This is a guest post by Eva Stabenow, CT (EN‹›DE), PMA-CPT®. Eva is an ATA-certified English/German translator based in Nashville, TN. She specializes in translating and culturally adapting health, medical and skincare content with a focus on consumer education, marketing and app localization. She had been an extremely happy freelancer-by-choice since the day she completed her MA in conference interpreting in 1995, when too many hours working at the job she loved began to take their toll in the early 2000s. It was then Eva began build on her lifelong love of movement (and a long-buried childhood dream of becoming a physical therapist) by learning and teaching the skill of healthy movement for a resilient body. Eva is a certified yoga teacher, holds a comprehensive 500-hour “rehab/prehab” Polestar Pilates certification and is fully certified by the Pilates Method Alliance. In addition to her translation work at wordplay-translations.com, Eva teaches Pilates and healthy, functional movement patterns at sunroompilates.com, where she especially loves teaching desk workers, instrumentalists and athletes how to heal their bodies through movement.
Get up, stand up! Standing desks and how to use them
Unless you’ve been on a full media blackout for the past few years, you’ve probably heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” We all know why smoking is a really bad idea. But sitting? Why would that be bad? Isn’t it a huge improvement for us to be able to earn a living from our desks instead of eking out a living doing manual labor or working on a farm? Surprisingly, it turns out today’s sedentary lifestyle has some drawbacks that are hard to ignore.
Why is sitting all day so bad?
Sitting is something we do all day, every day in the Western world, both at work and when we relax. The typical office worker today spends a whopping 15 hours a day sitting down. Studies have shown that the most sedentary people had a 22-49% higher risk of early death than their peers. Sedentary behavior is linked to a staggering number of conditions including heart disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, dementia, cancer and a shortened lifespan. And let’s not forget about back pain, tension headaches and varicose veins. As we get older, excessive sitting can also weaken our bones. Finally, the risk of dying associated with sitting for more than 8 hours a day with no physical activity is similar to the risks posed by obesity and smoking.
The bad news…
But, you might argue, I work hard – but I also work out hard! Surely that offsets the long hours at my desk! Alas, the news is not as good as we’d like it to be: Nearly 50 studies found that prolonged sitting was strongly linked to negative health outcomes, regardless of exercise levels According to the American Heart Association, even working out 7 hours a week (that’s one hour a day, significantly more than the 2-3 hours per week frequently recommended as a baseline!) is not enough to offset sitting for 7 hours or more at a time.
…and the good
Thankfully, exercising – moving – in smaller chunks throughout the day is much more beneficial than trying to fit it all in at once. Translation: You’re better off getting up every 30 minutes or so and moving around some than turning into the quintessential weekend warrior. (Which is not to say that vigorous exercise does not have its benefits!)
So what’s a translator to do?
The goal, then, needs to be to sit less and take more breaks throughout the day. But as translators, we know how easy it is to get lost in a project, especially when we’re on a tight deadline. Suddenly, you look up and realize hours have passed and you haven’t moved a muscle.
One obvious and frequently-touted solution would be to use a standing desk. Maybe you’ve thought of making the switch and are on the fence, so let’s look at some of the more common options from most to least expensive:
– Sit-stand height-adjustable desks: An actual desk you can adjust up or down for sitting or standing, either electronically or manually.
– Sit-stand desktop converters: You’ve seen the ads in airline and business magazines: These units are placed on top of an existing desk and can then be adjusted up or down.
– Fixed-height standing desks: The “original” standing desks, think a regular, non-adjustable desk, just taller.
– Desktop risers: The simpler version of the desktop converter. Here, you put a non-adjustable elevated surface on top of your existing desk.
They all have two things in common: They work, and they come with a more or less hefty price tag.
If you’re ready to take the plunge, that can certainly be a worthwhile investment. But the good news is that you don’t need all that fancy gear to stand up at work. Working in a different body position takes a bit of getting used to, so it’s also good idea to try before you buy (or commit to a homemade solution).
Try this: Place your laptop on a tall kitchen counter or breakfast bar. If you don’t have one, see if your local coffee shop has a high counter and try working there for a while. (This is not ideal in the long run due to the position of your hands and especially the “neck hinge,” but it’s a good introduction.) With a traditional desktop computer, things are a little more involved, but you can simply set a small stool or stack up a few of those unused dictionaries we all have on your desk and elevate your monitor (higher) and your keyboard (a little lower). Maybe you even have a lectern available to you. How does it feel? Were you able to get some work done?
How to use a standing desk
Now that you know what it feels like to work standing up, maybe you’re ready to go all-in with a store bought desk or a homemade workaround. Great!!!
This is the time to tackle one of the biggest misconceptions about “standing desks”: The name itself implies that you should use them standing up the entire time. But guess what: Standing up all the time isn’t very healthy, either! It can lead to low back pain, swollen ankles and varicose veins, none of which make us happy, healthy or productive.
So what’s a translator to do? It’s simple, really: You need to mix it up.
Try to alternate between sitting and standing at your desk. You could do this by using an actual height-adjustable desk or a desktop converter. Other options include moving from one spot to another, say, a desk to a tall kitchen counter or a breakfast bar, which is easier if you’re working on a laptop. Or, you could do what I do and use a fixed-height standing desk with a couple of dictionaries to support the monitor and put a bar stool in front of it. Voilà! The possibilities are endless – go ahead and get creative!
Now that we’ve got that solved, let’s circle back to the concept of moving repeatedly throughout the day – preferably not just from sitting to standing. Remember the concept (whether you agree with it or not) that you should eat smaller portions throughout the day? Think of movement like that: Lots of “movement snacks” are better than one huge “movement meal”. In the long run, getting up and moving around at regular intervals throughout the workday is going to be much better for your health than those heavy-duty workouts our society seems to have fallen in love with. Sure, we’d all love to have the six-pack abs, the beach body and yes, even the “buns of steel” – but I’ll take living a longer, healthier life and being able to enjoy my work day without pain or negative health effects over that any day.
What exactly constitutes “movement”?
Whatever you want it to be, really. You could choose a structured activity such as going for a walk or run, practicing yoga or going to the gym, although these all take a certain amount of time. Alternately, you could just bop around to your favorite song for 5 minutes, take the dog around the block (bonus: your pet will stop pestering you to get outdoors), go do the laundry or get down on the floor to play with your kids. Of course, even these shorter options cut into your productive time. Maybe choose one or two of them for longer breaks, and stick to smaller, simpler “movement snacks” for the rest. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
– Break out your favorite yoga pose.
– Sit down and get up in quick succession. Repeat 10-15 times.
– Stand up and imagine you’re climbing a rope – reach long through each arm to grip as high as possible, stretching out your ribs on both sides.
– Lift your right knee and balance on your left foot. Switch legs after 15 seconds.
– March in place for 1 minute. Exaggerate the motion of the arms and legs.
– Clasp your elbows and draw a large circle with them. Reverse directions.
– Do 10 jumping jacks.
– Stand up. When you sit back down, hover an inch above your seat to the count of 10.
– Get up. Shake out your arms and your legs. Circle your head and neck in one direction. Repeat in the other direction.
Be as creative as you like – one attendee at a presentation even told me he’d started to learn to juggle!
Now, all you need to do is set a set a timer for yourself (on your phone or desktop will do) and you’re good to go! See, that was easy!
Implementing just these small changes had made a huge difference in my work day, my productivity and my quality of life. I can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!