Peek into Darius Nabors’ workspace on Old Ivy Road and you will find him standing before his keyboard, which sits perched near the top of a 4-foot bookcase. Kathryn Laughon is doing the same at her adjustable-height desk in the Claude Moore Nursing Education Building. And neurologist Bradford Worrall is participating in a video conference in McKim Hall while walking on an incline using his jerry-rigged treadmill desk.

Nabors (Col ’07), who is associate director of annual giving for the nursing school, used to feel sapped around 2 o’clock every afternoon. He would get up and walk around and then feel better.

He’d spotted two articles about standing desks and decided to try it out—and now he sits only one to two hours a day, usually during meetings.

“It’s a lot easier for me to focus for longer periods of time,” Nabors says.

Laughton (Nurs ’98, ’99), an associate professor of nursing, just didn’t like the way sitting all day made her feel. “I’m more comfortable standing,” she says.

While standing desks are not new—Thomas Jefferson even used one—they are popping up amid research that ties sitting for long periods to everything from obesity to higher blood pressure and even a possible increased risk of death from certain forms of cancer or cardiovascular disease.

“From a health perspective, anything we can do to increase physical activity and decrease sedentary time lowers the risk of diseases and gaining weight,” says Arthur Weltman, professor and chair of the UVA Department of Kinesiology.

He points to research at the Mayo Clinic that found people with obesity who use treadmill workstations increase their caloric expenditure by 119 calories an hour.

Ernest Hemingway preferred to write at a standing desk. Here is Hemingway in 1960, writing on the balcony of Bill Davis' home near Malaga, Spain, where he wrote The Dangerous Summer. Photo by Loomis Dean for LIFE Magazine
Such activity could be key in affecting the so-called “energy gap,” or how many fewer calories we need to take in or expend to prevent the insidious weight gain associated with getting older.

“If you could affect the energy gap by about 100 calories a day, that would be enough to prevent the weight gain we typically see with aging,” Weltman says.

Other recent studies have found that time sitting at a desk is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality from all causes.

As the studies make news, office workers have taken notice. It was a story about walking desks that originally inspired Worrall (Grad ’01), the neurologist, to build his own. He bought a used treadmill for $400 and spent $68 on pre-made poplar shelves, lumber, brackets and bolts.

Now, during video and telephone conferences, “I choose a pace where I can converse comfortably. This is walking, not running. I want to be able to converse without gasping for breath.”

Worrall does not consider his treadmill desk to be a replacement for exercise, but he is motivated by both the health benefits and vigor of walking while working.

There’s just one little downside, he says. It’s tough to walk and use his computer mouse to click in tiny boxes on electronic forms. It is, he says, an exercise in frustration.