all day long, to sitting down, hunched over a desk and staring at a computer screen for more than eight hours a day.
A year into the job and I noticed that no matter what I was doing, I was unconsciously twisting and tilting my back to my left in order to alleviate a throbbing pain. It only came to my attention that my alignment had changed when a Pilates instructor asked if I was recently recovering from a major back injury.
My parents would blame it on my horrible heavy backpack I’d lug around all day at school, but I’m 99 per cent certain my desk job has a lot to do with it – and physiotherapist Brigitte Seelin from Elite Spinal Physiotherapy & Pilates agrees, too.
“As Physiotherapists we often refer to the lean off to one side as a “list” and is your body’s response to avoiding the pain,” Seelin explains. “The discs in your spine can get dehydrated and stiff from too much sitting which can lead to disc bulges.”
She goes on to explain that this is extremely common amongst people who work desk jobs.
“Sitting for extended periods of time places an enormous amount of pressure through the intervertebral discs of the lumbar spine, especially if you are slumped at your desk.
“The discs are fluid filled and can get dehydrated from lack of movement or sustained sitting postures, which can lead to stiffness and ultimately further degeneration of the discs.”
And did you know the average office worker sits for 68 days per year or 1,632 hours to be exact? Scary, right?
Yeah, I know I shouldn’t be complaining about my job because, after all, it is the one paying my avocado bills. But still – my neck, my back, my… well, you know how the rest goes.
So began my research into the standing desk.
A recent British Journal study used leading standing desk company Varidesk to conduct a trial to examine the effects of standing desks in the workplace. The study found a positive impact on musculoskeletal conditions and many work related outcomes such as job performance, work engagement and occupational fatigue.
Furthermore, a 2011 study noted prolonged sitting time is linked to various health outcomes including premature mortality, chronic diseases (think cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer), metabolic syndrome and obesity. Yikes.
So naturally, I got myself a standing desk from Varidesk to see exactly if it would improve my health. Here’s what I found after one month.
My back pain improved
I’m not saying my back problems have completely disappeared, but I can confirm the pain isn’t as evident – and scientific research speaks for itself.
A study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease found participants who used standing desks for 66 minutes of their working day found a reduction in upper back and neck pain by 54 per cent in just two weeks.
Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, my back is going to take longer than a month to recover. But I’m just thankful for the progress made so far.
I felt less bloated
I think the issue of bloating is one every office worker can relate to. Regardless if you manage to hit the gym every day, sitting down for eight or more hours cannot be good for your digestion. I’ve also fallen into a bad habit of eating my lunch in front of my computer and sometimes that 10-minute quick stroll around the block seems impossible to fit in between my day’s work. I know I’m being a hypocrite here but let me stress one thing: eating at your desk is probably the worst thing you can do.
According to Healthline, doing so can lead to heartburn, reflux and indigestion.
“… reclining or slouching increases pressure in the stomach, making it more likely that food will be pushed back up into the esophagus,” the site states.
“Reflux is also more likely to happen when there’s too much food in the stomach. This puts pressure on the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach, increasing the likelihood that the contents of the stomach will travel back up.
“Eating while sitting upright or standing up can reduce pressure in the stomach, reducing the likelihood of reflux.”
My clarity and mood improved
Let’s just say coming home after work tired, bloated and dealing with a sore back did not put me in the best mood at all.
So yes, at the end of the month a few people (looking at you Mum and Dad) did point out that I was a more approachable person at the end of the day.
But it wasn’t just my post-work mood that improved; throughout the day I actually found I was more productive.
According to a study by Texas A&M, utilisation of standing desks was associated with significant improvements in executive function and working memory capabilities. Moreover, the researchers found a direct link with improvements in overall mental health.
I realised I didn’t miss sitting down
I would come into work at 6am, sit down for an hour and then from 8am to 12pm I would stay standing – without argument. But by the time midday came around I didn’t even want to sit down. However, Seelin points out standing has its own problems, too.
“Standing for extended periods has its own issues so alternating between standing and sitting throughout the day is important,” she explains. “Ultimately, being in one position for too long should be avoided.”
Have I become a tad addicted? Maybe, and I probably do need to start forcing myself to sit down if I want to avoid leg problems.
It counts as exercise. Yes, really.
Each hour of standing burns 50 calories an hour. So, standing for a minimum of four hours during my work hours meant I was burning an extra 200 calories. That’s nearly equivalent to a slice of margherita pizza.
Need I say more?