Reinventing the Office: How to Lose Fat and Increase Productivity at Work

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(Photo: watz)

If you’re a white-collar worker, hacking your body isn’t limited to the gym. In fact, what you do outside of the gym might be more important that what you do inside the gym.

Recent research suggests that those who sit from 9-5 (more than 6 hours daily) and exercise regularly are more likely to have heart disease than those who sit less than 3 hours per day and don’t “exercise” at all. ff Venture Capital, a New York early-stage technology venture capital fund, recently moved into a new NYC location, and they’ve documented their experiments and findings in rethinking the office for physical optimization.

David Teten of ff VC contributed this detailed post, which provides a laundry list of ideas for transforming your office–home-based or otherwise–from a liability into a performance enhancer…

If you have any fantastic tricks you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.

Enter David Teten

When Arnold Schwarzenegger first came to America, he and fellow bodybuilder Franco Columbu worked during the day as bricklayers. Their work was their workout. When they weren’t laying bricks, they were hitting the gym hard and heavy.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t so lucky, and ass-in-chair time has costs:

- As the New York Times recently wrote, sitting kills.
– In a study that tracked over 17,000 Canadians for 12 years, researchers found that people who sat more had a higher risk of death, independent of whether or not they exercised.
– According to a 2003-2004 U.S. survey, Americans spend over half of their time awake sitting.
– In an article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researcher Elin Ekblom-Bak found that “after four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals” that cause the genes regulating glucose and lipose levels in the body to shut down.

A small number of offices across the country have slowly begun to endorse the idea of exercising during work (e.g. walking on a treadmill while doing your job at Mutual of Omaha). Besides the obvious fitness benefits, exercise also increases productivity (according to research done by the Vermont Board of Education — PDF download).

Most surprising of all, remaking the workplace into a healthy, exercise-supportive environment has a cost benefit. Many of the design changes we have implemented cost little or nothing.

Below is a list of the key features of our office. We hope that more companies will embrace this alternative way of working, and ultimately improve the well-being of all their employees.

Desk Setup

Every person in our office has a choice of three desk setups:

1. Standing desk ($200-$750) with anti-fatigue comfort mat ($20-$40).

We use electronically adjustable desks, built from an IKEA top and Workrite frame and legs (ordered through WB Mason). These were the most attractive standing desks we could find at a reasonable price. They move up and down at the push of a button, making it easy to change to a sitting position when needed. For another look at a typical standing desk configuration, click here.

2. Exercise ball ($40) to sit on in lieu of a conventional chair. Exercise balls help build core stability muscles, thereby reducing lower back pain and injury. We particularly like the Trainerball ($35), which has ball exercises printed directly on the ball. We also have yoga ball bases ($11) to prevent the balls from rolling around the office. The cost for this combination is much less than a conventional office chair.

3. Conventional seated office chair ($150-$800), with the optional balance cushion ($15).

We’re happy to report that, after working in this environment for more than three months, a majority of the people in our office have chosen to use standing desks or exercise ball chairs. Many folks, including myself, periodically switch between the two.

We encourage having multiple large computer screens ($180 each) at each desk, space and budget permitting. Multiple computer screens increases productivity and efficiency.

We strongly suggest using a monitor stand ($25). The GTMax stand ($60) supports up to 30 lbs, is fully adjustable up to 22 inches, and allows for desk space usage underneath the monitor. Unfortunately, it’s only strong enough for laptops, not stand-alone monitors. There are countless stands that provide a few inches clearance from the desk, but for anything higher, the only options we’ve found thus far are either not adjustable or not strong enough.

Everyone in the office is offered an ergonomic keyboard. We recommend one of these, in ascending order of distance from a conventional keyboard:

- Kinesis Advantage Keyboard ($269)

- Goldtouch Adjustable Keyboard ($95)

- Datahand ($995)

For a mouse, we really like the Designer Appliances E Quill AirO2bic mouse ($90), used with a TrainerBall Mousepad ($10), which includes suggested ergonomic exercises.

We also suggest people consider using:

- Hand grippers ($20) for relieving stress and improving grip strength. A tennis ball is a cheaper alternative.

- Wobble boards ($12-$55) for use when at a standing desk. These work out your lower body continuously.

- Pedometers ($20) or pedometer apps, for tracking miles walked per day. People wearing a pedometer walk about 27% more per day than people not wearing a pedometer.

Shoes

Many of us wear minimalist (a.k.a. ‘ barefoot’) shoes, which have very thin, slipper-like soles. I particularly like Sockwas ($40-$50). The black Sockwas Amphibian is my all-time favorite shoe for both work and weekend wear: it has a minimal sole, is inexpensive, and doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to itself. I also wear Vibram Fivefingers ($83-$92), which look like gecko feet, for training/outdoor activities.

Sergey Brin has appeared at several conferences wearing his Vibram Fivefingers. As the old joke goes, “What’s the difference between ‘crazy’ and ‘eccentric? A few million dollars.”

Of course, we understand that not all offices will be as tolerant of idiosyncratic footwear. When I’m in a fundraising meeting or a more conservative environment, I use my Bally Pakos Lace-up ($500) which have the most comfortable minimal sole of any men’s business shoe we’ve encountered. For women, we suggest VivoBarefoot shoes.

Conference Rooms and Meetings

We have four conference rooms: one room has exercise balls ($40-$150 each) in place of chairs, and three conference rooms have conventional office chairs ($175 each).

We considered having a conference room with a standing conference table ($950 on up) and anti-fatigue mats. We’ve seen research that indicates standing meetings run much faster than sitting meetings, and we often have more informal standing meetings at our standing desks, discussing screen-dependent documents and individual projects. In our experience, the standing-only work set up has increased active participation and sharing of ideas.

The Galileo room features many spheres. It has been a favorite among visitors.

When the New York weather allows and when a meeting topic doesn’t require taking extensive notes, we have walking meetings. This is an easy way to integrate more exercise into the day.

Office Layout

There is significant evidence that people need exposure to natural light, so we’ve designed the office to maximize windows and natural light. [Check out this article for ways to do this.]

Our office has almost no walls; it’s primarily set up in an open-floor layout. The walls that we do have are made of glass, which allow us to write notes on them. This way, we don’t need any whiteboards. We believe the transparent layout helps to create a more transparent culture. If we didn’t have so many writeable glass walls, we’d use IdeaPaint ($50), a new kind of paint that allows any wall to be used as a dry erase board.

Given that social capital correlates with physical health (see Bowling Alone), we want to encourage people in the office to get to know one another. At the front of the office, we’re creating an office map showing the names of our portfolio companies, and the photos of the employees that work at each.

Some other ideas we like, but can’t yet execute in our current office for logistical reasons:

- Sprung floors, ($15/square foot). This flooring absorbs shocks, and give it a softer feel. Such floors are considered the best available for dance and other indoor sports. They enhance performance and greatly reduce injuries. Although we don’t do too many jetés in our office, these floors are a pleasure to use, particularly when wearing minimal shoes. A wobble board ($12-$55) or balance cushion ($15) is a much cheaper substitute.

- Pull-up bars ($30), for periodic pull-ups/muscle-ups when you have an occasion. In our office most of the doorjambs are glass, but if we expand to another floor we may have the option of installing pull-up bars on doorjambs made of wood. New York startup Workmarket has a pull-up machine at the front of their office, next to a list of the records set by people who have visited the office.

- Treadmill desks ($400-$2,000). The user walks slowly while talking to clients, writing proposals, checking email, or any other activity one would normally do at a desk. You could integrate ReRev into these treadmills; the company retrofits exercise equipment with a device that recycles excess energy created. At least for now, we’ve rejected this idea because of our concern about noise pollution.

- Showers, for people to clean up after jogging or biking to work.

- Nap room, for when our team needs a little rest.

Food and Snacks

In the holistic spirit of our initiative, we wanted to introduce healthy food options into our office environment. But like most offices, we have a range of dietary preferences: slow-carb, paleo, vegan, kosher, vegetarian, and ‘don’t care.’ Finding a solution that keeps everyone happy is non-trivial.

We turned to our favorite health authors (such as Michael Pollan) for guidance, each of which suggested all-natural unprocessed alternatives to the more common industrialized foods. In Pollan’s words, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Here is a list of snacks that we think are consistent with our food philosophy and appropriate as hors d’oeuvres, for instance, when we host periodic idea dinners, intern lunches, etc.:

- Organic vegetables: Edamame, avocados, carrots, celery
– Organic fruit (fresh and dried)
– Organic dips: Guacamole, bean dips, hummus, sugar-free applesauce
– Whole cottage cheese, or whole yogurt
– Mixed nuts (unsalted)
– Mini-brown rice/sesame cakes (unsalted)

We also serve free beer and red wine on Fridays. Studies suggest that light to moderate alcohol consumption can be quite healthy, particularly for the heart.

Finally, we have a list of local healthy restaurants and recommended meals (which we keep in our office Dropbox folder), and are considering signing up for Foodzie to find new exotic foods.

Einstein, the main conference room, includes a wine rack. We hold regular idea dinners, intern lunches, board meetings, and other events in this room.

Culture

Every office has a culture; the question is whether you create and influence that culture, or if it just happens haphazardly.

We’re trying to create a health-focused culture, without making people feel pressured and uncomfortable. In a traditional office, a single person using a fitness setup (e.g. ball chair) might draw unwanted attention, but we’ve designed the culture of our office to encourage experimentation. If someone turns down an opportunity to work with us because they’re uncomfortable with our culture, that’s okay. We consider this the price of having a clearly defined culture.

Other Ideas

We have a lot of ideas that are probably too radical for our office; implementing them would likely make some people uncomfortable. However, you might be able to use some of these ideas in your own office or home:

- ”Shoes-discouraged” policy, with a shoe shelf ($30-$300) at the office entrance. In most Japanese homes, no one wears shoes. Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, famously used to wear just his socks around the office. Victor Niederhoffer, a prominent trader, had a sign at the entrance to his Park Avenue office, saying, “Please remove your shoes.”

- Squat toilets ($450). These are extremely common in Asia, but highly unusual in the States. Squatting while going to the bathroom is significantly healthier than sitting on a conventional western toilet.

- Group morning exercises. Many Japanese workplaces start with a fixed set of morning calisthenics. Our portfolio company Kohort does a group daily pushup routine.

Rejected Ideas

We explored many other ideas, but ultimately abandoned them for not being based on research or sound reasoning. For instance, we looked into full-spectrum lighting after hearing that this new technology (which mimics natural sunlight) was supposed to enhance productivity. We rejected it after reading multiple studies which found no conclusive evidence on its benefits.

We also rejected having air purifiers and ionizers, which remove pollen, dirt, dust particles, and allergens. A prominent study showed that such air purifiers often emit ozone, which damages the body and thereby negates the benefits.

We considered buying health-oriented vending machines (h.u.m.a.n. Healthy Vending, 2bU), as often the choice to eat unhealthily is one of convenience, not conviction. Most of the products available in these machines were too processed for our preferences, but if you can’t provide some of the healthier food options listed above, these vending machines are certainly better than the conventional ones.

Finally, we thought about using e-readers to reduce eye strain, but the data is lacking on whether e-readers or reading on paper significantly reduces eye-strain (versus reading on a traditional monitor).

Closing Thoughts

Winston Churchill said, “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” We’ve now reached the point where 63.1% of adults in the U.S. were either overweight or obese in 2009.

In other words: We’ve exhausted all the alternatives.

As my wife says, the US doesn’t have a debt problem; we have a healthcare problem. The rebounding movement towards a healthier lifestyle in the office will create significant investment opportunities, and we’re actively looking for companies that fit our portfolio. For instance, our investment in BetterWorks was in part driven by our belief in the importance of employee benefits for highly qualified people.

If you know of a product, service, or company that’s working towards improving the office environment, please tell us about it in the comments section below!

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Special thanks to Duncan MacDonald-Korth and Matt Fairbank for their help researching this post.

Posted on: March 12, 2012.

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227 comments on “Reinventing the Office: How to Lose Fat and Increase Productivity at Work

      • If you look at the energy expenditure of sitting vs. walking vs. walking you’ll see that sitting and walking show almost no difference. Walking burns almost 5 times more energy than sitting or standing.

        There are no studies that show that standing kills, because no one stands at work. If everyone stood at work then we would probably see studies showing that standing kills. Standing doesn’t provide much of a benefit toward preventing heart disease.

        Movement is the key here.

        Like

      • True, yet not true. While you are probably correct that there exists an observational bias with respect to the effects of sitting in the office, there is reason to believe standing is better not because of direct effects but indirect.

        Do your own experiment. Buy a pedometer and track yourself sitting at the office. Then, try it standing. I found that when standing I was more active in the office. As an example, when I was thirsty I just walked over to the fountain instead of waiting until I needed to get up for something else. When I was mulling over some idea, I would pace around a bit. When someone down the hall called me, I just walked over instead of talking on the phone, etc. The downside is a cost in concentration. It’s harder to seriously focus when you are standing. I think you get used to it though, but I’m still conditioning my mind and adapting to standing while working.

        Like

    • Sell what? I work 9-5 and am desperate to find a solution to all this sitting! I am great with eBay and am into skiing, climbing, biking, hiking anything outdoors! Where can I source outdoor goods for resale/offshore?! Thanks!

      Like

  1. Great article, thanks for sharing! I suggest spineworx ( about 30-40 bucks). The standing while working one is something one of my friends started and liked. I’m going to replace my chair with the yoga ball right now thank you!

    Like

  2. I’m a full time MBA student and spend many hours at a time hunched over a computer. I make myself do an 8 minute workout every 2 hours to keep my blood flowing (8 mins abs, free on youtube) and I move around while I work. Sometimes I sit on floor pillows and use my coffee table, sometimes I work from my kitchen table, and other times I stand at my breakfast bar. The key is to not stay in one position too long.

    Like

  3. I have just recently left my job to work from home, I am really looking forward to having the opportunity to design my own, totally ergonomic office set up. I think it will make working much more enjoyable and make me better at what I do too.

    Great article, with loads of good ideas, thanks.

    Like

    • Hi!
      My name is Mariana. I would love to know what kind of jobs you can do from home. Whoever I asked, it seemed more like they try to sell something to me. If I do not ask for much, can you please tell me how can I find the REAL jobs that can be done from home?
      Congratulation on your decision!

      Like

  4. Interesting stuff. I’m currently giving my fluffy purple socks the evil eye. As much as I’d love to be involved in a meeting at your place of work I just know I’d be the one who fell off the green ball mid sentence ending up on the floor legs akimbo.
    Re- Fitness. I’ve walked the dogs and I’ll walk them again later. Pasta for lunch… Yipee!

    In awe.

    Bernadette

    Like

  5. One of the best workplace benefits I ever received (before launching my own wellness business) was lunchtime yoga. We’d move the chairs and tables to the edge of a large conference room, dim the lights, and practice for 45 minutes – – it was the highlight of the day for many.

    It’s so good to see revolutionary strides in workplace wellness. With leadership like ff Venture Capital and excellent articles like this, I hope many more will follow.

    Like

  6. I suddenly hate my office chair so much…
    My saving graces: walking to work (40 minutes a day, up and down stairs and hills) and walking in bursts (sit at your desk for a while – then take a break and walk around doing other stuff, timers really help here).
    For those of us who tried standing desks: how soon did you get used to it? I remember giving it a go and abandoning the idea due to shoulder pain.

    Like

      • I have to disagree with John on this. I am reminded of a “personal trainer” years ago that kept saying “push it, push it, no pain no gain”. I tore up my lower back that way and was in agonizing pain for months. The “personal trainer” just shrugged and laughed because it wasn’t him and didn’t care.
        Wiktor is either find a way to make it work, or he will move on to other ideas. It’s up to him and of course, he knows what is best for his own body.

        Like

  7. I use a standing desk 90% of the time. I work out 3 times a week, and exercise almost every day. I take regular breaks and walks around the property. All this is made pretty easy because I live on the beach on an island in the Philippines. It’s probably a lot harder in the typical western lifestyle.

    The standing desk has produced HUGE benefits. No afternoon slump. Also, if I sit down to do some work (which I occasionally do), I feel my energy drop. I sit down for meals and when I read books. Otherwise, I’m almost always standing.

    You don’t need to spend money on expensive desks either. For my first standing desk, I mounted the monitor, keyboard and mouse on differing piles of boxes. I used the boxes they use for A4 sheets of paper. A true “hobos” standing desk. Don’t ask your boss for permission. Just go ahead and do it. It’s awesome. Enjoy the strange looks you get from everyone and bask in your growing energy :D

    Like

  8. As a former ergonomist (got out of the profession for a simple lack of passion), this post brings a smile to my face. Workplaces all too often are put together with no thought on whether they work with the human body and spirit; neglecting this inevitably results in repetitive strain injuries, avoidable psychological distress, obesity, and so forth. These can become chronic health issues over time, costing companies scads of $$$$$ over the long term.

    Building a successful muse isn’t so satisfying if you have to live with chronic pain for years after, so think of these ergonomic issues BEFORE the damage is done!

    Great post, David and Tim!

    Like

  9. Cool ideas for a home office.

    Last summer, I worked as a cook assistant in a pasta-pizza restaurant and get ripped within two months even if my diet was mostly junk food (pizzas paid by the restaurant, lunch and dinner).

    Back to school, sitting for hours, even with a good diet, I took back 3% of body fat in one month.

    Since then, I think about how would I organize my home office (ok, my studio) to be more active physically when I’m working on my computer…

    Thanks !

    Like

    • I set my e-reader to white text on a black background. This is so much easier on my eyes because there is no glare. I like reading this way when I’m having trouble falling asleep too because it doesn’t add much additional light to the room, and it turns itself off when I’ve drifted off. I’ve read more in the last 2 years doing this than the prior 20.

      Like

  10. This is a really great post!! It’s inspiring to see what you can do to improve working climate and I love the ideas. Thanks, Tim!

    Like

  11. I live in my office chair. I get serious tunnel vision. I find that I am working in my office chair all the time. I also work when I get home and end up falling asleep in my office chair most days. (thought about getting a recliner instead) Not surprisingly this continuous sitting awake and asleep has resulted in some problems. So this article does get my brain on how to better my working(sleeping) environment.
    I love the excerise ball idea, but I usually work with my laptop on my lap. So I’m going to need alternatives.
    The Standing Desk does intrigue me. A couple of cinderblocks and I’ll be set. It’s going feel weird standing in one place without going some place though.
    I’d go further than multiple multiple monitors. Might go with a led projector instead.
    I hate the idea about the treadmill desk. The idea that I have to chase my keyboard to type anything is really aggravating.
    No shoes idea is a really bad idea if you combine the treadmill desk and standing desk idea. The smell is will be…. unpleasant.
    The Squatting Toilet is the worst idea ever. For $450, it is lunacy which only can be found in a rich investment company. Another “it’s in asia, so it’s gotta be good for you” idea. I have to tell you that no on in asia really wants to use squatting toilets.(Note, Japanese hi-tech toilets) They use it because it’s cheap and it’s there when you need it. Plus, Squatting Toilets get grimmy really quick. Add the squatting toilets with the no-shoes idea and I think you’ll realize that it’s a horrible idea. If you’re going to use something asian related, ask an asian before using it.
    In the flip side. FREE BEER AND WINE is the BEST IDEA EVER. Plenty of potential for abuse and not as health conscious as one might think. But an awesome idea. Why make your employees pay 16 dollars a drink at some bar when you can give them the same with less than 2 dollars. Definitely a team building idea. :)
    Overall, I don’t think many of these changes can be realized if the company in question is not a wealthy venture capital firm in NYC.
    That being said, I’m sure there are more affordable option if we look hard enough. Like cinderblocks. :P

    Like

      • I agree. I am an Indian. And we have 2 toilets, 1 squatting toilet (costs Rs.5000 i.e., 100$ ) and 1 western closet ( costs Rs. 6000 i.e, 120 $).

        The elder folks use the WC as its easier for them to sit, rather than the squatting one, the younger folks use squatting toilet.

        In India, in fact the squatting toilet was the only one used until a last few years.

        Try it out, great for constipation, you will get better experience and feel more fresh!

        Like

    • I dislike sitting toilets with a passion, I dislike sitting on them, I dislike cold porcelain meeting my skin, I dislike the plastic seat covers, and last but not least I have never, ever felt like I have completely been able to empty my bowels on a sitting toilet.

      And I’m Singaporean. Just as many high-tech, fancy toilets there as Japan… just depends on where you go.

      Squatting toilets don’t necessarily get more grimy than sitting ones. On the contrary, I find them easier to clean, as most of them are built to slope, so that liquids and waste would be directed into the toilet. Though I concede that they can be harder to dry, what more when it’s so humid. Also, we may go barefoot, or have the option of going barefoot, but we have slippers used specifically for the toilet. There are plenty of ways and means around issues of hygiene and cleanliness… a little foresight and creativity solves many things.

      Like

  12. I use bands for quick workouts between staring at a screen. Press, pull and squats, are intensified with bands. The powerlifting kind come in any tension level you want and then some. Cool thing is they fit in your bag easily.

    Like

  13. Great post, this is something we are constantly telling our patients (we have a full service wellness centre), as sitting is killing us! Another key point is to take frequent microbreaks to stretch. You are better to move and stretch for 60 seconds every 20-30 minutes than to sit for 3 hours followed by a long break. Ligaments and discs deform after only 30 minutes, leading to issues. Move frequently but briefly!

    Like

  14. Hi,

    Great post. I’ve tried standing desk for two weeks last year and it didn’t work for me. I don’t know why but standing position was taking away a lot of my focus.

    Right now i’m experimenting with 3-5min high intesity workout every 40min of sitting work. Next week i’ll have more clear results and i really hope that this will work.

    Like

  15. I switched to a stand up desk a while back – three months ago I think. Love it! I throw in 20 air squats (crossfit style) every hour. I’m about to add situps and push ups as well.

    It took about two weeks to adjust to standing, but I hardly notice it now. I also wear my running shoes as if I wear dressier shoes, my feet are killing by the end of the day. If I have a meeting that requires them, I’ll just switch for the meeting.

    We also added a nice stationary bike to the office with a desk extension and wireless keyboard, mouse and large screen tv. I find it hard to do actual work, but it’s great for reading my kindle and riding when I can’t make it outdoors for a ride.

    Like

  16. I suggest looking into ComplexCore and ComplexTraining. The head concept developer (Roman Jahoda, Austria) has solved issues related work place/team/organization health, morale and posture, optimal performance etc.

    There is published book and software about the concept/approach. He’s a relative unknown in North America though.

    Like

  17. I used an exercise ball for many months when I was suffering from my lower back (about 10 years ago). It did solve the problem but the fact that it doesn’t swivel nor roll made me abandon this alternative chair.
    Also, it gets quite “sticky” when the office is too hot.

    Like

    • They make rolling bases for the exercise balls. The ones I am thinking of are made by Gaiam. I have seen several others though. Just google exercise ball chair and you will see a bunch of options.

      Like

  18. Love this. We need more innovators in office culture. I’m looking forward to the innovative solution for the mental health needs of different types of people.

    Some people thrive on constant stimulation, some do not. Introverts (for want of a better term) work well by having a place to retreat and think clearly sometimes. They find the current obsession with “open plan”/glass walled offices to be utterly overwhelming!

    This talk explains it well: http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html

    Like

  19. We recently covered productivity apps and hacks that can help people on a recent podcast. I really enjoy the angle you took in this post, as I’ve been thinking about getting a standing desk set up soon. I also like the idea of using an exercise ball as a chair and walking more by using a pedometer. I will definitely incorporate some of these ideas into my setup.

    Like

  20. What a crock-load of American crap. Go take your packed lunch outside and have a walk in the park at lunch-time for Pete’s sake. And if it’s raining? Wait, it doesn’t rain in America!

    Like

  21. “Recent research suggests that those who sit from 9-5 (more than 6 hours daily) and exercise regularly are more likely to have heart disease than those who sit less than 3 hours per day and don’t “exercise” at all.”

    I guess those who sit from 8-8 and don’t exercise regularly (like me), should really change their habits then!

    Thanks for the post – very well-written. You might be interested in a visual lecture by Dr. Mike Evans called 23 and a 1/2 hours which discusses the correlation between a half hour of walking a day and overall health (9 min video). Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUaInS6HIGo

    Like

  22. Brilliant article. The sheer amount of links, research and words of wisdom will keep me going for a while… :)

    Never really considered it before this, but am seriously temped to swap out my chair for my swiss ball to see how I get on with it.

    Like

  23. “Recent research suggests that those who sit from 9-5 (more than 6 hours daily) and exercise regularly are more likely to have heart disease than those who sit less than 3 hours per day and don’t “exercise” at all.”

    This is very interesting – do you have a link to the study?

    I’m a fan of the stand-up desk and have experimented myself going through periods of ‘propping-up’ my desk on boxes.

    Like

  24. I try to stand or be in a half kneeling position when I’m doing a lot of computer work…not sure I could handle a wobble board though haha. Talk about multitasking, I think I’d be too focused trying to stay on the board than get any actual work done!

    Like

  25. I’ve been using a standing desk for a little over a month now. It took me about a week to a week-and-a-half to get my legs comfortable with it.

    The best piece of advice I’ve gotten was to put my foot on top of a box or something so that it helps to stretch my lower back. At first my back was not liking it by the end of the day but once I started this it went away quickly.

    Some days I don’t do it enough but am reminded when my lower back gets stiff. Quick stretch and I’m good again so long as I start putting my foot up again.

    It also took a few weeks for my coworkers to get used to it, seeing my peering over my cubicle wall at the monitor, etc. I went through each and every one asking “do you have back problems” or “is this for your back”? I tell them this is for PREVENTING back pain.

    Like

  26. Sitting slouched over a laptop on various random desks during the consulting years, just about killed me.

    My current solution for the home office is a simple set of adjustable track shelves found at lowes. http://www.lowes.com/pd_105766-362-2804_4294936606__?productId=1001549
    Two rails attach to the wall and the shelving units snap in.
    A 20″ shelf bracket with a 16″ board on top, off set about 6″ from the wall acts as the desk top. http://www.lowes.com/pd_105761-362-2855_0__?productId=1001543
    Then I use a 10″ bracket with a 12″ board for my monitors. The difference in size means you aren’t right on top of the monitors.

    This setup is adjustable, but rather than moving everything, I use a bar stool that’s intentionally not that comfortable. This allows me to sit or stand without moving the desk.

    Another option is to simply set something on top of your desk. I had a coworker who couldn’t sit at all due to back pain. He would set his laptop on a box, often commandeered from whatever client we were at.

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  27. I love all these ideas. I work from home, and find my best option is to just keep switching what I am sitting or standing on, so I have a Bosu, ball, balance pads, wobble boards, four-inch thick foam, etc. all within three feet of my standing/sitting desk. But my favorite chair is called the Balimo (for Balance in motion). It is virtually the only chair I can think of that lets you move your pelvis in a full range of motion, and has done more for my lower back (and core) than anything else I have encountered, including physical therapy.

    http://www.balimochairs.com/

    I also like the way the Google campus manages the healthy snack issue — where prices in the vending machines are based on a healthfulness algorithm. A candy bar costs a small fortune where an apple is nearly free, etc. the algorithm is posted, which is itself a learning and motivation tool for making better snacking choices.

    (Tim, you will recognize it as mimicking the range of motion you get from riding a horse :)

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  28. and to do with space management, does anyone know a good table/desk that quickly accordion collapses downward for easy storage underneath things (like a bed) while still holding a closed laptop?

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  29. Love this one Tim , particularly the foot wear recommendations.

    All good we have just transformed to the standing desks, but the treadmill idea is good too. We are experimenting with our help desk using siri while walking.

    Keep them coming Tim! Btw when is the cook book coming out ?can’t wait

    Like

  30. One of my favorite tips is doing some of your work (if possible) while performing a physical activity. For instance, if you’ve got to read email or blogs, a good option is using your tablet to read while biking (on a stationary bike obviously ;) ).
    Another thing is also taking care of how we eat after a busy work day… I think that’s when we are most likely to give in and be tempted by bad habits such as eating really convenient (and rather unhealthy) foods. To avoid temptations, I like to menu plan (that can be used for lunches at the office too). A good tool to do this automatically for you: https://framaza.com It also provides nutritional information, so you don’t have to calculate it on your own.

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  31. Competitions…its the easiest way to instigate change in a stagnant office culture. We have pushup, pullup and single leg squat competitions every other week. The loser pays for lunch (now everyone is practicing on the sly…and none of us will admit it).

    Like

  32. That sounds really high maintenance. I’m stressed reading this!
    How about have decent amounts of time for breaks (MINUS THE TECHNOLOGY) to get some fresh air or be able go for a walk at lunch.
    Buy some plants to the clean the air. NASA has a great list of ones they used on space missions.
    Create green space with a roof top garden or indoor hanging gardens. We’re so disconnected from nature and ourselves.

    Sitting generally isn’t the problem. It’s that we don’t have a direct connection to see the impact we make in people’s lives or have a chance to be creative in our jobs. Encouraging people to have hobbies and interests outside of work is important. I’ve had to talk to many clients about this. Lo and behold once they have a creative outlet their pain goes away.

    When people feel secure they don’t need extra weight to protect them AND they probably feel safe walking outside. North Americans are scared of everything. What’s in your food, what’s in your water, what’s in cosmetics etc. The bigger problem isn’t healthcare. It’s feeling safe.

    S

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  33. Chewing gum can also be a long term way to both exercise some face muscles and burn a few extra calories. Also chewing gum doesn’t intake calories like chewing food and can be a way to get people off smoking too! Maybe free gum should also be made available in the “company free snack” section.

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    • Zach,
      One of my university nutritional teachers recommended not chewing gum since the sensation of chewing activates stomach acids in the anticipation of food arriving soon. If no food arrives the acid can negatively impact the stomach lining.
      Any comments on that Tim?

      David

      Like

  34. Another great article by the MAN! I can’t help but think there is room for a service that tracks your time in front of a computer – like RescueTime.com where it keeps you honest at work and productive!

    Keep rocking and stay productive!

    Jason (yes, I’m biased I work at RescueTime)

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  35. I was the second employee (of 100+, traditional workplace) to get an adjustable sit-stand desk. I merely asked and a few weeks later it was installed. (I report directly to the CEO – an admitted advantage.) I’ve been using it for a month and really like it so far, though I’ve lost a good amount of usable surface space on my desk and I definitely had to buy some new shoes. I still use my chair for about an hour or two a day, usually when doing a lot of typing. Best feature: I have more energy in the evenings now rather than the exhausted feeling I used to have most nights (and I’m pretty fit/active).

    I have an ErgoTron and they are about $400. What I do not like is its desktop material: Post-it notes will not stick to it.

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  36. Love the post! I have been looking to revamp my office space for a while but not sure what the best options are. This article will definitely help me take the plunge.

    On the topic of standing desks, is there a recommended height? I assume it is based on the height of the user, but I would think there is some relative measure that could be used. Any ideas?

    Thanks

    Like

    • I’ve read, and utilized a model where I draw my forearms up parallel to the floor, and wherever they fall naturally (say, 5 feet from forearm to floor) is approximately where the desk top should be. When I built my standing desk (regular desk mounted on milk crates), I ended putting in a couple wooden “shims” in to get the exact height correct. You can also modify this by setting the keyboard or monitor on things, or using a fancy laptop stand.

      Like

      • Thanks Sam.
        I tried out standing and seeing at what height my hands would rest parallel to the floor and that seemed to work well. I then built a little wooden frame to boost up the height of my desk (the top of my desk rests on a couple of A-frames that are kinda like sawhorses). It ended up being almost exactly a 12″ raise in height and so far it feels like a good natural height for my hands to rest at.

        Like

  37. at my last job, they installed a pop-up that would tell you to take breaks ! Get UP! Stretch. There would be a graphic of the exercises. Even stretching your fingers. You could push the “snooze” button a couple of times then when you had a chance you could catch up on your exercises. I thought it was great, but a lot of people hated it and spent too much time figuring out how to disable it.

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  38. As a personal trainer, I advise m clients to not have a trashcan in their office or cubicle. Force yourself to walk down the hall to throw away your trash. I do it myself in my office and look forward to walking down the hall. Also, stop emailing the person sitting next to you unless the conversation absolutely must be documented in writing.

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  39. I can’t wait to have the four hour body….I do hope it’s four hours a week and not four hours per day, cause not really sure I have that kind of time.

    Anyway, David Teten is a character who loves our Amphibians. They feature our great sole technology none the less. Tighter in the toebox than our G Series, but they both are just 1.2 mm away from barefoot…..talk about grounded.

    So are we. Thanks to a philosophy of treating every customer like gold and our relentless pursuit of thinner, better, faster, more sustainable.

    Thanks for being healthy too.

    DZ

    Like

  40. Sitting on an exercise ball is touted as working the spine muscles more than other sitting surfaces but it’s not any different than sitting on a stool (although surface area is wider on the ball which tends to give it a softer feel). Reference: McGill, S. M., N. S. Kavcic, et al. (2006). “Sitting on a chair or an exercise ball: various perspectives to guide decision making.” Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon) 21(4): 353-360.

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  41. Great post! As an author, I already feel like I spend 29 hour days on my laptop. I don’t think we could get any closer without an umbilical cord.

    Definitely going to test the standing desk. I can already see this eliminating a lot of bad postures, like dozing off with my chin propped on one hand. No bueno!

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  42. I definitely want to try out using standing desks. That might just help me fix back problems and keep me more alert versus sitting while at work. I workout 3x a week and get glued to my seat for more than 6 hours. Just too too bad that despite my exercise routine, I’m still high risk. Maybe I should try spacing exercises in between my work hours.

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  43. It’s not the sitting that kills you. It’s the stress of:

    1. Hating your job
    2. The kind of stress that comes with sitting jobs

    If sitting was so bad, Buddhist monks would die really young.

    It also goes to show you that aerobic type exercise does little to affect sedentary behavior if sedentary behavior is the culprit.

    Strength exercises however are a different story altogether.

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  44. Standing desks are definitely the way forward for most people. The more I sit, the more I hurt. Sitting is to your body, as sugar is to your teeth. My hip flexors and back are so much better when I’m standing. Standing makes it a lot easier to grab a golf ball and work the trigger points on the soles of your feet a few times a day too. Like feyyaz said above, band pull-aparts a few times a day are great. Throw in some band shoulder-dislocation, some scapular wall slides and band over-head squats a few times a day and you’re all set. Excellent post.

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  45. I use a rubber ball for when I sit at the desk, and when I need to stretch out my back, the laptop goes on top of the shelf next to the desk – cheap stadning desk. A quick mini-workout every hour (starjumps, push-ups, etc) gets the blood pumping and always take a long walk for lunch.

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  46. Another keyboard you may want to consider is the handheld iGrip Ergonomic Keyboard. It looks like a game controller but lets you type 60 wpm while walking on a treadmill or standing. Caution – even though it’s Qwerty-compatible (65% finger-to-key correlation with Qwerty keyboard) it still takes 30-60 hours of use to become proficient.

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  47. There is no question about which type of desk I prefer for working. A standing desk definitely feels more ergonomic.

    Although it can be difficult to get your co-workers to transition to a standing desk, the benefits are definitely worth the cost!

    Like

  48. Hey Tim,
    I have been a Chef on yachts for the past 10 years cooking for the rich and vicious. I now have together with my Boss read your book and started today. He’s got to a nice round figure of 140kg, so it’s a challenge for both of us. I have a few questions and needed elaborations, I will also be developing a variety of recipes that may be worth your while adding a link to your website for the curious and bored. How do I go about this?

    Love the book so far, results will make me love it even more!

    Cheers,

    Paul

    Like

  49. Great article.
    Re: air purifiers. Not all of them emit ozone – look at the O3 unit from HealthWay Inc. in Syracuse, NY. I have done plenty of research on these because of my allergies. It is expensive at about $1000 but It is a life saver for me – it takes away my spring time allergy symptoms 100%. Also, I am hyper allergic to cats and It removes 100% of my symptoms in a house with cats when the O3 is running. One O3 covers 1000sq ft so you don’t need many to cover an office.

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  50. I love this post! Some fantastic ideas and I can definitely see how this promotes a high energy, high collaboration and open culture! I can see it because I work in a completely opposite culture that’s public sector, conventional, and need to know basis, and a set up like this would be unimaginable! Love it though and can only hope to experience it myself one day :-)

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  51. A standing desk and my VFF’s were the best change I’ve ever made. It took some getting used to, but now I feel noticeably better at the end of a long day. My mobility during workouts also seems to have improved since making the switch.

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  52. I don’t want to be a d-bag, but a lot of the products listed in this post are quite unaesthetic. I wouldn’t be caught dead with that keyboard on my desk.

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  53. Sitting kills?! Who would have thunk?

    Seriously though… I sit around a lot during the day. I try to limit the amount of sitting I do in one stretch by having a timer running on my computer (I time my tasks since I get more done that way). When my timer goes off I get up and move around for 5 or 10 minutes, whether or not my task is finished. But after reading this article maybe a stand-up desk is in order.

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  54. I like articles like this, because they feel like the end result of a hypothetical brainstorm session that I now don’t need to have.

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  55. My work situation is diverse by happenstance, not by design, but I still am up and down and alternate standing and sitting throughout the day. My desk trouble is at home. I will start web surfing and not realize hours have gone by. Is there such a thing as a pedal-powered generator that I can hook up to my computer? i.e. no pedaling = no surfing?

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  56. Don’t let the thought of “noise pollution” keep you from walking while you work. I moved my main computer to the TrekDesk about a year ago and if the phone rings and I think the treadmill motor is at all interfering with my conversation, I turn it down, rarely off. I don’t walk all the time, but stand. It’s actually more comfortable to walk, even VERY slowly, than to just stand, who suggested the latter isn’t comfortable for them. It’s all better than sitting. Getting up after a couple of hours sitting was painful (and I work out), so I figured it couldn’t be good for me, either. So walk, working people. Walk!

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  57. I’m finally converting my office desk to a stand up desk! Pretty darn exciting. :)

    Early on in my working life I worked at a company that manufactured heart catheters, which of course meant that employees were doing repetitive tasks for rather extended periods of time. To combat things like carpal tunnel, every hour we’d all stand up and someone would lead us through a number of stretches.

    Flash forward to office land and NO ONE has anything like this that I’ve seen. Office work is just as repetitive, so if you can’t spring for a treadmill desk, you should at least be standing up and stretching every hour.

    A great read about a subject that’s obviously close to my heart!

    Way to go Tuna Fish! You’ve come along way. :)

    -Matt

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  58. As well as the cardiovascular damage associated with hours of sitting in chairs, there is also the connection between chair-sitting and back pain, reduced mobility and energy flow. The 90 degree angle between femur and spine (when we sit in chairs) is much more compressive to the low back than standing. BUT – the shapes that keep us mobile (and aren’t even considered in the office options above) are those shapes closer to the earth!! In cultures where people squat they don’t have an epidemic of back pain and even the elderly are fluid and flexible. Put a nice carpet in your office (and home,) add some pillows of different thicknesses and lower those desks and tables!

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  59. Hi Tim and Everyone,
    Great article.

    Three ideas from me for a start.

    One action I learned from my lovely lady who is a yoga teacher is the benefit of getting out of the chair and doing a couple of the classic ‘saluts to the sun’ yoga movement. It really helps me release tension from my body and help me keep flexible.

    Second action is too make sure I exercise my eyes. One eye specialist warned me that not adjusting my view of the computer for long hours can cause the eyes muscles to lose their flexibility and long term harm my vision.
    So I practice a lot rolling my eyes!

    Third action I sip water all the time when at the computer. It still is amazing how many people read a post I wrote on ‘ten reasons why water is important for your success and wellness’

    Great comments from everyone,

    Keep having a great day,
    David

    Like

    • Hi all- excellent topic! I read through all of the comments and I’m so surprised there are only two mentions of office yoga.

      Having yoga during the workday is one of the easiest and least expensive solutions to promote movement during the work day. The stress relieving benefits kick in immediately and this leads to focused & energized workers.

      I have been teaching corporate yoga in SF for 2.5 years. The biggest obstacle I see is that often the top executives are not participating, so others feel weary of taking the time. In my experience a 45 minutes class is the best length. No chanting or talk of deities- just movement and breath exercises.

      Also on the topic was a recent mashable infographic:

      http://mashable.com/2012/03/02/work-death-infographic/

      Like

  60. This is a giant leap in the right direction for the office of the future!!
    I would also suggest electronic chaos eliminators (google it….)

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  61. I’ve tried many of these and keep coming back to the fact that if I really have to concentrate and do some work, I need to sit quietly at a desk. Also, there’s a lot of research that shows that workers who traditionally stand all day (e.g., nurses) have there own set of health problems. So, after this catches on for a bit, I think the pendulum will eventually swing back and people will again return to sitting in a chair to work, perhaps with frequent walking around breaks.

    The walking meetings seem like a good idea though.

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    • I have to agree with jim. This is a bit of a fad really. It is true that many people do stay in the sitting position for long hours and that can’t be good for you. Standing all the time isn’t good either because of what Jim said earlier. After that the new thing is going to be what is the optimum ratio between standing and sitting to the closest minute. Of course this is ridiculous because there is no way to calculate one optimum sitting/standing ratio for everybody. Then we will see a personalized optimum sitting/standing ratio catered to your own muscles, tendon strength, posture, bone density and so on.
      Let’s skip to the end and find our own good ratio for sitting/standing.

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  62. I really like the idea of the adjustable standing desk by marrying an IKEA desktop to height adjustable legs. In fact, I already own the IKEA desktop mentioned.

    HOWEVER, I can’t find a way to buy just the legs of the Workrite standing workstations. Searching WB Mason turns up nothing, and looking at Workrite’s site doesn’t reveal much either. Anyone know where to get just the legs and electric motor?

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    • Email the workrite website and ask for a local dealer in your area. Contact your dealer and they will be able to sell you a workrite height adjustable base.

      Jamin

      Like

  63. We actually take advantage of using a high bar type desk for our shipping desk at Sockwa. We use a bar stool. I find my self kind of leaning against the desk and or chair.

    Do many different motions, and not repetitive motion helps. Not so easy for some skills and workers.

    Stay active…..Jog when you could walk…go with purpose..

    DZ

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  64. !!Important – you need to share with people that the monitor needs to be placed so the top of the monitor is at eye level. If the monitor is too low it will create other problems. This fact comes from a PhD in physical therapy.

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  65. Cool article. I keep a Kettlebell by my desk at all times in case I need a quick break from work!

    I agree with the sunlight strategy too. If I’m not working in natural light and it’s a nice day, I feel sleepy and unfocused- having that white light is huge for my mood.

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  66. I alternate between sitting and standing at my desk because of back issues. One quite inexpensive way to get a small home desk that raises and lowers conveniently is to go to a medical supply store and get one of those tables that is meant to swing over a hospital bed. It lowers to a position suitable for sitting on a chair and also raises to one that is good for standing. It’s only $100 or so, it rolls around to wherever you need it (and can tuck under a regular desk as an additional work surface) and is small enough for a very cramped apartment.

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  67. I have the luxury of living in a town with lots of parks so I hold walking meetings – it’s easier to get a park there than driving up to my office on the hill, I get some fresh air and exercise and it cuts back interruptions from phone calls / emails / other staff etc.
    My father has walking lunches – he loads some fruit into his pockets and spends his lunch hour hitting the pavement

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  68. I currently work half the week standing and walking around a lot and half the week sitting. I’m also diabetic so monitor my blood sugar regularly and there is a huge difference during the days I’m standing and the days I’m sitting. I have to make significant changes to my diet during the different days.

    Thanks for the tips, I’ll be on my feet a more often because of the info.

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  69. Very insipirational! Although, I think I can hear thousands of corporate workers who have no influence over the way office is organized sigh while reading this…

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  70. Great article David and Tim! My day job is actually moving into new offices in a few weeks and it would be awesome to implement a few of those tips. I think after-lunch walks are also a must to split your day in two and change your mind before getting back to work!

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  71. Great blog. I suffer from lower back pain (collapsed lumbosacral joint) and find prolonged periods of stillness feel great whilst still but kill me when I get up.

    I will be implementing as many of these ideas as possible in my workplaces.

    Thank you

    Also, just worth mentioning that I do some work for junckers flooring and they do amazing wooden floors and specialise in sprung wooden flooring.

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  72. Great post. Since quitting my 8-5 job I have begun standing while working, meaning an extra 8-10 hours of standing each day. Tough the first week, but since then no problems whatsoever.

    One other comment on something else you wrote:
    “As my wife says, the US doesn’t have a debt problem; we have a healthcare problem.”

    Cute, but no. As others have pointed out last summer, if the US Government was a family making $58,000 a year, they would be spending $75,000 a year while having $327,000 in debt. That is a debt problem.

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  73. Loved the ideas on staying active in the office by creating a standing work space! Thanks for sharing. May I suggest you also add some more color beside the green (in your meeting rooms) to your offices add some fun textures and patterns to the walls to liven it up a little, making employees, clients and even your plants happier. :) Email me if you want ideas and information on how to take it to the next level.

    Like