The Dangerous Plight of The Active Couch Potato

Running is like having children, if you were to sit down and think about it rationally you’d quickly talk yourself out of doing it. Both hurt, are time consuming,costly and sometimes you need  a break from them. But at least running comes with health benefits! I have always tried to stay active.  I run 5 or 6 days a week, go to the gym – all the good stuff. I easily meet the most recent recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine (Haskell et al., 2007) of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. I am fit and healthy. Then I came across  a sitting calculator  at and apparently I’m not ……… according to this I’m at high to medium risk of a number of diseases due to my level of INACTIVITY and sitting. Unfortunately, outside of my regular exercise sessions, I sit just as much as my couch-potato peers. I’m an “active couch potato” and I have the same health risks as my completely inactive counterparts (Owen et al., 2010).


Active couch potatoe
Active couch potatoe

So I did my own bit of research and yes I am active but I spend a fair amount of my day on my backside and this is a problem, a big problem! The contribution of increased levels of activity to health have been studied as far back as the 1950s, at which time bus conductors and postmen were identified as having lower death rates from cardiovascular disease than less active workers – drivers and switchboard operators (Morris et al., 1953). Sedentary behaviours include sitting, driving (commuting), lying down (not sleeping) and television viewing (Chu & Moy, 2013). Industrial, technological and social progress have considerably reduced physical activity levels and greatly increased the participation in sedentary behaviours (Matthews et al., 2012). When compared to our parents and grandparents, my generation work and live in surroundings that discourage movement and physical activity – we are required to sit for prolonged periods in work, school and home (Owen et al., 2010). The research of a “sedentary lifestyle” has predominantly focussed on the detrimental results of non participation in the recommended level of exercise; nevertheless the appreciation of the adverse effects of sedentary behaviours on health is growing rapidly. (Matthews et al., 2012).


Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, aren’t the only health hazards that active couch potatoes face. Sitting time is emerging as a strong candidate for being a cancer risk factor in its own right. The American Institute for Cancer Research now links prolonged sitting with increased risk of both breast and colon cancers. Sitting for extended periods of time on a consistent basis at work or home could also be the root cause of many running injuries. Sitting can cause muscle imbalances resulting in some muscles become extremely tight and others extremely weak. These imbalances can cause injuries in runners and result in poor performance.

So currently I work hard, train hard and sit long. And that is a problem, not just for me, but for a growing numbers us. So what can I change? Since January I have tried and failed to reduce the time I spend sitting. I changed jobs and shortened my commute but this saved time has been replaced with more computer work – emails, articles, letters etc.  My calculated sitting time using the calculator at still  remains 7 hours 30 mins , which represents no improvement. The main portion of my time spent sitting is still attributable to my work ….. the solution is as simple as standing up! But how –  standing/adjustable desks are expensive and can take up large amounts of space which I don’t really have and my wife certainly wouldn’t tolerate.

And then, whilst sitting and pretending to send emails and catch up on paper work , courtesy of Colin Nederkoorn and his blog (   I found instructions and a diagram of how to construct a standing desk. It is built solely with IKEA products  and costs only €17. What was there to lose? The trip to IKEA was easily avoided by suggesting to my wife that she had’nt visited in a while and should go up and take a look and while she was there pick me up a Lack side table (€6), an ekby viktor shelf(€6) and 2 ekby valter shelf brackets (€5).

Figure 2: Ergonomics of a standing desk


  1. Assemble the lack side table according to the instructions in the packaging.
  2. Place the lack side table on top of your existing desk, and your computer monitor or

laptop on top of the side table.

  1. Add a textbook underneath the monitor to raise the height if necessary. You want

your head to be straight and your eyes to naturally fall into the top 1/3 of the screen.

  1. Measure the distance for the brackets. Consider using a twist-tie and stacking them

on top of a ream of paper or by placing the shelf underneath the bracket in order to get the height precise.

  1. Screw the brackets into the legs of the table with an approx 1.5 inch long flat head

screw. Place the shelf on top. Optionally, screw the shelf into the brackets

That was the easy bit. The merchandise arrived on Wednesday and sat in the corner of the kitchen. I’m not the best at DIY projects but I was convinced if I left it long enough Michelle would volunteer, but she didn’t budge. On Friday I moved it into the middle of the kitchen, leaning against a press so she couldn’t miss it, but no, it was back in the corner when I came home that evening. So  at 7.45pm on Sunday evening I realised and accepted this was my project and  I resigned myself  to doing it alone and without help. Surprisingly though it really was very basic and only took 1 hour to finish! A trip to ikea by my wife, 17 euro on materials and 1 hour labour resulted in this, my standing desk!

standing desk barry

Like me if you choose to stand at work, you’ll be in good company – Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway were all said to have used stand up desks.

Author: Barry Kehoe MISCP CSCS







Chu AHY & Moy FM. (2013). Joint Association of Sitting Time and Physical Activity with Metabolic Risk Factors among Middle-Aged Malays in a Developing Country: A Cross-Sectional Study. PLoS One 8.

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Matthews CE, George SM, Moore SC, Bowles HR, Blair A, Park Y, Troiano RP, Hollenbeck A & Schatzkin A. (2012). Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults. Am J Clin Nutr 95, 437-445.

Morris JN, Heady JA, Raffle PA, Roberts CG & Parks JW. (1953). Coronary heart-disease and physical activity of work. Lancet 265, 1053-1057; contd.

Nocon M, Hiemann T, Muller-Riemenschneider F, Thalau F, Roll S & Willich SN. (2008). Association of physical activity with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil 15, 239-246.

Owen N, Sparling PB, Healy GN, Dunstan DW & Matthews CE. (2010). Sedentary behavior: emerging evidence for a new health risk. Mayo Clin Proc 85, 1138-1141.

Sofi F, Capalbo A, Cesari F, Abbate R & Gensini GF. (2008). Physical activity during leisure time and primary prevention of coronary heart disease: an updated meta-analysis of cohort studies. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil 15, 247-257.






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