When I changed cities to start my master’s in 2018, I had just completed my undergraduate studies in computer science. Aside from the obvious, and welcome, change in scenery, one of the first things I noticed was how quickly my lifestyle changed. In my old university town with its 14 thousand residents (half of which were students!), it was literally impossible not to cross paths with someone you knew. Even in the confines of one’s own ground-floor dorm room, my friends would show up at the window and whisk me off to this or that event. Being the over-serious, meant-for-greatness nerd that I am, I often successfully resisted. Much more often though, I’d close my laptop and head out the door to join my lovable, well-meaning comrades, because of whom I am not CEO of my own company yet.

We’d go play basketball, Frisbee, board games, take a walk, or just hang out. What all these activities had in common, was that there was always movement, even if the activity itself was stationary. As much as I wanted to, it was difficult to just disappear, glue myself to my chair, and work. Sooner or later, the outside world would beckon.

Enter graduate school. I rented a place outside the city, in the town where my campus was located. This meant I didn’t live close to my new friends and fellow students, since most of them lived in the city. Also, with the university’s demanding workload and my poor course choices once again proving my unmatched ability to bite off more than I can chew, I didn’t have much time to spare. But, for the first time, I was finally free to throw myself into my studies! And so I did. In fact, I was so successful at blocking out any and all “distractions” that my friends started nicknaming me “HermiT-1000.” You know, like the shape-shifting android assassin from Terminator — only he doesn’t leave his room very much.

Up to that point, never in my life had I spent so much time sitting. Whether in the lecture hall, the library, or at home in front of my computer, the only movement came in transit. And while lifting weights and running did add bursts of movement to my days, the rest of the time, I was doing the seated T-Rex.

Get it? The arms? — Lonely T-Rex

And so my problems began. They started from the top and crept their way down. First, it was the stiffness in the shoulders, then the back, then my notoriously fragile hips started chiming in. Even my left elbow had something to say from time to time. And finally, the knees. My left knee, to be precise. Everything else, up to that point, had been nagging sensations that built up in discomfort as my seated sessions dragged on, and gradually went away when I stopped working. I could live with that. The knee, however, was not to be ignored.

Standing up, sitting down, picking something off the floor, going up stairs, or down them, my knee made its presence felt. And none of that nagging stuff. This was sharp pain of the stabby kind. So what does any sane person do? Seek reliable medical help, of course.

Gif: Author searching on Google ‘knee hurts going up or down stairs’

The internet diagnosed me with patellar tendonitis. For all you healthy-kneed laymen reading this, that’s inflammation of the tendon attaching the bottom of the kneecap (the patella) to the top of the shinbone. You can probably guess what my next Google search was: How to treat it?

And so started my ultimately unsuccessful journey to stretch, massage, and exercise my way toward a healthy knee. Swimming reentered my life during this period, as a way to combat both the knee pain and everything else that ailed my prematurely aging body. That too wasn’t the panacea I had hoped for, but I was nevertheless glad to have it once again be part of my routine.

The internet would, for once, be somewhat vindicated as doctors later confirmed my condition — however tentatively. Still, a half dozen physiotherapy sessions later, weeks of following professionally prescribed exercises, and miles walked in pricey, custom-made insoles, and my knee was as troublesome as ever. I slowly came to accept that this is just how I’ll have to live from now on. Good thing we have elevators, right?

Around this time, I had started using my kitchen counter as a makeshift standing desk. When I got bored or sore from sitting at my desk, I got up, unplugged my laptop, and migrated a couple of steps from my desk to the counter. Doing this came, of course, at the dear cost of abandoning my beautiful monitor and spending a few minutes moving and getting everything set up. This would lead me to sometimes choose discomfort over the hassle and just stay put at my desk.

By and large, though, the occasional standing meant that my whole posture got jumpstarted multiple times a day. I also removed the little trash bin under my desk so that I was forced to get up and take the few steps to the kitchen to throw any bits of trash that cropped up throughout the day. The water bottle also became a cup, to necessitate more frequent refills. And I made movement an excuse to go brew myself coffee more often. This general trend led to the desk finally being cleared of most items that weren’t constantly in use. Need a pen? Get up and get it. Headphones? Over there. And so on.

Between this, occasionally standing, bathroom breaks, and cooking, my work sessions became a lot more dynamic — and my body gradually started feeling the results. The improvements started showing up in the same order as the complaints once did. First the shoulders and back, then the hips and elbow. Until eventually the knee, stubborn as it was, started relenting. Not a complete reversal by any means, but it was progressing.

And then I graduated. With the degree came a new apartment, and that meant I could finally say adieu to my makeshift standing desk/kitchen counter and finally get myself a proper one. And so it was. As soon as it was back in stock, I ordered an electrically powered standing desk that I could adjust to the exact height I needed with the press of a button. All the other little habits I adopted to keep moving while studying are still in effect. But now I can much more conveniently change my position whenever I want. And I gotta say, the whole experience of raising and lowering is so cool that I want to change positions as often as possible. I don’t think I’ll ever completely get used to it.

Now, almost three years after I started experiencing the effects of the modern desk job firsthand, the difference is noticeable. I’m less stiff during and at the end of the day, I don’t need as long to prepare my body for workouts, and I can work longer with fewer breaks. As for my knee, it does occasionally demand my attention, but it’s more of a whimper rather than a cry now.

The takeaway, at least for me, is obviously not the standing desk itself, but the whole mentality that eventually led to it. Being more aware of how much (or little) I’m moving and giving myself reasons to do so more often, was the first step toward feeling better. We were not built to stay still, but seeing as that’s the status quo for many people, the best we can do is learn to integrate movement into our static tasks. Whether that means adopting little tricks, changing our work habits, or augmenting our workspace, the underlying premise is that the cycle of inactivity needs to be broken as often as possible.