While the true extent of negative health impacts from sitting are only now coming to light due to recent research, people who have been sitting at desk jobs have been noting the increases in waistlines for decades.
All of us have a basal metabolic rate: the amount of calories we burn, or energy expended daily, while at rest- just by living and breathing on a day-to-day basis. Exercise increases the amount of calories we burn. Unfortunately, sitting is a position that requires almost no effort, meaning that the calorie burn while sitting drops to just one calorie per minute. At that rate, it takes me over 2 hours to burn off the calories in a single serving of Oreos (a mere three cookies).
Facts like this are frightening, and it feels like working a desk job means a constant battle to stay healthy and at a proper weight. With 8 hours (or more) spent at a desk each day, you start the battle at a disadvantage! This is another reason that I wanted to investigate standing desks – if sitting shuts my metabolism down, how would standing work?
The difference in calories burned between sitting and standing might not feel significant, but it adds up. According to the calculator at JustStand.org, if you weigh 180 pounds and work for 8 hours per day, you burn 331 calories more standing than you would sitting. If there are 3500 calories in a pound of fat, that means you could potentially lose 1 pound every 11 days.
I find these numbers really heartening, but the suspicious part of my brain suspects that a website called “JustStand” might have a bias, so I took it upon myself to do a bit of testing and see how realistic this number might be. I used an activity tracker wristband (a FitBit Force if you’re curious) and measured myself sitting for an hour and then standing for an hour.
The results suggest that the numbers from JustStand might not be unrealistic. In one hour of sitting, I took zero steps, had zero active minutes, and my calorie burn wasn’t any higher than my basal metabolic rate. Basically, sitting was zeroes across the board. Standing for an hour, I wasn’t phenomenally active, but the differences were important. In one hour of standing my activity tracker counted 47 steps as I shuffled around at my standing desk and I registered 1 active minute. Hardly an Olympic marathon, but it did lead me to burn 27 additional calories – suggesting that I would burn 216 calories for 8 hour standing. That’s not quite 331 (as suggested by JustStand) but it does mean I’d be losing a pound of weight (by burning 3500 calories) every 16-17 days- if the other factors in my routine like diet and exercise remain the same.
Minor changes in the amount of calories burned while standing don’t count as a substitute for an unhealthy lifestyle, but in combination with other positive choices, a standing desk seems to be a good way to make your work time less of a burden on your health (and your waistline). When it comes to the measurement of calories burned, standing desks definitely win out in my mind over sitting desks.