- Flickr / Alba García Aguado
- Sitting all day is terrible for you, and even working out regularly isn’t enough to counteract the harm it causes.
- Standing desks have been portrayed as a way to counteract the risks of sitting, and a new study suggests standing at your desk could help you lose weight.
- The real solution, however, is moving around every hour.
So what’s someone with an office job to do?
A new study suggests a standing desk could help. Being on your feet all day at work, the researchers found, would burn more calories than sitting.
But if you’re looking to lose weight and improve your overall health, a standing desk may not be the answer. Instead, regularly moving around – at least a couple of minutes every hour – is the better option. Only this practice, as opposed to simply standing all day, has been linked with a lower risk of premature death and a significant calorie burn. Walking around is best, but simply getting up to stretch every so often is helpful, too.
Standing all day burns fewer calories than half a slice of bread
Several studies show what many of us may have already assumed: We burn far fewer calories standing than we do walking.
The latest paper, a review of nearly 50 studies on standing desks, was published this week in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. Standing for roughly six hours a day instead of sitting, the researchers found, resulted in burning about 54 extra calories – roughly the equivalent of half a piece of bread.
“When you put all the available scientific evidence together, standing accounts for more calories burned than sitting,” Farzane Saeidifard, the lead author on the paper and a cardiology fellow at the Mayo Clinic, said in a press release.
Saeidifard’s paper isn’t the first to calculate the total caloric burn of a day of standing. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh came to the same conclusion, even down to the number of calories burned each hour. Compared with sitting, standing burned roughly nine additional calories an hour, the researchers concluded, or 54 extra calories in a six-hour work day.
The new paper reinforces this finding: overall, standing desks’ benefits are minimal, but they can add up over time. The calories in half a piece of toast doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you use a standing desk all the time – and don’t change your diet – you could end up losing 5 1/2 pounds over the course of a year.
Regular movement is the best weapon against the harms of sitting
If you’re looking to make a healthy change to your daily sedentary regimen, there are a handful of studies that suggest that moving around regularly is your best bet.
Walking is ideal, but simply getting up and stretching every hour is helpful as well.
To come to this conclusion, researchers in Utah and Colorado looked at more than 3,600 adults to get a better sense of how movement affected people’s risk of dying prematurely. The participants agreed to wear movement trackers all day for at least four days. Three years later, the researchers checked records to see how many of the participants had died.
The results were published in 2015 in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. Compared with the people who sat all day, those who moved around for two minutes – just two! – every hour had a roughly 33% lower risk of dying prematurely than the people who stayed seated the whole time.
Standing all day was not linked with these benefits.
Still, the study was observational, which means that while moving around is strongly linked with a reduced risk of dying, it can’t be said for sure that movement caused that reduction.
The 2016 study mentioned earlier, in which researchers calculated the number of extra calories burned standing versus sitting, found that walking burned far more calories than either sitting or standing. Participants in that study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, burned three times as many calories walking as standing, even when they ambled around at a leisurely pace.
The overall takeaway here is that it’s a good idea to move around more and break up periods of sitting with something – anything – else.
That advice is echoed by a consensus statement published in 2015 by a group of physicians and sports medicine specialists in the British Journal of Sports Medicine: Spend a total of two hours out of your seat each day, they said, and move around as much as you can.