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Image credit: Daniel Cooper/Engadget

Can a balance board improve the standing desk experience?

Not really, but it will encourage you to move more, and that's probably a good thing.

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Daniel Cooper/Engadget

I'm glad that I work from home, if only because my colleagues would hate the wacky fitness gizmos I test at my desk. The latest unbearable distraction (that nobody else has to put up with) comes in the form of the Fluidstance Level. It's a balancing board for standing desk users that's designed to make you move and keep your joints supple. The company also claims the board can improve you physically, emotionally and mentally, but I'd happily settle for better balance with my eyes closed.

Gallery: Fluidstance Level | 11 Photos

Imagine a skateboard on which the four wheels and trucks have been swapped out for a single curved piece of aluminum. The Level takes that basic concept to its logical conclusion, with an American-made board that's pretty darn beautiful. For starters, there's a flawless piece of polished bamboo that's attached to the flowing, symmetrical base. In order to save weight, the company cut holes into the metal. Flipped over, this could easily be mistaken for a piece of public art. For an extra $69, the firm will also sell you an anti-fatigue mat that doubles as anti-scratch protection should you be using the Level on a hardwood floor.

Getting used to standing on the Level takes about 10 minutes, though it's not at all intimidating or difficult. The board has a relatively gentle slope, meaning you can pretty much always find your balance if you plant your feet at each end. The fact that the board also rocks back and forth, however, means that you can very quickly ramp up your standing based-challenges. For instance, I've started pushing myself to tackle greater lengths by attempting to use the board with my eyes are closed (it's very, very difficult).

I recently learned that Peyton Manning managed to reinvent his body such that he was able to make it to a fourth Super Bowl. Trainer Mackie Shilstone had the then-38-year-old squatting on a balance beam, 4 inches off the ground. Then, Manning had to learn how to throw a ball 20 yards without falling off, compensating for his loss of strength and speed. I've started doing the same with the Level, squatting while I type in order to strengthen my knees and upper thighs. The first day I did, the pain was noticeable, but quickly subsided, and now I can whip out hot takes while looking like I'm trying to avoid a toilet seat like the best of 'em.

I don't know if I happen to be peculiar or not, but I have found that, when I'm not thinking about it, my feet gradually shift toward the center of the board. It's easier to keep it stable at that position and it feels a lot more natural to do so, which kind of defeats the purpose of using it. In fact, it's this subconscious course-correction that makes me wonder if I'm really getting the benefit. I know that my knees are working more when I crouch, but I'm not sure anything else has really improved in the last two weeks. Then again, subtle, imperceptible improvements in balance aren't something you're going to notice overnight, are they?

There's another kicker, and that's the fact that the cheapest Level retails for a staggering $289. The bamboo edition that I'm testing is $389, while the handmade version will set you back $489. That's almost as much as some people pay in rent for a whole month. And besides, I probably don't need to tell you that you can also pick up a balance board that does exactly the same job for less than $20.

It's hard to sneer, however, at something that's clearly been built as the apex of achievement in a particular field. It's not going to be popping up in every office in the country, and you'd have to be pretty invested in the standing desk thing to even consider it. But it is a beautifully designed object and something that you'd be pleased to own and use on a regular basis. If you have $300 to spend on a balance board then this is probably the only one you should consider buying. But only if that money couldn't go on something better, like a utility bill or food.

After training to be an Intellectual Property lawyer, Dan abandoned a promising career in financial services to sit at home and play with gadgets. He lives in Norwich with his wife, his books and far too many opinions on British TV comedy. One day, if he's very, very lucky, he'll live out his dream to become the Executive Producer of Doctor Who before retiring to Radio 4.
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