I’ve had my fair share of long work days on my feet. I’ve been a waitress and a cashier, wondering how many calories I burn when I rush from table to table or stand for seven hours straight. Most professionals spend eight or more hours at their desk per week, sometimes without standing other than to go to the bathroom once or twice. You may try to stand for a few minutes every hour, but does that really prevent weight gain? According to a new study, it doesn’t.
What is the risk of desk jobs where physical movement is scarce? An increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain. If the environment is a stressful one, it can give women an 88% chance of heart attack. Some solutions health professionals encourage include the installation of standing desks, pedal machines, and the utilization of walking meetings.
A study in England measured the caloric burn of desk job employees by placing a pedal machine beneath their desks. Using the machine 23 minutes per day helped to lower the risk of health issues caused by being sedentary for most of the day. Other solutions include smartphone apps, which remind us to peel ourselves from the computer screen and go for a walk after a set amount of time spent sitting. Even though we all know that sitting all day isn’t very healthy, there haven’t been too many studies on how many calories we burn sitting vs. standing and walking.
A recent experiment published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health revealed something interesting about how we can maximize our activity at work. This journal worked with the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. The researchers chose 74 healthy volunteers in their mid-20s who had worked in offices. They were randomly assigned to four different groups.
The first group was asked to sit and type at a computer for 15 movements then stand for 15 minutes without much movement. The second group sat at their desk and watched television without typing at all. After 15 minutes, they were asked to walk on a treadmill at a relaxed pace for another 15 minutes. The third group stood for 15 minutes then sat for 15 minutes. The final group walked on the treadmill for 15 minutes and then sat.
While sitting, the groups averaged about 20 calories burned per 15 minutes, whether typing or watching television. Surprisingly, when they stood for 15 minutes, they only burned two more calories! There was no difference in if they stood or sat first. The researchers calculated that workers would burn eight to nine extra calories per hour if they stood up while working. Compare that with your 600-calorie panini for lunch!
Unsurprisingly, when the workers walked, they experienced a much more substantial caloric burn. When the workers walked for 15 minutes, even slowly, they burned about three times as much as when they stood or sat. If they were to walk for an hour, they would burn off about 130 more calories than if they sat or stood at their desks. If they split up their hours sitting and walking, researchers believe that this could control any yearly weight gain.
Even though standing isn’t as effective as controlling weight gain, it does have other benefits: decreases back and shoulder pain from hunching over and improves blood sugar control.