Get Off Your Ass: It Could Save Your Life!

I bet you’re sitting down while reading this.

Whether you’re at work at your desk, sitting in a coffee shop, lounging on your couch after a long day, or propped up in bed with your iPad, you’re probably seated firmly on your butt while reading Nerd Fitness…and I don’t blame you – sitting has become so ingrained in our culture that most of us (myself included) spend more time sitting in a chair every day than we do sleeping.

If this sounds like you, you are certainly not alone – after all, chairs are everywhere, from the seats in our car to the office chair to the restaurant booth where we eat.  Sitting seems like the most natural thing in the world, right?

However, what if sitting was actually worse for you than you realized?  What if sitting all day resulted in far more health issues than you could possibly imagine?  Hell, what if sitting was actually killing you?

Yeah, I know…that sentence sounds like ole Steve here has gone off the deep end.  Unfortunately, it’s more true than you realize, especially for people in our demographic.

Here’s why you need to get off your ass…and how it could save your life.

The problem with sitting

If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know that I’m a big fan of the Paleo diet and paleo lifestyle.  After all, we existed as a species for hundreds of thousands of years by living a certain way (hunting, gathering, traveling barefoot)…and although technology and advances in science and medicine have certainly helped us live longer lives, quite a few modern “conveniences” have actually made things harder for us.

Sitting is one of those conveniences that can cause all sorts of damage to our body when done to excess – a.k.a. the typical sedentary American lifestyle.  I read a great article over on Mark’s Daily Apple that compared sitting to today’s modern shoes and sneakers.  Sure, your new Nikes might seem comfortable, but they actually weaken all of the muscles and joints in your feet and ankles by doing all of the stabilization work for you – your muscles grow weak, complacent, and bored because they have nothing to do.  This is a recipe for injury and disaster.

Your core/hips/groin/legs are no different when it comes to sitting!

When you sit down, your hip flexors (the muscles that work the movements between your pelvis and thigh bones – that crease between your thigh and groin) get tightened and shortened.  Meanwhile, your hamstrings and glutes (butt) get all stretched out.  Now obviously your muscles getting stretched and contracted  is a part of life – it’s these actions that allow us to do fantastic things like…move.  However, the problems arise when we keep these muscles in this non-standard state for hours upon hours at a time.

Think of your muscles as glorified rubber bands – they can stretch and contract as you pull them.  Now, take a rubber band and wrap it around a basketball, stretching it to its limit for a few weeks.  When you come back and take that rubber band off the ball, it will have almost no elasticity and won’t be able to return to its original shape.  Or, it’ll just snap.  Crapola.

If you’ve ever tried to do a heavy leg workout after a day filled with hours of sitting then you know what I’m talking about – you feel like an old man or woman with the flexibility of a steel girder.

And that’s just for our hips!

When you factor in slouched-over shoulders, a weakened lower back, a jacked up spine, and that hunchback look that we all adore (not), sitting in an office chair all day pretty much renders our body useless.


Health issues with sitting

Now, on top of issues dealing with flexibility (which is so crucial to having proper form during your exercises), sitting on your butt can cause a litany of other health issues as well.  The most extreme case I’ve heard of recently involved a 20-year old kid who died after getting a blood clot during a marathon video game session – one of the saddest and most tragic stories I’ve ever come across.

Here are some other health issues associated with sitting, as explained in this Art of Manliness article:

A study found that men who sit for more than six hours of their leisure time each day had a 20% higher mortality rate than those who sat for three hours or less. The epidemiologist who conducted the study, Alpha Patel, concluded that excessive sitting literally shortens a person’s life by several years.

Another study showed that men who sat for 23 or more hours a week had a 64% greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours per week or less.

Even the New York Times has chimed in, explaining that extended bouts of sitting can huge pain in the butt (HEYOOO!) for your body.  You simply don’t expend much energy sitting down compared to standing up and/or moving around…sure it might be just a difference of a dozen calories here and there, but multiplied out over ten hours a day, 365 days a year, and ten+ years…that can equal quite a bit of weight gain.

Now, as we all know, correlation does NOT prove causation, so you’d be rightly skeptical in some of the facts listed – for example, those who tend to probably spend all day sitting compared to those who are more active might have other health issues that can lead to an earlier death.

That being said, no matter which way you look at it…sitting all day is at best “not good for you” and at worst a serious health hazard. 

On top of all of the health reasons, there are productivity issues too – I find that sitting while working makes me lazy!  I don’t know about you, but when I’m seated a nice comfy chair, spending hours screwing around on the internet comes easy.  However, when standing up and working, I find it’s much easier to focus and actually get stuff done.

So, let’s do a quick recap.  Too much sitting can:

  • mess up your mobility and flexibility.
  • lead to weight gain.
  • weaken your muscles.
  • screw up your posture.
  • lead to a  tremendous amount of other health problems.
  • actually kill you.

Ruh roh, Shaggy. 

Let’s see if we can fix this problem:

The Standing Desk

The good ole standing desk!  If you work at home or in an office where standing is considered acceptable, this is probably your best option.  It promotes healthier behavior, better posture, increases circulation in your legs, will help improve your hip flexor mobility, and ingrain more of a “I’m ACTIVE” thought into your brain.  Trust me on that one.

So, what’s kind of desk should you be looking for, you ask?

  • If you have money to burn, check out– they have desks that are like robots, and can transform from a sitting desk to a standing desk at a moments notice.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the return/refund policy to protect you should your desk develop consciousness and attempt to take over the world with the Decepticons – you’ve been warned.
  • Check out this hacked desk from IkeaHackers back when I had a home, I bought all my furniture at Ikea – easy to assemble, cheap, and you don’t feel bad when it breaks or you move cross country and have to ditch it.  A cheap desk + a few modifications = standing desk.
  • Play Tetris – if there’s no budget at your office for a new standing desk, why not modify your old desk?  Bring in some cinder blocks to prop up the bottom of your desk to a standing desk height?  Or, use some milk crates, boxes, stacks of hardcover books, or build a tiny desk (thanks to Mark for the link) to put up on top of your current desk to raise your computer to standing desk height?
  • Get REALLY creative – use an ironing board, a dresser, or bookshelf, start doing your work at your kitchen counter, or use a coffee shop’s tall bars on the walls – just aim for a surface height where your arms are at a natural position and you don’t need to hunch over your computer to use it.

Now, the transition to awesomeness won’t be seamless; in fact, things might feel a little funky or painful if you’re used to spending 8+ hours a day parked in your computer chair.

Here’s a report from one dude who switched to a standing desk, when asked if it hurt or bothered him:

Yes, very much. In fact, the first three days were brutal, so painful I doubted the whole endeavor. By mid-day 2, I had to sit down every hour or so. I was distracted and had a hard time focusing on anything but how much my feet hurt. At night I sat on the couch with my feet elevated. I collapsed into bed totally exhausted. I never appreciated sitting as much as I did the first three days.

Then, on the fourth day, it wasn’t so bad. On day 5, I got lost in work for 2 hours before I thought about the fact that I was on my feet once.  Now it’s my new normal.

  Here are a few other things you should keep in mind about making the switch:

  • Like the guy said above, it’s going to feel really weird for a while.  We are creatures of habit, and our bodies are a result of those habits – a big change like this is going to cause some resistance: your legs will get tired, your feet will hurt, you’ll find yourself constantly wanting to sit down, one leg will get tired and the other won’t, etc.  Try this: get yourself a tall stool to sit on when needed and set a clock/timer on your computer, aiming to stand for longer and longer periods each day.  For example – 30 minutes today, 35 minutes tomorrow, 40 minutes on Wednesday, and so on.  Baby steps people!
  • Pick one that is the right height – You don’t want to bend over at the waist or hunch over to have to use your computer.  Set it at a height when you can stand up straight and proud (and full of confidence!), with your shoulder blades pulled back, your arms at a natural height, and your gaze not too far down that it causes discomfort in your neck.  If you have an external monitor, I’d recommend setting it high (closer to eye level) so you can simply look straight ahead to see your computer screen rather than down at it.
  • Don’t just stand there – Don’t just stand in the same freaking spot for eight hours without moving; that’s almost as bad as sitting and not moving.  Shift your weight from one leg to the other, take constant walking breaks (at least every 30 minutes or so) to keep the blood flowing and your legs moving.  Personally I haven’t found this to be an issue, as I find myself constantly moving when standing anyways.

But I can’t stand at work

Okay, I hear you. 

Maybe you work in Cubicleland, and you at a standing desk would be incredibly awkward.  Maybe you don’t have the opportunity to take your laptop to the kitchen and use the counter there.  Maybe you’re a traveling salesman and six hours a day in the car isn’t unusual.  If you can’t convince the big boss that standing is a good idea (citing the reasons above), if the Man won’t let you build your own desk, or if your job dictates that you’re in the seated position all day, you’ll have to take a more active role in fixing yourself.

First and foremost, quit your job.

Hahaha, I’m just kidding.  

Start by fixing your posture in your chair – switch to a stool or a chair without a back support so you can work on your posture.  Sure, this won’t do much for your hip flexors, butt, and hamstrings getting stretched, but it will help strengthen your lower back and core.  “But Steve, this hurts my lower back! I NEED MOAR SUPPORT!!!1!!”  No, you need to strengthen your lower back and posterior chain, sucka!  It will take time and effort and might even be uncomfortable…but it will be worth the effort.

Get up every 30 minutes – without fail.  Set a time on your computer to force yourself to get up every 30 minutes and go for a walk – go harass your coworkers (I hear they love that) or go chat up that Funke around the water cooler.  Just get up and move!

Be more active – if you spend all day at your computer, try eating your lunch and dinner standing at the counter.  If you spend all day at the computer, try playing your Xbox 360 or PS3 standing up.  Yup, it’s weird.  Yeah, your legs will probably get tired.  Get over it! Be more active, even if it means making your nerdy activities a little more active than they need to be.  Don’t spend ten hours at your desk only to come home and spend five hours in front of your TV – you’re better than this.

Train to improve the weak parts – hip raises, squats where you drop below parallel, straight leg deadlifts, regular deadlifts, and lots of hip mobility work will do you well to keep the lower part of your body healthy, flexible, and useful.

How to improve your hip mobility

Above all else, I think the area where us desk jockeys lack the most strength and power is in our hips.  And if we’ve learned anything from Happy Gilmore, it’s all in the hips.

Weak hips, glutes, and hamstrings make it incredibly difficult to have perfect form when doing squats and deadlifts – you should be able to squat so that the tops of your thighs are below parallel (or even low enough so that your butt hits the back of your calves).  If you can’t squat low enough, I’d bet my life savings that you have weak hip flexors and poor mobility in your hips!

Here’s how to fix that:

Spend at least 5-8 minutes before doing any lower body work working on your mobility with a dynamic warm up – jumping jacks, body weight squats, hip raises, leg swings, side leg swings, and fence stepovers (taught to me by Shawn over at TheFitnessBuster).  Following a routine like this will really activate your hips and allow you to power through your lower body exercises with great form.

Here’s a video if that helps explain it more:

Hip Mobility Warm Up Video

  • Do this mobility workout of the day, but don’t say I didn’t warn you…I’ve been sitting a LOT while traveling in Ireland (too much work and lots of time on buses), so doing this mobility workout was incredibly difficult and painful for me when I did it this morning.  Do the best you can – don’t hurt yourself, but WORK ON IT.
  • Try yoga – does your gym offer yoga classes? Not a bad way to improve your flexibility at all.  If your gym doesn’t offer classes, a simple search on youtube will result in approximately 4.3 bazillion yoga instructional videos.
  • Sit less – the less you sit, the less damage you’ll have to undo on your hip mobility.  Take frequent breaks at work – go do squats in the bathroom stall or lunges down your hallway – just be more active.

Sit or stand?

I would love to hear from you on this!

Do you use a standing desk?  Ever tried?  Have you run into resistance from your boss for asking to use one?

Have a cool way to create a standing desk?

Please let me know your thoughts on standing desks in the comments.


PS – Yes, this article was typed while standing at my homemade funky standing desk here in my (dorm) room in Galway.


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74 thoughts on “Get Off Your Ass: It Could Save Your Life!

  1. My boss and I were just talking about this last week! We want to get a community standup desk in the conference room for when we don’t want to sit down at our desks all day! 

  2. Agreed. I have a standing desk and love it, but make sure not to stand TOO much during the day as it can cause atrophy in the leg muscles. Essentially, just listen to your body –

  3. I’ve been standing at work for about 18 months and I’ll never go back. I do a roughly 70/30 split of time. I even wrote a post about it on my (soon to be defunct and replaced with something more awesome) blog- There’s a picture of my solution on there; a $10 shoe rack from target.

    And Steve, be careful you don’t put too much stress on your spine looking down at your screen too. No one wants a hump-back.

  4. Great post, Steve!

    I don’t have a standing desk because I’m usually running around all day with clients, but with the amount of writing I’ve been doing lately, I really should start looking into it!

    Thank you thank you thank you for including the hip mobility warm up!  It’s so important- I’ve seen countless clients injure themselves due to tight hip flexors and turned off glutes.  One thing that everyone should know is that the hip flexors attach right into your lower back.  Most of the time new clients complain of lower back pain, hip flexor tightness is the main culprit!

    Also, for all those girls out there that wear heels all day, I would highly recommend buying some “work” shoes to stand in at your standing desk (Steve, I’m sure you would suggest going barefoot or wearing Vibram five fingers here, which are both good options too :))- standing in heels all day promotes a wide array of compensations (lengthened hamstrings, tight hip flexors, sway back, etc.) that could be worse for you than sitting properly in a chair.

    Thanks again for all the great info!

  5. i tried standing up at my desk at work – unfortunately since im a cubemonkey and the walls are short (at 5’4″, the walls are only up to about my elbows), my coworkers thought i was just being creepy 🙂

    may give kneeling a shot again!

  6. I have used a sit/stand workstation for several years through several different jobs. The people in the construction industry thought it was weird, and the people in the legal department at Kaiser actually sent their friends over to see the girl who stood up at her desk (fact). Am now back in the high tech industry where standing at your workstation is much more accepted, but I am also in cube world with low walls. Felt extremely self-conscious at first (we just moved to a new office with the aforementioned low walls), but, well, let ’em eat cake. The co-workers got used to it, and now I’m even seeing some of them put in requests for sit/stand workstations!

    For the Rebellion!

  7. Anyone who gives excuses for not standing at work…i.e. they feel weird about being the only one standing – get over it!  I am in the military, and I’m studying at the Defense Language Institute right now.  I think the military is a little more of a difficult place/situation to be different than others…but I still stand during class all day.  Yes I am known as the weird student who stands all the time…but it’s worth it! 

  8. Question: Would laying on a couch with my back at a 45 degree angle be better than sitting in a chair?

  9. Question: Would laying on a couch with my back at a 45 degree angle be better than sitting in a chair?

  10. I spoke with my boss a couple months ago about getting a standing desk, but with the way my work situation is, it wouldn’t work. I’m going to bring it up again, though. I think I’ve found a solution: Remove the cabinets over my desk (that no one is using, anyway) and rig something to put on my desk so at least the level of my computer/phone is raised so I can stand.

    Unfortunately, they’re sticklers about the safety code where I work, so it might not last long, but it’s worth a try!

  11. “Unfortunately, they’re sticklers about the safety code where I work, so it might not last long, but it’s worth a try!”
    The irony! 🙂

  12. I work in a pharmacy and all the computer work is done standing up. But I think that’s just because it’s easier as we’re always grabbing drugs from the shelves every two minutes, chairs would just get in the way. As I only work part time (I’m a student) it always busts my calves once term ends/work begins. So it’s all good for me!

    Also, I once read that sitting in a reclined position is an improved way of sitting (think Romans) as it puts less pressure on the base of your spine and reduces back ache. Not sure if you’ve read anything of this before?

  13. You Apple Nerds with your lack of laptop fans! =P 

    In all seriousness, though, my last job (before I was laid off) had standing desks for everyone. Rather, they were the desks with a crank and you could choose to lower it and sit if you wanted or raise it and stand. They bought us adjustable foot rests, too, so when you’re standing you could put a foot up and stretch while you worked. It really did take a few days to adjust, but it felt great afterwards.

  14. So, question: If I drive truck for a living, how can I ensure that I still get enough time on my feet to stay healthy? 

    Also, is kneeling at the desk another way to mix it up and keep your lower body from getting too used to sitting.  Yeah, I know, it wouldn’t be that great for the knees if it were the only thing one did, but it might me a reasonable alternative to sitting.

  15. I also work at a company that puts safety first. They frown upon things that could potentially cause harm. (We have a safe job procedure on how to sit in your chair.) I tried to get this a while ago, but they referred me back to safety. Kind of a bummer. I stand while I’m at home though. 

  16. At work, mix it up, walk around if you can (hold a sheaf of paper so your boss thinks you’re busy), kneel down for a bit at your desk, at least you’re engaging your glutes, hips, core to keep you upright.
    who cares if you look weird?
    I took the back off my chair so I’d be forced to change my posture and engage my core instead of slumping back.
    Now if we can figure out a way to stand and drive, i’m all for it. Maybe a motorcycle would be of more assistance.

  17. I have the opposite problem — I work on a production line, so I stand for eight hours a day. When I get home, the last thing I want to do is stand, so I mostly lie down.

  18. I use a standing desk, and I absolutely love it! I use the Ergotron WorkFit-S Dual Monitor unit (just google it for a link) and it’s been excellent. It can be lowered to use seated, though I’ve only done that 3-4 times since I got it 4 months ago, but it’s nice for those long conference calls when you’d like to take a break and sit for a little bit.

  19. At my internship, I stack books on the monitor. My coworkers look at me everytime they pass by (my desk is in the hallway), but I feel like the coolest guy in the room. At home, I use an ironing board. Man, I guess I’m just a stand-up guy!

  20. Ugh, sitting all day makes me crazy!  I get up at least once an hour and use my lunch break to do yoga (we organized something here) or just take a walk.  Sadly, standing at my desk isn’t an option BUT one of those balance balls as a chair is… so I’ll be getting one of those soon.  Oh the joys of an office job. 

  21. Um, atrophy (wasting) happens in muscles you’re not using at all.  So standing up, since it requires use of leg muscles, can’t cause atrophy.  It CAN cause other issues if body mechanics are bad to begin with or if weird positions are held.  Easiest way to avoid discomfort once the legs/feet are accustomed to the standing position is to do as advised and move around.

  22. And this is why I don’t feel bad when I ride an airplane and make my seat mates get up to let me out for a “bathroom break” every hour.  I’m saving their butts from blood clots.

    I do have a question, though.  If being on your feet all day is so good for you, why do cashiers and nurses hurt so much when they do it?

  23. Pingback: Standing Desk
  24. Read about the deathly effects of sitting too much a few months ago and vowed to get up from my desk more.  However, I wasn’t too successful and my shoulder, neck, hip flexors, and hamstrings continued to suffer.

    11:30 today read your post
    12:00 today had a standing desk

    Can’t wait for the freeing pain that awaits!

  25. Whether sitting or standing, I practice Alexander Technique to help my skeleton keep proper alignment, putting less stress on my back and hips. It helps a lot.

  26. THANK YOUUUUU! (for this post).  I read it last night, and this very day, I have concocted my standing desk at work.  Thank you printer cartridge box (for the keyboard), some other miscellaneous leather-covered box (perhaps from a long-ago received fruit basket type gift?) for the monitor and a wooden box for the mouse.  Awesome!

  27. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  Between sitting most of the day at work, sitting on the couch with the laptop at home catching up on nerd fitness, and then sitting on the couch playing Black Ops…I’m definitely not doing myself any good.  

    Time to change.  I’m standing now while I type, next week will include some modifications at work, and I’ll trying rocking some Black Ops while standing.  Thanks to Steve and all those who have posted here for the great tips!!

  28. I made myself a standning desk out of ny regular desk and a bana packing crate. I am a student and spend many many hour studying at this desk and I usually get shoulder pains and a crick in my neck, but not today and hopefully not tomorrow either. My new banana desk sure is ugly but it works.

  29. Thanks in particular for the 2nd mobility workout you linked to.  When dogs are over 20kg we treat them on the ground, and not only is kneeling in front of them killing my knees but it is also unsafe as I can’t move quick enough if one were to decide to lunge.  Knowing that if I work at it my body will be able to be comfortable in a squat might help me keep my head!

  30. I only discovered this blog several hours ago and I think you’ve just saved me life haha! I’m actually a university student in England and my course – architecture – is horribly work intensive. I’ve hardly exercised for the past few years, and this summer I’ve failed in finding a job so have spent a lot of the past month or so lying in bed browsing the internet or just watching TV. I knew it wasn’t good for me but I didn’t realise how bad it was.

    Over the next month I’m going to work myself into a beginners routine and I think this blog is going to be all I need to keep me going. I can guarantee that without stumbling on to this blog (and especially this page), I’ll probably be doing the same as the past few years for the next few too. So, hey! Steve! You’ve saved my life! 🙂

  31. I stand all day at work. I also walk several miles during a shift, kneel, crouch, bend, lift, stock shelves, and work a cash register. I couldn’t imagine sitting for a job, but doing a physically demanding job can be just as hard on the body. I often stop to stretch my back and neck, do squats, or just move what needs to be moved.

     It’s just as important (maybe more) to take care to avoid injury when standing at work as sitting. Standing at a computer (or cash register, in my case) puts you at risk for repetitive stress injuries, foot and knee issues (plantar fasciitis is incredibly common in retail, I’d say over half my coworkers have dealt with it), and muscle strains. The prevention is the same whether you’re standing or sitting–micro breaks, stretches, mobility exercises. Standing isn’t much better than sitting, unless you get up and move periodically.

  32. I stand all day at work. I also walk several miles during a shift, kneel, crouch, bend, lift, stock shelves, and work a cash register. I couldn’t imagine sitting for a job, but doing a physically demanding job can be just as hard on the body. I often stop to stretch my back and neck, do squats, or just move what needs to be moved.

     It’s just as important (maybe more) to take care to avoid injury when standing at work as sitting. Standing at a computer (or cash register, in my case) puts you at risk for repetitive stress injuries, foot and knee issues (plantar fasciitis is incredibly common in retail, I’d say over half my coworkers have dealt with it), and muscle strains. The prevention is the same whether you’re standing or sitting–micro breaks, stretches, mobility exercises. Standing isn’t much better than sitting, unless you get up and move periodically.

  33. I’ll take your standing at work and raise you one to dancing at work! 

    I work from home, so after reading this article all I needed was a couple of IKEA boxes and now my normal desk is a standing desk. However, while I work I always have music on, and I found myself dancing along to the more lively tracks that came on, and suddenly work was fun. If standing > sitting, dancing > standing right? As long as you can still work, anyway.I highly recommend this if you work from home, or your co-workers won’t mind you getting down as you work. It’s made proofreading IT brochures far more fun than it should be.

  34. HI Steve I seen your video on the hips. I have a couple thought on your video. First of all this is coming from a man who in the past broke both hips at same time. And second took lot of time to heal and get mobility back in the hips. I know you preach doing something instead of nothing. Well I would say this. ONLY IF IT IS DONE CORRECTLY. I see many problems on your hip mobility exercises. A lot with body alignment and some of the exercises themselves. You can be doing more harm to your hips than you know. I can almost guarantee that in the future you will have issues with that.
    You should really preach this. Practice makes perfect. Scratch that it should be Perfect Practice makes Perfect.
    One of your exercises you show you really need to do on a elevated surface (2 x 4 or a curb or step) another is the leg swing and has to do with the position of the foot you are swinging. You rotated that foot incorrectly it needs to be facing forward.
    And for another note I know you have a interest in Martial arts so if your in Chicago on September 24 2011 there is a special you must see. It is not a normal tournament you will see. Mainly in the skill challenge.
    Warrior’s ChallengeCompete with Pride….Battle for RespectSaturday, September 24, 2011Thornton Fractional North High School755 Pulsaski Road, Calumet City, IL 60409Registration Begins-9:30 amMandarory Black Belt Meeting-10 am(Black Belts please bring your uniform or business attire to judge)Competition Begins-10:30 amMaster’s demonstration-4pm

  35. If you do show up Steve you will see the best in Chicago area battle it out and if you like maybe you can find out how to use a 2 x 4 and some excellent hip exercises to say the least.
    The thing is I would love to see if you could even try to do some of the things at this challenge.

  36. Sorry i hate to keep typing but i just can’t stop. lol
    Actually I HATE seeing people do improper training or techniques. I guess that is the instructor in me. 

  37. Hi love this article, you are so right. 

    Hey a great iphone app I downloaded recently that is helping me stay motivated is The Body Building Game – check out the video here:


  38. I converted to a standing desk about 3 months ago. I sit about 20% of the day and stand the rest. Love it.

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