The Perils Of Inactivity

Sitting is the new smoking! But it doesn't smell as bad, so that's something.

Chion Wolf (photobombed by Jeff Cohen) and her hacked standing desk.
Photo:Patrick Skahill
The Perils Of Inactivity
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The Perils Of Inactivity

Quick! What do Lewis Carroll and Donald Rumsfeld have in common with Virginia Woolf and Oliver Wendell Holmes? They all wrote standing up. So did Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Victor Hugo and George Sand. So did Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Wolfe.

In fact, the number of great writers who wrote standing up seems way out of proportion to the rest of the people who sit at desks. But the king of stand-up writing and thinking turns out to have been Nietzsche. Nietzsche hated sitting with an attitude that fits hilariously with his attitude about everything else. He called it "das sitzfleisch" (sitting meat) and he rained scorn down on people, like Flaubert, who attempted to create while sitting.

In the 1960s, there came an heir to Nitetzche - Bob Propst, a designer who became head of research at Herman Miller and attempted to lead a revolution in office design. 45 years later, the revolution is here. 

You can join the conversation. E-mail us or Tweet us@wnprcolin.




Back in the 1960's, at Archbishop Molloy H.S. in NYC, the lunch room and study hall has stand up desks.


After switching to standing/walking desks, have you solved the "how to read/write/type while moving" problem? I find that just standing in one place becomes uncomfortable (somewhat painful), while walking/strolling relieves that discomfort. But I find it very hard to focus on reading material and imagine that I couldn't write to type while moving.

Another question: Is anyone working on a standing/walking solution to the long trip in a car or airplane? Not only are these prolonged sedentary periods unhealthy, they are very uncomfortable.


I worked in an office cube for 8 years and toward the end, was so wirn out from siiting on my butt all day I decided I would try to get a stand-up desk. Long story short, I quit the job before the fight started.

Fast forward to today. After an 8-year hiatus, I am back working, from home, and after the first 40 hours I knee I had to stand up. My husband and I are still tweaking, but I can tell you, it's the only way to go.

I have more energy afterwork now than I did most of those days I was hanging around with no day structure. I'm thankful that going back tp work is the thing that has kick started a more healthful way of living. I have the advantage of having stuck with a desktop too. Re workload: My work keeps me my computer start to finish, 40 hours a week.


Hi Colin -
The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote standing up. His study in his house in Frankfurt (now the Goethe Museum) has no chairs, just a 5-foot high desk at which he supposedly wrote "Faust" and "The Sorrows of Young Werther".
I enjoy your show a lot!


We typically listen to NPR when driving somewhere. The other day we tuned in to your very enthusiastic program about adjustable office desks. It was fascinating to hear how you and a colleague had build your own desks out boxes. It made us jiggle. My wife is American and I am a Swede. I got my first electrical office desk back in 1998 and my wife, who worked and lived in Sweden for 15 years, many years before that. If you come to Sweden today, or by all means any Scandinavian or Northern European country you will most likely find many offices that only have these kind of desks. In Sweden you can buy your private one at IKEA.

In Sweden we have for at least 30-40 years had in every company regardless of size what in English could be called a Safety Officer. This person is typically appointed by the unions (not same kind of unions that you have here). That officer has the right to immediately stop work if he or she find the work environment unsafe, e.i. bad lighting, bad office chairs or desks; in industries to much noise, unsafe temperatures etc. You can probably search on the net to find out more.

For some reasons it seems to hard for Americans, excuse me for generalizing, to look outside their own fence. So many things have to be reinvented here. So many old techniques seem to be used. Ok they work but not always efficiently.

Here is a link. You click on translate and Google will translate the text for you. This is about Skyddsombud, Safety officer

Here is a link about adjustable office desks. It is in Swedish. But the selection indicates that their is a large market for these desks.


I would like to correct a statement made during your show of 12/27 which focused on promoting the health benefits of standing during work. A caller who identified herself as an advanced practice nurse at Hartford Hospital stated that she sits most of the day doing paperwork. She further suggested that the federal government require nurses to stand at work, since that would promote health among several thousands of individuals.

I am a nurse, I have worked in several settings, including Hartford Hospital, and observed several more. Nurses walk all the time, often at an urgent pace. Nurses do not need to be forced to stand all shift. The person who called in seems to have a very specialized practice and her circumstances do not reflect the normal working conditions for nurses, nurses aides, or the physicians (including Physician Assistants APRN's) in a hospital setting.

Thank you for your wonderful shows!


I work from home 3 days a week and got a dog a few months ago. Great for micro exercise. I am in meetings most of the day but must bring her out a few times a day for potty breaks, at least 10 minutes or more at lunch and longer before/after work.... Hoping our office makes standing desks available for our in office time!


In regards to the the standing desk, my father worked in a grocery store where he had to stand for 40 hours and wound up with varicose veins and back and knee problems. The same happens with wait staff and other occupations where standing it required all day.

How do proponents of standing desks propose to deal with these potential problems?