If you think standing at your desk will keep your waistline trimmer than sitting at your desk, think again. According to research appearing in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, standing only burns another 2 or 3 calories than sitting over the course of 15 minutes, “not a very significant increase,” points out study lead author Seth Creasy.
Walking, on the other hand, burned up almost three times that much, even at a leisurely pace of only 2.5 or 3 miles per hour. And that may be your ticket to a trimmer you.
Some research has suggested that standing burns more calories than sitting, which may explain why you’ve seen more standing desks around your office. Most of that research looked at each activity (sitting and standing) in isolation. The current research team reasoned that most people are doing a combination of activities, or the activities in different orders and decided that merited a look.
To that end, they recruited 74 young, healthy volunteers to participate in a series of carefully choreographed experiments. The participants were divided into four groups and directed to sit, stand, or walk in different sequences.
The first group sat at a computer and typed for 15 minutes, then stood. The second sat while watching TV for 15 minutes, then walked on treadmills. The third group stood then sat, while the fourth group walked before sitting. Each activity was separated by a 3-minute “transition” period during which the person was “seated at rest, not fidgeting, just relaxing,” explains Creasy.
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Participants burned about 20 calories during a quarter hour of sitting, regardless of whether it was at a computer or a television. Standing ate up another two calories.
“From strictly an energy expenditure point of view, standing and sitting would be pretty much the same,” says Creasy, who is a doctoral candidate in the department of health and physical activity of the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. “It makes sense. You’re not really exerting yourself if you’re standing.”
Walking, though, used up almost three times as many calories which, over the course of an hour, could add up to as many as 130 calories. On a daily basis, that could be enough to stave off the dreaded middle-aged spread, which seems to be creeping up earlier and earlier.
If you want to avoid aches and pains, standing may still be better than crunched down in your seat, fingers hammering away at a keyboard. But if you want to lose—or maintain—weight, walk as often as you can, up and down stairs, to the water cooler, from the far reaches of the parking lot.
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“Incorporating walking breaks (say for 5-10 minutes every hour) adds up and will help individuals increase their energy expenditure compared to just sitting,” says Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and assistant professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.
“We know that 150 minutes a week or more of moderate intensity exercise . . . is necessary for health benefits. So , if you are someone who has a hard time meeting these recommendations, short walking breaks may be helpful for meeting these goals,” she adds.