The unexpected benefit of being a fidget at my computer

Standing at a computer is the latest way to reduce sedentary behavior but can it also free the mind to better productivity?

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Photo by Jacky Chiu on Unsplash

I started standing at my laptop about 3 weeks ago. Nine hours a day sitting at my desk, had given me chronic shoulder and neck ache and I felt like my back muscles were in atrophy. I had improved my physical exercise significantly in the last year, but it hadn’t made any difference to my neck and shoulders.

But even with shoulder issues, I had been reluctant to start standing more. I have very strong childhood memories of my hairdresser aunt showing me her massive varicose veins, which she attributed to standing all day. I also suffered from sciatica as a teenager practicing martial arts, and that dose of incapacitating pain taught me to be sensitive to any back aches, which long bouts of standing would certainly generate.

But then comes the push; a particularly stressful few months made the shoulder pain unbearable and I had to do something quick and easy to alleviate the source of my discomfort.

The benefits of standing more

General back stiffness was my main symptom on standing for a few hours, but assuming there are no back problems, it was the kind of stiffness that immediately goes away when you walk a few meters or bend to touch your toes. If the stiffness turned to discomfort, I’d just sit down for a while.

But low and behold, I found some very interesting benefits to standing; they may be all in my mind, but it’s a healthier mind from what I can tell.

1. Fidgets rule

The expected benefits of standing were true; better posture, and a more relaxed placement of my shoulders and neck immediately resulted. But an extra benefit for me was an outlet for my natural fidgety tendencies. I love to shuffle from foot to foot as I type, which stops the back stiffness and gets the blood moving around my legs. My core seemed stronger after a few weeks too, and maybe I might see the results of a few extra calories burnt over the long term.

2. Free the body, free the mind

The next unexpected benefit was clearer thinking and better productivity for activity that requires more creative thinking, design, strategy or planning. When drafting general emails, creating project plans, formatting templates, compiling data and reports, I found my brain was much quicker, almost as though the freedom of movement allowed me a freedom of flow in my brain.

However, I also noted that when I was doing details detailed technical or legal work, such as reading contracts or understand a technology or scientific information, the standing became a distraction, whether I stood still (getting back stiffness) or fidgeted.

3. Improved mood

What I would never have thought possible from my new freedom to sit or stand, is my improved mood. While happiness and mood are caused by a complex mixture of factors (situational, environmental, biological), I can’t help but feel that the old adage ‘a change is as good as a rest’ is at play here.

So for better mental and physical health – I will keep changing it up; standing when I need to be more creative, sitting when I need to be detailed, and on-the-spot dancing to my favorite song when no one is looking.  

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