Standing Versus Sitting Burns HOW MANY Calories?!?!

But sitting is so darn comfy! (Photo: thetimechannel)

UPDATE! There is a more recent 2012 post on Stand Up Desks if you want to find out how this experiment went and get a few more ideas!

As you may have heard by now, sitting down all day long can kill you. This is true even if you arise from your desk when the workday is done, walk briskly to the gym like the virtuous, dedicated health and fitness superhero that you are, and then proceed to exercise like a maniac for the rest of the evening. Doesn't seem fair does it? But yet another new study confirms the unfortunate connection between sitting and dying, even among those who don't smoke and who get regular exercise.

And many of us have seen these studies, and promised ourselves to get out of the chair more often, and maybe even googled stand-up desks or treadmill workstations and then... forgot all about the whole deal two minutes later and somehow found ourselves watching a youtube video of a baby laughing uncontrollably at a fluffy white kitten wearing a tutu.

But wait... what's even more motivating than not dying? Well, for most people--finding easy ways to lose weight!

So a couple weeks ago, I was reading yet another article warning about the dire consequences of plopping our butts in chairs all day, and contemplating alternatives like a stand up desk, when I saw a surprising and exciting statistic:

The article said you could burn 50 extra calories an hour if you stand up while you work rather than sit down.

So... if I replace, say, 6 hours of sitting a day with standing, I get (in addition to the nice perk of not dying) 300 hundred extra calories to snarf up cupcakes increase my intake of nutritious lean protein and vegetables?  Or alternatively, I could eat the same amount and lose 300 calories worth of extra flab a day??

I set off on a google search, and the news only got better!  One standing versus sitting article said "Standing two hours a day can burn up to 280 calories daily (depending on body size and other factors); over the period of a year, this can add up to a weight loss of 20 lbs."

And another white paper on weight loss at work proclaimed that "by adding only two-and-a-half hours of standing to an employee’s workday, 350 extra calories are burned per day," and holy moley, if that's true, then six hours of standing would get me many many cupcakes even more health benefits!

Now of course, I'm a female human of average height, and am used to having to adjust caloric studies on "normal people" to reflect the fact I won't burn as many calories.  Whatever.  If I've got to knock off a bit from the 840 calories that six hours of standing would get me, well gosh, I could live with that!

The next thing I did was to go looking for the actual studies behind all these lovely pronouncements and... well.... I couldn't find any of the actual damn data anywhere for the 140 calorie an hour figure.  Did folks start forgetting to subtract the amount of calories sitting would have burned during the same hour?  Did the researchers only pick 600 pound subjects to experiment on? Who knows? (And if anyone has a good link to a reputable research publication, please let me know!).  In truth, I didn't pursue the hunt for corroboration very far because it finally dawned on me:

So what if it's not 140 calories an hour?  What if it's 80, or 50, or even 25 calories an hour?

If sitting for a good part of the day is gonna kill me, and if I can motivate myself to stand up using possibly exaggerated data on calorie burn, is that a bad thing?  And no one seems to debate that standing indeed burns more calories than sitting--it's just hard to find out exactly how many.

And so, guess what I've been doing for the last week or so?  Standing up at my computer!  Wanna know how it happened, what I've observed about the experience?

What, you don't?

Well, that hasn't ever stopped me from sharing before.  So here we go:

The Low Tech DIY Standing Desk Experiment!


I decided that the first step before spending any money would be to see how uncomfortable it is to work standing up.


(What I can't figure out is how on earth that empty case of Two Buck Chuck got into our house?  Hmm, we must have borrowed it from a friend to cart fresh organic groceries back from the farmers market.  Yeah, that's it!)

Anyway, aside from the ergonomic faux pas of having the laptop keys too high and the screen too low, the experiment was a success!  I thought I'd be too distracted standing up to concentrate, but I started with just a half hour at a time and built up to a couple hours standing, interspersed with sitting breaks. It was fine!

Well, my lower back was a bit sore for a few days, but it adjusted.

Now here's the really weird thing.  So I'm not one of those "The Secret" types who are prone to attracting the things they focus on.  My general experience with the universe is that it's all pretty much a random crapshoot.  But check this out:

A couple of days after initiating the standing desk experiment, I had just snapped the above crappy picture and was writing a blog post in my mind as I headed out for a walk through town.  And guess what?  There by the side of the road was an ugly little table about two feet tall with a sign saying "Free" on it.  This forelorn looking excuse for furniture (it had brutally utilitarian pipes for legs, and was covered in rippled fake-wood-grain vinyl), may have not been sleek and tasteful, but it did have an adjustable base.   The top of the table was adjustable too--split into two panels that could be tilted at different angles. Hmm...

I stopped. I circled. I extended. I tilted.  I adjusted. I stood back a few feet and cocked my head.  I adjusted some more.

It was too freakin' much of a coincidence!  It could never work, right?

But I schlepped the thing home anyway:


And then put my monitor on it and my lap top under it:


And voila! I now I have a perfectly serviceable stand up desk FOR FREE!!!!

Thus far, I've gradually worked up to about 4 extra standing hours a day, with no ill effects.  So let the calorie-burning bonfire begin!

(And I'll be sure to report back if I have to start eating thousands of extra calories a day to keep from wasting away to nothing).

Note: if you start googling stand up desks, it's a little depressing.  They're not generally free.  However, there a few different options for stand up desks, including some DIY types like this one.  If anyone knows of any good resource links or helpful blog posts, please mention them in the comments and I'll add 'em to the list.

I'm thinking next ergonomic experiment, after I'm totally comfortable with standing most of the day? Maybe a Treadmill workstation.  Or better yet, I could move to the Bag Lady's ranch and start herding cattle!

Anyone curious about standing up or walking while working? Anyone already doing it?

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