Working a desk job may be good for your bank account, but odds are that it hasn’t been good for your waistline. A 2013 CareerBuilder survey found that 41% of workers report having gained weight at their desk jobs. Employment was also associated with weight gain in a two-year Australian study, which found that women in the workforce were more likely to gain weight than women who were unemployed or worked part-time. The correlation increased with the number of hours per week that women worked — or presumably, spent at their desk.
A desk may be your biggest obstacle in the way of your weight-loss goals — or is it? If you ask the growing number of workers who are ditching their sit-down desks for standing desks, the biggest obstacle in your way might be your chair, not your desk.
Mounting research links excessive sitting to chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer, and even premature death. According to a 2012 study published in the British Medical Journal, cutting your sitting time down to three hours per day could extend your life by two years. Standing increases circulation, supports bone health, boosts metabolism, and improves posture — all of which will help you avoid the dangers of too much sitting.
But will using your standing desk help you lose weight?
The Truth About Standing Desks and Weight Loss
A research review published in January 2018 in European Journal of Preventive Cardiology compared the caloric expenditure of sitting versus standing, thereby answering the question, “Do standing desks help you lose weight?” The review, a meta-analysis of 46 studies, evaluated calories burned while sitting versus standing across 1,184 participants. The participants were 60% men, weighed an average 143 pounds, and were an average of 33 years old.
The researchers determined that standing burned 0.15 calories per minute more than sitting. Men burned more slightly more calories than women — 0.19 versus 0.1. That may not sound like much, but if you stand for an extra six hours each day, that difference would amount to burning 54 more calories than sitting all day. Without making any other changes to diet or lifestyle, the researchers calculated that a 143-pound adult would lose 5.5 pounds per year.
Another study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, reported similar findings. The researchers measured oxygen consumption to calculate calories burned while doing daily activities, including walking, sitting, watching TV, and standing. The 74 healthy participants burned an average 80 calories per hour while sitting and 88 calories per hour while standing, a difference of 8 calories/hour or 0.13 calories/minute — almost exactly what the first review found.
How to Boost Your Weight-Loss Efforts
If your goal is to lose weight by switching to a standing desk, the data from these studies might be disappointing. Losing 5.5 pounds per year is a fairly slow rate of progress. But remember that the study assumes you make no other changes to your lifestyle. You can boost the benefits of a standing desk by using it in conjunction with other positive lifestyle changes.
- Walk During Your Lunch Hour —While standing only burns 88 calories per hour, walking burns 210. Boost your daily total calories burned by walking over your lunch hour. Bring a friend and make it a social hour.
- Bring Your Lunch— Grabbing lunch from the cafeteria or the burrito place across the street might be more time-efficient, but it’s probably causing you to eat far more calories than you need. If you’re used to buying your lunches, commit to packing a lunch once per week. Steadily increase by one day per week until packing your lunch is second nature.
- Exercise at Your Desk— The .15 calories per hour estimate also assumes that you stand stock-still while working. Most of us naturally shift our weight, stretch, and move around even while standing still. Incorporate stationary exercises like calf raises, squats, and tricep dips to increase your calorie burning potential even more.
- Drink More Water— Studies have found that drinking 0.5 liters (or 17 ounces) of water can increase your resting energy expenditure (i.e. calories burned at rest) by 24-30% within 10 minutes. This effect can last up to an hour. Overweight and obese middle-aged adults who drank water before working out lost 44% more weight than those who didn’t.
While standing desks may not be the secret key to magical and effortless weight loss, experts still advocate for making the swap from traditional to sit-stand desk. Weight loss is just one of the many benefits of using a standing desk. Standing helps regulate blood sugar, reduce back and shoulder pain, and lower your risk for chronic diseases.
According to Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic and lead researcher on the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology study, "The ultimate goal is to avoid sitting for too long continuously.”