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 (such as for chronic pain), 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.


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.

Before you get too excited, let me be a bit of a party pooper. But then to make it up to you, I will crank the party up again. Then the cops will come, so we’ll have to tone down the party once more.



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.


  1. I hope you’ll also address Cornell’s concerns about standing desks (http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/CUESitStand.html) in your series. I’ll be setting up an at-home office later this year when I become a full-time teleworker and have been inclined to go with their recommendations about sitting to work on the computer and moving frequently.

  2. dont you get nodgie from not *leaning* on anything (i love how jordan catallano *leans*)?  its prolly due to my impressively weak core, but if i stand for more than a few minutes, my pelvis tips, my shoulders slump, my neck cranes, and i start to droop.  youre just going to tell me to do more yoga, arent you?  im so intrigued by this standing desk thing.  too bad the ceiling in my home office is 6″ shorter than i am.  

    • Excellent use of “nodgie” and Jordan Catallano! I don’t lean, but it’s not because I have a strong core. In fact, I have a terrible core, and a few years ago was able to do pilates for a total of about 30 seconds. Rather, I just try to take frequent breaks to prevent the leaning reflex. That being said, I feel like leaning right now, so I’m going to go fill my water bottle. Stack some boxes and try it out Amanda!

  3. dont you get nodgie from not *leaning* on anything (i love how jordan catallano *leans*)?  its prolly due to my impressively weak core, but if i stand for more than a few minutes, my pelvis tips, my shoulders slump, my neck cranes, and i start to droop.  youre just going to tell me to do more yoga, arent you?  im so intrigued by this standing desk thing.  too bad the ceiling in my home office is 6″ shorter than i am.  

  4. This was probably the most inclusive explanation of weight loss that I have ever read. I think its time to get back in to shape! How Many Calories Counter

  5. Looking forward to part 2… got out of the chair a few days ago and actually standing on a balance disk now (board with a half sphere underneath). I was sore the first day, but now feel so much better, because every action I take it’s activating the whole body and makes me feel more “alive.” Every activity requires small muscle movements in core/back/legs, and if you tip it off on purpose it gets a stairmaster type move going. Dancing while reading something is a blast. It’s super playful and invites lots of shifting so I’m quite sure I’ll stick with it. Super low tech and cost me around $30. Curious to see what you’ll be digging up in part 2.

    • Dancing while reading is awesome! Or dancing breaks. Or any kind of breaks, really. Part 2, which has been sitting on the shelf for a while, is going to deal with the nitty gritty of muscles and joints used and not used while standing versus sitting versus walking versus…dancing? I’ll try to make some progress on the post this week. Thanks for reminding me!

      • Kamal, have you published Part II yet?

        • I’ve got the outline for Part II but haven’t filled it in. Thanks for reminding me!

          • Looking for part 2, has it been published yet?

  6. Just look how cute you are standing there! Love my standing turned around dresser.. I mean desk 😉
    xo deb

  7. I’m a physical therapist who has designed a product called the FootFidget. While standing or sitting at a desk, it allows you to fidget with your feet. I invented it for students at school who could not sit still. The pressing down of the feet on the elastic cords provided proprioceptive input to the students to help focus and attention. As you say, it does help also with their ergonomic positioning so that they are more comfortable when they have a footrest. Calories consumption is also a benefit and research done at Texas A&M showed that students who stood at standing desks burned more calories than their sitting peers. Boys categorized as “obese” burned 32% more calories in standing versus sitting. If you have any more research on calorie consumption or the use of standing desks, I would be very interested. Please pass it on.

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  9. Hi! Thanks for this 2012 post. I was wondering if you are still standing for work? I have just adopted standing for my work at the computer and like it so far, though I am concerned about long term issues like those mentioned by Beth@WeightMaven. I would be very interested in any new thoughts you might have on drastically reducing the number of hours we are in chairs.

  10. Just finished by first full year of a standing desk. I stand for 6-7 hours per day and sit for 2-3. When I do sit, I sit on a stool that has no back and mimics and exercise ball. I have lost weight but that was not my intention. My upper back and neck pain are gone. My core is stronger. I am more alert in the afternoon and more focused at work. Having a supportive anti-fatigue mat and changing shoes frequently are very important. I also rock back and forth and frequently lift one foot onto a step stool. Curious to know if there is any data on the hazards of standing too much. I really feel much better if I stand for the majority of the day. by the way, I paid $400 for my desk from a good, American company called ergodesktop.

  11. Hi! I was excited to read the next post after this one on building/buying cheap desks, and am also intrigued in any further research on what standing instead of sitting for hours on-end could be doing to one’s knees, joints, etc. (though I doubt the side effects are worse than those of sitting) – but don’t think it’s up yet. I worked last year in an office that had sitting/standing desks that you could raise/lower at will with a lever, they were awesome! But, this year we’re living abroad while my husband gets his masters and I’m working from home, so I had to give the desk up. Since we’re cheap and don’t want to purchase home furnishings we can’t keep, my current ghetto-rigged solution is a chest of drawers stacked on a (sturdy)nightstand with one of the drawers pulled out as a keyboard stand: not ideal, but better for the back than the tiny desk and torture-chair we have available. We did invest a whole $12 in a balance disk (not like the one mentioned earlier in comments, it’s a little inflatable rubber disk with nubs on either side) and it’s awesome – it minimizes foot and joint fatigue (since it’s essentially standing on a 2″ cushion of air) and forces you to fidget while on it.

  12. Have EDS and age related joint injuries OA am using the wobble board to re balance legs and take weight off mortons nueroma, hoping the added brain exercise of wobble board and typing will prevent alzeimers, which I’m assured is more likely if you keep your butt on the chair.

  13. Interesting advice have had chronic pain issues in past

  14. As a person also with Ehlers-danlos syndrome I can sometimes find standing…. difficult .lol

    That awkward moment when you are not moving and your ankle pops out. Lol

    My knees tend to bend backwards, any thoughts on how to keep them in the correct position without wearing clunky braces?
    (I’m allergic to tape glue, so ortho-tape is also out)

    (I also can not find the second portion of this post, I tried searching the words in the title. Halp :#)

  15. Hi Kamal, I am not sure if you remember me from Johns Hopkins – we were in the Nutrition class together! Anyways, I like your website- its very informative. I would like you to recommend a safe limit for standing, how to choose right kind of shoes, mats to keep under your feet, stool to use now and then etc, similar to what Ben suggested. With my knee injury I do have difficulty standing for more than an hour and sitting for a few hours as well. It would be helpful if you could recommend some safer adjustments while standing for people like me who experience difficulty standing or have other issues. Injuries come with pain and weight gain due to limited mobility. On the lighter note, do check out my blog on healthy cooking: http://quicklydelicious.com . There is lot more work to do on to my new blog. Suggestions are more than welcome! All the best and be in touch. Sonali

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  17. In the 24 hours following each exercise session, the men also experienced an increase in fat burn. The men in the study cycled at a sprint pace for 30 seconds and then rested for 4 ½ minutes, repeating this cycle four to six times.

  18. You’re adorable.

  19. I never thought about what you have written in your article before! There really is a difference between sitting still and sitting actively . My company got me a standing desk from Stand Steady (https://standsteady.com ) and I haven’t been standing as much as I should. That’s because I get more joy from sitting on the wobble stool I bought. I’m way more active sitting on that and now that I know I’m more aware that these articles are just comparing sitting still to standing still, I’m probably not going to be standing up anytime soon. Although, I most definitely should. I’m definitely going to be moving about more when I sit (as if I don’t move enough yet lmao)

    Thank you so much for the great insight!


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