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How to upgrade to a standing desk

While the actual health benefits of standing for a portion of the workday are a matter of some debate, there's little doubt that standing at your desk burns a few more calories than sitting, and can leave many people (myself included) feeling more flexible and less sore at the end of the work day.

While dedicated standing desk setups used to cost in excess of $1,000, you can now build a solid, ergonomic sit-stand workspace for much less.

A Note On Ergonomics

The single most important aspect of your standing desk setup isn't the desk itself, but rather the height of your monitor. If your screen is too low, you'll be spending much of the day hunched over your desk, which is terrible for your posture.

According to Lifehacker, your eye level should fall about 2/3 of the way up your screen for maximum comfort. Some monitors come with adjustable stands that will raise them high enough, but if not, 3M makes a simple stand with three different height options, one of which should lift your screen into a comfortable position. You can also opt for an adjustable monitor arm for even more flexibility, assuming your screen can be VESA mounted.

You'll also want your keyboard to be at the right height, with your elbows bent at 90 degrees. That means if you want your screen and your keyboard to both be at the proper height, they'll have to be two separate pieces of hardware; not just a laptop sitting on a table. Any keyboard can do the job, but if you've been having issues with carpal tunnel syndrome, the Microsoft Sculpt has long been the go-to option for people with wrist pain. You can also switch to a vertical mouse like this $20 wireless option from Anker, if you're experiencing a lot of wrist fatigue.

Desk Topper

While early standing desk solutions involved actually replacing your desk, the more practical option for most of us these days is a desk topper. These come in tons of shapes and sizes for different kinds of office setups, but they all sit atop your existing desk, and use springs, hydraulics, or (in rare cases) electric motors to make it easy to raise your computer equipment into a standing position. And since they can convert from sitting to standing mode so easily, you'll be able to go back and forth during the day whenever you want, because rare is the office worker that wants to stand for every hour of the day.

I've been using the Vari (formerly Varidesk) Basic 30 for over five years now, and it still works just as well as the day I first unpacked it. The Basic 30 features a 30" desktop with enough space for a large monitor, plus an ergonomically offset tray with enough space for a full-width keyboard and mouse. With a squeeze of the two side handles, it springs up into position with barely any effort, and returns to sitting mode just as easily.

Vari also sells plenty of larger alternatives as well, which you'll want to check out if you use multiple monitors.

Mat Options

You do not--and I can't stress this enough--want to stand on a bare floor for an extended period while using a standing desk. Even with comfortable insoles in your shoes, standing on a hard floor all day will leave your whole body feeling sore by the time you clock out of work.

My favorite anti-fatigue mat isn't a mat at all, but rather a specially designed balance board from Gaiam (the company behind those exercise ball chairs you're probably familiar with). It's not difficult to stay balanced on the low-profile board--you barely even think about it while you're using it--but it's enough of a challenge to keep your leg muscles active and moving while you work.

A slightly less intense alternative is the Genius Mat, which features raised ridges for stretching your calves, and even a big rolling ball in the middle to massage your foot while you work. As a relentless fidgeter, I've even found that mindlessly playing with the ball with my foot can help me stay focused on my work.

And if you're on a budget and just want to buy a basic mat, the main thing you'll want to look out for is the thickness of the mat; don't buy anything thinner than 3/4".

Stand When You Want, Sit When You Don't

When making the switch to a standing desk, just remember not to overdo it. If you've been accustomed to sitting behind a computer for eight hours per day, standing for just an hour or two might be all you're comfortable with at first.

Give your body time to adjust before you start standing for half the day or more, and when your lege are telling you it's time to sit, you should sit! After a few weeks or months, you'll likely start getting a similar feeling while you sit: that you'd really be more comfortable standing. And now, you'll be equipped to do just that.


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