Chances are you're sitting on your ass right now, whether you're reading this on your computer or a mobile device. And I've got bad news: Sitting on your ass is not good for you. The simple act of sitting makes you fatter, raises your cholesterol, spoils your metabolism and takes years off your life. "Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?" an excellent article recently published in the Times, highlighted why by looking at research from the Mayo Clinic, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Circulation magazine and the American Cancer Society. An excerpt:
This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops—"the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse," [researcher Marc] Hamilton says—leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges...Insulin effectiveness drops...the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. [Important enzymes] plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.
One of the more disturbing points in the article is that regular periods of physical inactivity cannot be undone with strenuous exercise. In other words, your gym membership does not cancel out the ill effects of your office workday any more than running on a treadmill after smoking a cigarette does.
The solution is to not sit so much, but that doesn't jive with your average job that involves a desk. Dr. James Levine, one of the Mayo Clinic researchers cited in the article, "knows that we can't all be farmers, so instead he is exploring ways for people to redesign their environments so that they encourage more movement." You could buy a standing-height desk, but I don't think I could stand for an eight-hour stretch—do you?
As it turns out, the perfect solution to the workplace sitting problem already exists in the form of a product, and has for three years. I'm thrilled to have been able to do a Core77 "Living With...." review for this product: The GeekDesk.
The GeekDesk is a simple and extremely sturdy desk with steel legs, a beech veneer top, and a tiny, barely visible (but powerful) DC motor. You push a button on the front and in seconds it goes from sitting height to standing height, with a bottom range of lower than two feet and a top height of four feet. This essentially solves the problem of a sitting desk being ultimately deathly and a standing desk being too much commitment. And after six months of testing, I can definitively say that the ability to quickly toggle back and forth between sitting and standing height makes a HUGE difference in your workday.
The super-sturdy legs are made from powder-coated steel. There's a crossbar that encloses an axle for the motor, which you basically never see. Above the crossbar is a cable tray running the length of the table. The tray is deep enough to throw a USB hub in there, which I appreciated.
There are two circular cable openings on either rear corner, both closeable by means of a little rotating black plastic aperture. It's clean-looking and simple to use.
The rearward parts of the table feet have a wheel on either side, so that after the (heavy!) desk is assembled you can easily get it over to the wall. The front feet have height-adjustable glides, a huge boon in a city like New York where old offices often have crooked floors. My floor is extremely out of whack but I was easily able to level the desk.
GeekDesk offers tabletops in widths of 63" or a massive 78" wide, both tops being 31.5" deep. There's also a GeekDesk Mini which is the same depth but just 48" wide. I tested the GeekDesk Original with the massive 78" tabletop.
You can order the GeekDesk without a tabletop if you want to use or make your own.
There are only six screws you need to get the frame together and two for the wheels, but one tricky part is lining the internal axle up with the drivers on either end. Those that are mechanically inclined will breeze through the assembly process, while those of us less gifted should expect a few minutes of finagling.
One thing I liked is that the screws for the base don't come in a little plastic baggy, they come mounted in the holes they'll end up in. You have to undo the screws, attach the relevant piece and then re-attach the screws, but I prefer this over having to hunt through plastic bags to find "Screw A" and the like.
Once the legs are together, they must be attached to the tabletop, at least the longer 78" tabletop I tested, while everything is upside down. This is because the tabletop is secured to the legs at two points close to the sides. If you attached everything while it's upside down, the tabletop will naturally lay flat on the floor; if you secure it while it's right-side up, the weight of the massive tabletop will cause it to naturally bow a bit, so when you secure it to the legs, it will remain in a bowed position.
This makes assembly a two-man job for the larger 78" desk, because for one person to turn it right-side-up without placing unacceptable torsion forces on the tabletop/legs is very tricky to pull off.
Once the table's all together and in its final position, you'll need to do a bit of cable management with all of the objects you'll place on it. This is made fairly tidy by the integrated cable tray. One important thing to remember is that you must raise the desk to its highest possible position and then sort the cables. Obviously if you do this in the lowest position, you run the risk of yanking a cable out when you raise the desk.
The speed of the up-down motion is just about perfectly calibrated. It's not so slow that you feel like you're waiting, and it's not so fast that you feel like it's unsafe or that you'll ever accidentally crush something that gets under the desk.
The model I tested, the Original, will lift 176 pounds. Subtract from that the weight of the tabletop, which weighs anywhere from 35 to 55 pounds, and that's still at least 120 pounds of stuff you can have on your desk. Plenty strong enough for my needs. I tested it with a laptop, external monitor, air purifier, scanner, drawer unit, and occasionally a 30-pound vintage sewing machine sitting on the desk. It goes up and down at a constant speed and without flagging regardless of what's on the desk.
GeekDesk's recently released Version 2 adds 100 pounds to the lifting weight for a max capacity of 275 pounds, and their GeekDesk Max version will lift an absurd 335 pounds. The Version 2 also features an even larger cable tray and wider feet.
In six months of testing I've never once accidentally triggered the raise-lower mechanism. The simple, intelligently-designed toggle switch requires you to hold in a button next to it while pressing the toggle north or south to get the action. It's done with a thumb and one finger.
When installing the switch during your initial assembly of the desk, you have plenty of wiggle room to place the switch where you'd like, whether you prefer a more central position or want it way off to the side; you also have the option to place it right up at the edge or further back underneath the desk in a more concealed position. I placed mine so that I could reach it while seated at the center, and after about two weeks my hand would move to it without needing to look.
The tabletop edges are beveled all the way around, both top and bottom, so if you tend to lean on the desk with your forearms you don't get those lines pressed into your skin.
To raise it to a consistent max height commensurate with my cable length, I've placed a small piece of blue tape on my wall that serves as a guide.
Using this desk was a pleasure. The article cited above shows that constant micromovements promote health while sitting still is harmful, and while using the GeekDesk in the standing position you virtually never stand still. Even when typing and doing mouse-intensive tasks you are constantly performing micromovements: Shifting your weight from one leg to the other, shaking one leg out, pointing your toe and rotating your ankle, crossing one leg, leaning against the table, taking half a step back to get both literal and figurative perspective on something. In addition, I found the standing posture makes me much more inclined to frequently stretch my back, swing my arms, roll my shoulders, and unkink my neck every few minutes. I also found myself unconsciously micro-pacing between e-mail sentences, simply because I could.
If you think all of this movement would influence the pace of your work, I can tell you that when it does, it's often a pace increase. If I'm sitting down and there's an e-mail I don't want to type but have to, I raise the desk and bang the letter out. There's something about the simple act of standing, versus sitting, that promotes activity and proactivity.
During a typical day, I raise the desk to standing height for periods of ten to thirty minutes, with my personal "record" having been about an hour. Generally after twenty to thirty minutes my feet become tired and I lower the desk to sit. I also find myself wanting to sit if I have to read through a particularly long document or if I'm watching a video longer than 30 seconds. I seem to absorb information better from a sitting position, but I tend to create better, generally speaking, from a standing position.
In the standing position I will occasionally hunch over the desk while typing, leaning my elbows on it in what I know is poor posture. But it doesn't last long, it becomes just another position in your posture repertoire. And as the health researchers from the article point out, constantly moving about, even in small motions, is far more healthful than sitting still.
During the average day I'll raise it anywhere from three to eight times, and I've had occasional slow days where I don't raise it at all. But during days when I need to be extra-productive, I find the desk going up and down a lot.
The whole point of a "Living With...." review is to see if the gimmicky nature of many products remains relevant after three or six months, and if the product's importance will fade after that initial freshness wears off. I am pleased to report that the GeekDesk's benefits are enduring ones, and I consider the product to be truly transformative. Working in a standing position, and being able to do it for as long or as short a period as you like, is vastly different than being parked on your ass. I feel healthier and more vibrant while using this desk, and after six months of testing I'm still conscious of the fact that I feel that.
Even if you own an expensive office chair, consider how you sit in it. At some point you may find your own lousy posture begins to defeat the ergonomic benefits of the chair as you shift into some position for which it was never intended. It's not because the chair is bad; indeed if you've got an Embody or an Aeron, you're sitting in one of the finest pieces of industrial design of our era.
The problem, if the recent research is to be believed, has to do with the act of sitting itself. The GeekDesk frees you of that by giving you a simple choice that office workers never had before.