The latest issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine provides a brief chronicle of the history of standing desks. In the article, standing desks are introduced as “nothing new. Nor is their use as therapeutics.”
Though the increasing mounds of data compiled in recent studies “warn that time spent sitting correlates with heart disease and early death,” it appears that these health concerns go back centuries.
According to Presbyterian minister Job Orton, “a sedentary life may be injurious. It must therefore be your resolute care to keep your body as upright as possible when you read and write; never stoop your head nor bend your breast. To prevent this, you should get a standing desk.” If Orton’s language sounds dated to you, that’s because it is. He made these comments 217 years ago in 1797.
In 1836, American minister and professor of rhetoric Ebenezer Porter also joined Orton’s pro-standing desk team, arguing that “the standing desk was a good remedy for ‘those who have the animal vigor to sustain the exhaustion it occasions.'” Even earlier, Swiss physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot outlined some of the ailments brought on by too much sitting: "Deskbound intellectuals, he wrote, suffered from poor circulation and engorgement of their innards. Bad posture and lack of exercise made them susceptible to dropsy and hemorrhoids.”
According to the article, “office life in the 19th century involved much less sitting than it does today.” In fact, before the advent of such technological devices as the typewriter and computer, most professionals “practice[d] penmanship on their feet… at standing desks.” Even once these writing aids became popularized, people founds ways to work while standing, like Ernest Hemingway who propped up his typewriter on a bookcase “even though he had a 'perfectly suitable desk in the other alcove.’”
It’s time we take these old practices to heart and find more ways to get on our feet while getting work done - out health demands it.