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How To Craft a Movement Based Workstation for the Digital Age

If you’re at work right now, take a second to prairie dog your head up out of your cubicle and look around the office.

How much movement is going on in your workplace?

Maybe a few people here and there walking between meetings? Someone off to take a bio-break or grab a coffee?

Other than that though, there probably isn’t very much movement happening at all.

Instead, you’re probably looking at an entire floor of people sitting statically in front of their computers, typing away for hours a day. I bet some of them even forget to go use the bathroom!

Ironically, your safety-first oriented workplace is one of the most dangerous environments for human beings on the planet!

I know it sounds crazy, but read on to learn why your modern day work environment is actually a lethal occupational hazard for your long-term health as well as exactly what you should do about it.

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Did You Hear? Sitting is the New Smoking

If you’re the least bit interested in health, I’m sure you’ve already heard how lousy prolonged sitting is for your body. Fortunately, this idea has finally entered the zeitgeist through the frequently repeated “sitting is the new smoking” mantra.

"For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking.” – Martha Grogan, Cardiologist, Mayo Clinic

With scientific and health communities claiming that the sitting disease has reached epidemic proportions, it’s sad to say that a cultural awakening is long overdue.

In a 2008 American Journal of Epidemiology study, researchers from Vanderbilt University found that the average American spends 54.9% of their waking life sitting down.

“Overall, participants spent 54.9% of their monitored time, or 7.7 hours/day, in sedentary behaviors”

Although this statistic is frightening, it’s not hard to believe. Just add up your own daily commute time, long hours behind your work desk as well as your nightly Netflix decompression sessions and it’s easy to see how modern people are slowly degenerating into static, immobile animals.

Sitting Is Literally Killing You

It’s important to realize that there’s a terrible, long-term trade-off to the short-term comfort of your chair-based lifestyle.

Think about it this way:

Your body is constantly adapting to the stimuli it receives from its environment.

If you’re a wild human, your environment is a complex, wild landscape with wide ranging temperature swing, uneven ground and a random smattering of plant and animal life forms you must constantly interact with.

If you’re a domesticated human however, your environment is simplistic with tightly controlled temperatures, flat surfaces and nothing but predictable human buildings and domesticated animals to interact with.

Climb a tree just for fun and you risk dirty looks from passersby or even some mean soul calling the cops on you!

My point here is that modern environments are way too simple and your body degenerate to the daily level of simplicity you expose it to.

If you force your body into a static, seated position for 8+ hours a day, your body responds by degenerating into a stiff, statue-like creature.

Although a stiff, immobile body might not sound that scary to you now, your lack of daily movement is literally killing you.

“Today, our bodies are breaking down from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, depression and the cascade of health ills and everyday malaise that come from what scientists have named sitting disease.” – James Levine, MD, PhD

In an eye-opening, 13-year long (1993-2006) American Cancer Society study published in 2010, women who sat for 6+ hours a day were 94% more likely to die than their active counterparts.

Similarly, men who sat for 6+ hours a day were 48% more likely to die as compared to men who stood each day.

Standing Desks to the Rescue, Right?

You get it. Sitting is bad. So all you need to do is swap your chair out for a standing desk and the sitting diseases start to reverse themselves, right?

Well, yes and no...

If you’re self-employed or work for a progressive employer that takes health seriously, maybe you’re a step ahead and already using a standing desk while working.

There’s no doubt standing desks offer a huge health and productivity benefit compared to your typical chair setup. Chairs suck people into a stiff, restricted position all day, every day that basically atrophies and stiffens their bodies.

The beauty of working at standing desk every day is that it encourages bodies to move more by default. People who work at standing desks:

  • Stretch more,
  • Walk over and interact with colleagues more frequently,
  • Take bio-breaks as soon as nature calls,
  • And grab coffee or refill their water bottles more often.

These passive behavioral shifts are stoked just by replacing a seated workstation with a standing one. The long-term benefits of this workspace modification often lead to increased muscle tone, better posture, and less daily back pain as well.

However, as amazing and beneficial as standing desks are in the workplace, they’re only part of the solution towards cultivating a truly healthy workspace for yourself.

That’s because even though standing is better than prolonged sitting, it still doesn’t address the root problem of modern day, sedentary lifestyle diseases.

What I’m trying to say is that reversing the sitting disease epidemic doesn’t happen by swapping one static body position for another. We make the workplace healthy by putting human bodies back in a perpetual motion environments.

To do this, let me introduce you to the Wild Workstation.

Cultivating Perpetual Motion In Your Workplace

The Wild Workstation is a set of tools and principles you can apply to your work environment to passively encourage more natural human movement on a daily basis.

When we look at indigenous peoples around the world, they don’t suffer from sedentary diseases, physical degeneration and chronic pain like most modern people seem destined to experience as they age.

Obviously, genetics and epigenetics play a strong role in the degenerative disorders, but this article addresses the massive role your daily environment plays in positively or negatively impacting long-term health and quality of life.

If you implement the following Wild Workstation principles into your own modern work environment, you’re taking steps to prevent, arrest and even reverse chronic health conditions.

Because Wild Workstations encourage near-constant movement and natural body postures, your body will respond with improved strength, mobility, metabolic output and a reduction (or even elimination) in chronic pain.

Additionally, by improving your daily quality of life, you’ll experience more productivity that will help drive you to higher standards of living!

Wild Workstations come in many forms, but let’s take a quick look at my current travel setup that I use while digital nomad-ing around the world.

Your Wild Workstation Toolkit

The most important principle that underlies your Wild Workstation is movement. This means that you need a way to move your laptop up and down throughout the day.

To accomplish this goal, a portable laptop table stand is the foundation of any Wild Workstation setup.

There are many models to choose from, but I recommend buying one that offers you the ability to lift your screen up to eye-level while standing. I’m currently traveling with the model in the picture and linked to above. It’s made out of aluminum so it’s light, tough and folds down flat when I pack it in my suitcase.

You’ll also need an external keyboard and mouse connected to your tabletop (preferably via wireless or Bluetooth). Avoid using the built-in keyboard and trackpad on your laptop while standing because this will put your arms into a bunched-up T-rex position that’s bad for your neck, back and shoulders.

For my nomadic lifestyle, I like to use Logitech's ultra portable Keys-To-Go keyboard since it’s thin, light and doubles as a bookmark when I fly. It works really well with my iPhone 6+ when I have to write and only have my smartphone handy.

Standing at Your Wild Workstation

Although it’s important to move freely during the day at your Wild Workstation, you’ll be doing a lot of standing so it’s important to achieve a hunter-gatherer style body posture.

Your default body position should be as follows:

  1. Standing feet hip-width apart with your toes spread as wide as possible – more on why later.
  2. Squeeze your glutes! It’s important to engage your butt muscles to prevent lower back pain from occurring while standing. This will also improve your long term hip and core strength into old age.
  3. Anchor your ribs by pretending that someone is punching you in the stomach.
  4. Roll your shoulders back, drop your arms, and place them on your keyboard-mouse surface just a few centimeters higher than your hip-height.
  5. Relax your neck into a neutral position that looks straight ahead at your laptop screen. Your chin should be tucked slightly.
  6. When you walk around your workstation – or anywhere else for that matter – keep your glutes engaged. This ancient way of "glide walking" is a literal pain-in-the-ass at first, but will become second nature over time.

Squatting at Your Wild Workstation

The Wild Workstation also allows you to park your body in a flat-footed squat while you work.

The flat-footed squat is actually a fundamental resting position for all humans. Without it, you’ll slowly lose your core strength and mobility into old age.

Because of this, it’s crucial to reclaim the natural, flat-footed squat to achieve a higher quality of life for yourself. The Wild Workstation will help you quickly restore this posture by giving you access to crouch-level computing.

Here’s how:

  1. Set your laptop table stand on the floor
  2. Place your external keyboard and mouse either on the floor or on top of a thick book to achieve an arm height that feels relaxed and natural.
  3. If you’re struggling to achieve or hold the squat for very long, elevate your heels onto a wedge and spread your feet out into a wider stance.

Even just a few flat-footed squat reps a day will help you to stop and reverse the degenerative damage going on inside your hips.

Sitting at Your Wild Workstation

You may be surprised to learn that sitting is allowed and even encouraged at your Wild Workstation.

There’s a catch though...

When you sit, it should be all the way down on the floor. Invest in a Japanese-style floor cushion and it will quickly become one of your favorite ways to work.

The reason that floor sitting gets the okay and chair-sitting doesn’t is because you can actually move without restriction while working on the floor.

Most chairs, regardless of their ergonomic design, tend to restrict your movement to a single, static position. On the floor however, you’re completely unrestricted. You flow from one floor position to the next without even thinking about. You allow your body to move as it needs, when it needs to.

You can switch to a floor position by:

  1. Setting your laptop stand on the floor
  2. Sitting down on your floor cushion
  3. Placing your keyboard and mouse at a comfortable height
  4. Changing your leg, butt and torso position every few minutes
  5. For extra credit, set you legs in a simple stretching position to work on flexibility while you work.

Just make sure not to sit on the floor for too long before switching back to a squat or standing position to give your body the complex positional variety it requires.

BONUS: The Pull-Up Bar Upgrade

If you’re lucky enough to have full control of your work environment – like a home office or studio – you can upgrade your Wild Workstation by installing a pull-up bar.

This gives you frequent opportunities throughout the day to crank out a few pull-ups or just hang from the bar. This will help to open up your stiff shoulders, improve strength and elongate your spine every work day.

If you’re super keen to improve your straight-arm strength like me, you can even hang by one arm and type with the other!

Let Daniel Vitalis show you how this is done via his own Re-Wilding Workspace. Daniel’s workspace definitely gets the Wild Workstation seal of approval!

The Longevity Benefits of a Wild Workstation

The long-term benefits of setting up a Wild Workstation go far beyond burning a few extra calories each day.

The real purpose of a Wild Workstation is to maximize and plateau your quality of life into very old age. Basically, I want you be a pain-free badass until the day you die.

People are going to meet you at age 90 and think “REALLY?! THERE'S NO WAY!”

Movement is life.

However…

The reverse is also true. Chronically ill and immobile animals are actually in a state of degeneration and decline. Your body is no exception to this rule.

In simple terms, animals that stop moving are, well...dying.

The Immortality Study

The longevity power of a body in motion was brilliantly demonstrated by a European Journal of Preventive Cardiology study published in 2012 titled: Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality.

This multi-year study followed 2002 participants aged 51-80 and found that their ability to rise to-and-from the floor was a powerful predictor of their remaining lifespan.

The data from this simple study shows us that once your body degenerates past a certain strength and mobility threshold, you’ve got less than 10 years to live.

The takeaway here is that the fountain of youth is movement. If you want to give death and a low quality of life the middle finger, you must craft a Wild Workstation to combat the simplicity of modern day life.

If you don’t, the degenerative effects of sitting still will reward you with chronic pain and physical oppression. The time to start is now because degenerative effects can become irreversible once certain tipping points are reached.

If the term physical degeneration seems abstract to you, let me show you some serious examples to explain what I mean.

Your S-shaped Spine – The S stands for suffering

As “civilized” humans, we’ve become increasingly sedentary and maladapted to our simple urban environments. The modern body ultimately degenerates over the decades to a point where chronic disease, pain and immobility are the norm instead of the exception.

One body part that showcases these degenerative effects all too well is the spine.In fact, new evidence indicates that the S-shaped spine we all thought was the healthy human normal is actually a degenerative side-effect of modern day life.

When comparing yourself to indigenous peoples around the world that still live in accordance with their traditional lifestyles, the S-shaped spine is simply unnatural. It turns out that indigenous peoples actually have J-shaped spines. They don’t suffer from chronic back pain into old age like us domesticated urbanites do!

NPR - Morning Edition article on the lost postures of modern people compared to our indigenous counterparts. Using this evidence, I make the point in this blog post that the S-shaped spine is actually the degenerative result of human domestication.

Objectively speaking, comparing a “civilized” spine to an indigenous spine is almost like comparing a German Shepard’s hips to the Grey Wolf. You’re comparing the same species, but the domesticated version is plagued by degenerative health issues while the wild version is full of vitality and vigor throughout its life.

Native peoples living in the wild walk, squat and stand most of their waking hours. They innately squeeze their butt muscles to support their lower back throughout the day. This provides them with strong, mobile and pain-free bodies into very old age.

How Domesticated Are Your Feet?

Believe it or not, many people today are walking around with some amount of foot degeneration.

99% of the time however, this wasn't a chronic health condition you were born with, but picked up from years of wearing anatomically incorrect footwear. 

Are you one of these people?

Here’s the 5-second test you can do to find out:

Stand on your bare feet, look down and ask yourself “What’s wider: The ball of my foot or my toes?”

If your answer is the balls of your feet, I’ve got some bad news for you…

...modern day life has not been kind to your feet.

This may surprise you, but the anatomically correct shape of the human foot looks like a spatula – widest at the toes and narrowest at the heel.

We’re all born this way (just look at the feet of any infant). But over time, anatomically incorrect footwear starts to force unnatural shapes on our feet. The toes get jammed together and the feet take on an unnatural and deformed shape.

Most people don’t think this is a very big deal, but deformed feet can actually cause a spectrum of chronic health conditions across your body.

Your feet are the bio-mechanical foundation of your body and should be respected as such.

The good news is that your Wild Workstation gives you an awesome opportunity to reverse your foot degeneration too.

You can do this by:

  1. Working at your Wild Workstation barefoot or in minimalist shoes, and
  2. Physically spreading your toes back to their anatomically correct position.

The easiest way to spread your toes is by purchasing and wearing a pair of Correct Toes invented by sports podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan.

Dr. McClanahan has spent most of his podiatry career combating foot degeneration and advocates that correcting your toes back to their anatomically correct baby shape is crucial.

Watch Dr. McClanahan’s YouTube video below to understand why it’s important to spread your toes while standing or squatting at your Wild Workstation.

Time For You To Start Moving

I hope this article gives you a new way to think and assess the health of your current work environment.

Although standing while you work is waaaaay better than sitting behind a desk all day, workstations that actually encourage movement is what you actually need to create.

In fact, the daily aches, pains and stiffness you feel is your domesticated body calling out for a Wild Workstation to reverse its decline!

Not to worry though. You don’t actually have to walk back into the forest to answer the call. You simply need to approximate the forest artificially by using the Wild Workstation principles discussed in this article.

If you have any questions about setting up your own Wild Workstation, join the conversation in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. I reply to every post!

Matt

P.S. If you like this content, there’s more coming soon!

Subscribe to The Modern Manimal blog in the opt-in form below and I’ll make sure to send you my next post as soon as it goes live!

Matt
 

Matt's a geologist turned online marketer and digital nomad. He's a Modern Manimal on a mission to cultivate a high-tech, hunter-gatherer lifestyle within our exceedingly domesticated world. When away from his tech, you can find him studying complex human movement through random play or practices like Aikido, AcroYoga and Barefoot Running.

  • Hanne says:

    Not sure I’ll be hanging on a bar one handed while typing with the other one, but I do like to switch up positions and add pull-ups and squats to my routine while working.
    For the pull-ups I simply installed one of those bars that fit into the frame of the door and I have a kettlebell laying around my “office” to do the squats and some swings.
    I’m not very confortable actually squating while working or sitting on the floor but will try adding that to my “postions to try” 🙂

    After reading the article, I immediately tried getting up from the floor and luckily I can do that with not hands, no problem 😉

    Thanks for all the information & tips!

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks Hanne!

      It sounds like you already have a pretty Wild Workstation setup for yourself with the doorframe pull-up bar and kettlebell. Bravo!

      As for the flat-footed squatting, try elevating your heels when you go ass-to-grass to help scale your initial adaptation back into this crucial body posture. It’ll boost your floor-computing time and speed up the transition. Your long-term core health will thank you for it!

      And glad to hear you’ve got 10+ years to live based on your no hands, back-to-sit-to-stand self-assessment. Now, your new lifelong goal is to never lose it! 😉

  • Viola says:

    Wow. Thank you for this long and well-thought out article.
    Sitting at my desk all day, neck bend towards the keyboard – I am the opposite of wild.
    I will make more use of the standing desk because some days my back is killing me.

    Where can I find a laptop giraffe thingy in Bali? 😀

    • Matt Totten says:

      Hey Viola, I bought my laptop stand from Amazon in Europe, but I’ll research this and get back to you. Maybe there’s an office supply store in Denpasar that has them…

      In the meantime, if there’s an alternative to Amazon in Bali, I’d try searching there for a portable stand to start.

      I can’t wait to see you at your new Wild Workstation around Dojo! ??

  • Loïc says:

    Thanks Matt!
    I study at school 42 born 2 code in Paris where we all prepare for careers as developers and yet none of the above good practices are implemented (regular chairs, table and screen height not adaptable). I’ll pass the word around!

    • Matt Totten says:

      I’m glad the article was helpful for you Loïc!

      With so many people spending several hours a day in degenerative body positions working on computers, I think it’s really important to rethink our work environments. Of course developers are super vulnerable to these types of long term disorders so best of luck spreading the word in your community!

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