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Standing at Work Burns Extra Calories

If you want to avoid sitting all day, try standing – at your desk.

According to a new University of Iowa study, employees with sit-stand desks stood 60 minutes more a day at work compared to their co-workers with sitting desks, and they continued to do so long after their desks lost their novelty. Plus, the sit-stand desk users walked an additional six minutes a day at work.

As a result, the employees with sit-stand desks burned up to 87 more calories a day than their sitting counterparts—a small but significant amount that could help in fighting the obesity epidemic in the U.S.

“Studies suggest American workers today burn roughly 100 calories-less each day while at work compared to American workers in 1960. This decline in occupational energy expenditure is thought to play a substantial role in the rising obesity epidemic we have observed over that same time period,” says Dr. Lucas Carr, an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Physiology and member of the Obesity Research and Education Initiative at the UI. “Our findings are important because they support redesigning the traditionally sedentary office environment as a potentially cost-effective approach for fighting the obesity epidemic.”

Carr is the corresponding author of the study “Examining the Long-term Use of Sit-stand Desks in a Professional Office Setting,” which was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The cross-sectional study looked at employee activity over a five-day workweek. Participants had their sit-stand desks for an average of 1.8 years prior to the study.

“This study is unique in that we looked at long-term users of these desks whereas previous studies have examined employee’s sitting/standing habits immediately after being provided a new sit-stand desk, which is not a true test of whether someone will use the desk over the course of their 20- to 30-year career,” Carr says.

The study involved 69 middle-aged, mostly female employees—31 using sit-stand desks and 38 using sitting desks—in a variety of office jobs including administrative/clerical, statistical/testing, management, marketing, research, and accounting. To measure their physical activity, participants wore a monitor similar to a pedometer around the clock for five work days. The device measured their body positions, movements, and the intensity or pace of their movements.

Though the standing-desk employees burned more calories than those with seated desks, the study found there were no between-group differences in health risk factors such as weight, percent body fat, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Carr says more research is needed to examine the impact of replacing sitting with standing on factors other than calorie burning.


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