Standing Desks Part 1: How many calories do you burn?
What if I told you that standing instead of sitting for only four hours a day will give you washboard abs, cure your chronic pain, and make you more attractive to the opposite sex?
I’m only half joking. In this series of articles on standing desks, we’ll explore health benefits, how to build one on the cheap, and tips to keep standing comfortable and safe. If you aren’t standing for at least an hour a day by the end of the series, I have failed in my job as an anonymous internet guy who writes stuff.
Why stand? A brief primer.
Let’s get one thing straight first. The reason standing desks are beneficial is NOT because standing is the bee’s knees. Rather, it’s because sitting sucks. For your body, that is. And your knees. How much do I not love thee, sitting? Let me count the ways.
Sitting makes it easy to slump your shoulders and impinge your rotator cuff. (<—– these blue links are outside sources) Sitting virtually shuts off fat burning in your entire lower body by adversely affecting key enzymes. Sitting makes it less likely that you will take “micro-breaks” to walk around or stretch. Sitting for long periods is HIGHLY correlated with recurrent thoughts of “My life sucks but I can’t do anything about it.”
We will go more into the physiology of sitting and standing in the next post in this series. But for now, let me leave you with one important note. If you are diabetic, or diabetes runs in your family, please do your best to stand more. (<—– these green links are where I explain stuff more)
Let’s burn some calories…without exercising!
The first time I tried out a standing desk, it was for two reasons. First, I wanted to see if affected my pain issues. Second, I suspected that the extra calories burned would turn me into an Adonis, without having to do exercises that are riskier for my sucky joints.
As per usual when searching on health issues, the internet was full of inaccuracies about standing and calorie burn. Some people said standing burned almost no extra calories, while others said that it burned twice as much as sitting. So I scoured peer-reviewed articles for the most rigorously conducted studies. Here’s just a bit of what I found.
This paper compared a range of activities (sitting motionless, sitting and fidgeting, standing, etc) against laying around like a zombie, to see how many extra calories are burned. At first, this paper made me angry. It was a well-conducted study, and showed that standing burns a measly 7.2 calories per hour more than sitting. Are you freaking kidding me, you stupid exercise physiologists?? Not so fast. Hate is the path to the dark side. So is not reading critically.
The above calculation is done when comparing sitting motionless to standing motionless. If you compare standing while fidgeting to sitting while fidgeting, you get 30 extra calories per hour. If you stand for half the workday, or 4 hours, you burn an extra 120 calories per day. Stretching that out to a full year of working on weekdays, with some vacation and sick time thrown in, and you get…an extra 30,000 calories per year! That amounts to 8.6 pounds of weight loss per year. If you want to check my calculations, email me and we can compare spreadsheets like proper nerds.
This article was mostly about calorie burn. The more interesting issues are related to standing and disease prevention. In the next part of the series, we’re going to look at three popular options for building or buying a standing desk on the cheap, and get into health-related benefits a bit more.
If you decide to cobble together a standing desk right this very day, consider getting a stool with a footrest as well, to enable you to take little breaks as you ease into standing more. Variation in posture is extremely important for pain prevention and treatment. As you can see in this picture, the standing desk setup can be tricky. My cheapo adjustable stool is great, but my desk is too low to fit my knees underneath. How to fix that? We’ll look at some options in the next article.